After five best-selling novels that captured the pulse of a young generation, Chetan Bhagat’s foray into non-fiction through a collection of essays that offers ‘solutions’ to the country’s problems, provides interesting insights into both his writing and readership. The ambitiously named What Young India Wants, comprises select columns, along with two short stories, a piece on his dream for India and an exhaustive letter on why he began writing non-fiction.
The foundation of this vision is the comparison of Indian realities with the far superior situation abroad. While Bhagat does emphasise that “we cannot copy paste the American dream for ourselves,” he is very clear that the time has come to define the great Indian dream on similar lines. This is the strand that binds the essays that otherwise span from politics and society to education and relationships.
Bhagat’s prescription for achieving this aim is the development of an Indian set of values. However, the analysis of Indian society that he draws on is deeply worrying. In Bhagat’s version of India, every problem’s root is basically a lack of a particular kind of opportunity; issues of caste and religion are primarily distractions spawned by vote bank politics.
For essays that deal with such complex issues, there is rarely any recourse to statistics. The format, in fact, has almost a flowchart-ish feel — state the problem, explain the reasons, explain the choices, decide the solution and voila. Meanwhile, nuances and contexts go for a toss. Bhagat’s essays are signs of very patient attempts to unlock the secrets of the youth’s hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. However, the path of aspiration that he defines for each Indian seems mostly mirrored on his own experience — of belonging to a certain class background, rising up to be an IIT-ian, an IIM student and later an employee with an MNC in Hong Kong. Bhagat makes some pertinent observations about the situation today, whether it be the industry, politics, education, or a variety of topics that touch a chord with the youth. However, a refusal to seriously engage with historical realities means that his solutions are invariably formula-based or excessively ambitious, without any hint on how to implement them. So we see suggestions such as ‘value Lakshmi instead of mere wealth,’ or ‘a student exchange between urban and rural areas.’ To be fair to Bhagat, the format of the short essay is a limiting factor. And it is clear that his priority is ensuring accessibility, which he maintains throughout.But one wishes that his work was informed by a broader set of perspectives and an enriched discussion.
(Vasudha Venugopal is with The Hindu covering education and youth affairs)