With self-deprecating humour and anecdotes from his own life, Chetan Bhagat tells the audience at a recent lecture what it takes to succeed
Author Chetan Bhagat was rooted to his chair for most of the time Paravathy Omanakuttan stood on the stage.
The Miss India World 2008 had released his latest book What Young Indians Want. “What’s your height?” he asked the tall Parvathy and admitted his concern at standing next to her!
With such self-deprecating humour, Chetan won the adoration of a mixed group of people that had flocked to Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall for And This Is How You Succeed, a charity event organised by Madras West Round Table 10 to raise funds for its ‘Freedom Through Education’ programme.
It was a talk followed by an interactive session (Chetan Bhagat also answered a volley of pre-recorded questions by people around the city — see box) in which the author-columnist-speaker explored the hard, bumpy and treacherous road to success. Having travelled down that path, Chetan picked the illustrations for the lecture from his own life. It was not a tedious recital of his achievements since 2004, when his first novel — Five Point Someone — burst on the literary scene and upset ossified notions about Indian writing in English.
“I am not the best writer. There are much better writers. Yes or no?” he asked. When a good number of people shouted their approval of this self-assessment, Chetan laughed and said, “You don’t have to say it so loudly!” He explained that with whatever skills he possessed — including an ability to tell a story and a gargantuan appetite for observing and studying people — he had come this far.
As an illustration, he dwelt on the career of actor Ranbir Kapoor, a star-son. With his irrepressible talent, Ranbir made use of his opportunities to script his success story.
Then, Chetan contrasted the actor’s career with that of a village girl, who became a reporter after being prevented from going to school by her regressive family.
“Who is more successful?” asked Chetan.
Almost everyone cried, “The girl!”
“She went beyond what was considered possible for her,” said Chetan.
From this excerpt, it must be obvious that Chetan offered widely recognised definitions of success. The charm lay in the fact that he infused his personality into them. On the subject of carrying a big project to completion, he gave an account of how he convinced his Punjabi mother to accept a Tamil girl as her daughter-in-law. One of his works of fiction 2 States is based on Chetan’s experience as a Punjabi man married to a Tamil Brahmin girl.
“Writing 2 States was simpler than making two States happen,” he said, referring to the opposition faced at home. He did a scientific study for his mother — Why Non-Punjabi Girls Are Better Than Punjabi Girls. Contents of the study projected on to a screen included a series of hilarious graphs. Not wanting to offend Punjabi sentiments, he explained the whole exercise was carried out as a jest.
On a more serious note, Chetan shared a six-step strategy for success that has worked for him. Setting A Clear Goal — “Wanting to write a book is a dream, but being specific about when you want to have it written is a goal”. Reasons Behind That Goal — “Sixty to 70 per cent of the people quit along the line. Giving the reasons you want a goal a lot of thought before proceeding to achieve them.” Finding The Group — “A group can act as a constant motivator — that’s why most de-addiction programmes involve groups”. Detailed Action Plan — “Breaking a mammoth project into bite-sized tasks helps. The human mind may be stymied by the idea of writing a book. It finds the idea of writing one page a day more acceptable. Just think you have to write one page a day, and after 365 days your first draft is ready.” Setback Dealing Mechanisms — “A clearly figured-out plan on bouncing back after a setback, includes taking a break, revisiting goals and falling back on the support of mentors”. Faith — “a belief in God or parents or the order of the Universe or self-belief.”
You have chosen Chennai to release your book. Is the city so close to your heart?
Chetan: Someone from Chennai is (his wife is from Chennai).
Why is love the central theme of all your stories?
Love is the underlying force of human life.
What do you want to tell the youth of Chennai?
Don’t be serious. Be sincere. All of us are like pre-paid cards with limited validity. Given the transience of human life, being serious makes no sense. But being sincere adds value to life.
Are you happy?
Nobody is happy all the time. I rate myself as being happy 70 to 80 per cent of the time. Trying to be 100 per cent happy will make you zero per cent happy — because the goal is unrealistic.
Are you successful?
In many ways, yes. But do I feel successful? No. For me, the bubbles (the new things I want to do) keep growing!