Amid all the fan frenzy, YAHSASVINI RAJESHWAR manages to chat with Chetan Bhagat prior to his “post-release celebration party” of his book Revolution 2020 in the city.
”Chetan Bhagat is the JK Rowling of India,” gushed a star-struck fan during the Chennai launch of the author's latest release,Revolution 2020. Citi Centre was packed to the seams with enthusiastic fans, avid readers and random passers-by who got pulled in by the action. The biggest-selling English-language novelist in India's history (quotingThe New York Timesin 2008) was in the town of his in-laws and the locals went berserk.NXgcaught up with him in the security of a cordoned off corner of Landmark before he got mobbed by fans.
It may have been a while ago but what was the first thing on your mind when you were praised so highly by The New York Times?
It was way back in 2008, right after my third book. As clichéd as this may sound, it was a totally unexpected but predictably incredible feeling. There are so many books lining the shelves of stores and yet, my books are selling more than the rest of them! I just try to deliver newness to the readers with every book, that is all.
Fifty years down the line, what is it that you want to be remembered as?
I do not want to be remembered at all. I want to be missed. I want to have a place in the heart of all my readers. I think I have already achieved that to some extent because my readers look forward to me and my work. With the advent of the smart phones and such, there are so many choices as to what to do with free time and yet, so many people still resort to my humble books.
What are the major influences on your writing?
The happenings of the country and India as I see it. Today, our country is more liberated, more empowered and more thirsty to achieve excellence and this attitude is something that affects my writing.
Is cinema a better medium of communication?
Definitely. Through “3 Idiots” and “Hello”, I was able to reach out to so many people who may not have known me otherwise, what with expectations of literacy and the like with books. If the opportunity arises and the situation is right, I may even try my hand at scriptwriting.
You have often come under criticism for not being “literary” with respect to vocabulary and style. Is that something you would like to respond to?
I think people who brand me like that are people who cannot define “literature”. Every time I ask them to elaborate, they are unable to. I do not subscribe to any literary tradition and I have a different style but I think calling this difference inferior is the biggest form of elitism to exist.
What is the best feedback you've ever gotten?
A leading psychiatrist in Delhi once told me never to undersell myself because I had a lot of influence on young minds. That was an unforgettable experience. It was from that day that I began writing columns and articles for various publications. It was thanks to that comment that you see me on Op-Ed pages now.
According to you, should the author be completely accessible to all his fans or is it a question of personal privacy?
It is a tough call. The need to balance the two worlds is often taxing. Unlike the cinema, in the case of a book release, only the author can promote. We do not have an entire crew behind us. It was this need to balance my two worlds that made me space out my book launches instead of having ten cities back to back.
With all your stories being sourced from real life, do you ever feel too exposed with your life documented in the hands of thousands of people?
Absolutely! Sometimes I feel like Paris Hilton! Interestingly, I don't have an interesting life at all. Sometimes, I get the feeling that people are more interested in Chetan Bhagat than they are in his books and I'm not sure if that is a good thing.
Does Chetan Bhagat have bad days when he wakes up with regret? Have you ever rethought your decision of giving up a mainstream job in banking to do what you do today?
Of course, Chetan Bhagat has his regrets. I regret my tweets, for one. I regret some decisions, some plot twists but nothing too big. As for banking, I left it only after three books were published so it was a very informed choice.
If you could be one of your characters, which one would you be?
Ryan from Five Point Someone. The Chennai audiences seem to like Krish a lot though, from “2 States”. In fact, they call me Krish here sometimes.
As Chetan Bhagat rightly said, the book launch in Chennai was more a post-release celebration party with a large part of the crowd having already read the book. What with his attempts at Tamil and his onstage camaraderie with actor Suriya (who launched the book), Bhagat had the audience lapping up every sound byte right from the word “Go”!
Ice-cream flavour:Anything with chocolate
The shops were empty and the escalators were stopped as the crowd rushed to catch a glimpse of the man behind the words. It was as late as 10 p.m. by the time every promised autograph had been signed and every hand had been shaken. Whether fan or not, every member of the audience took away something from the evening — a look, a smile, an autograph or merely the adrenaline rush of being a part of the experience.
Yashasvini is a student of IIT-M.