Beyond brother’s shadow

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CHAT Ketan Bhagat tells BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA about his debut novel “Complete/Convenient”, life abroad, and being a celebrity sibling

Taking an inconvenient routeKetan BhagatPHOTO: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Taking an inconvenient routeKetan BhagatPHOTO: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Being Ketan Bhagat is not easy. As the writer brother of Chetan Bhagat (“India’s and probably the world’s most influential writer”, according to Ketan), he will be looked at with the suspicious eagerness usually reserved for sequels to popular movies – just how good or how much worse is he? With the launch of his debut novel Complete/Convenient imminent, we are about to find out very soon.

The novel follows Kabir, a newly married I.T. professional who is doing quite well at work. It begins with him getting transferred to Sydney and leaving his parents and sister in India. Life in Sydney is all that the couple dreamt it would be. After a few years, however, the protagonist realises that even though life abroad brings about a liberation of spirit, it requires sacrifices that every NRI has to make.

“He realises life in India is complete while life in Australia is convenient. He has to decide which life he wants,” the author says, during a telephone interview. “It’s not black and white, I am not saying Indian life is totally inconvenient and life abroad is totally incomplete. There are costs and benefits to both sides…Today every Indian has the choice of going out of India, and all I am trying to do is give the real picture. The view we have from Karan Johar’s movies is an exaggerated one.”

The transformation

Currently a regional sales manager at an MNC in Mumbai, Ketan has spent seven years outside India. “Every character, every situation is based on some reality that happened either with me or my friends,” he says. “I had been a thorough NRI, and then a transformation happened. And even though I am not a hardcore patriot or deshbhakt I just felt like coming back. I willingly left everything and came back to this city… It became so deep that I had to channel it somewhere.”

Having a writer in the family gave him direction, but Ketan was keen not to imitate Chetan’s style. “The genre is different. Typically, Chetan writes for youth. In his stories the boy will be trying to impress the girl, or struggling to get admission in college or playing pranks with his friends. My story starts with the boy getting married to the girl he wants to and doing very well in his career.”

It’s what happens afterwards that Ketan is interested in — the zone between youth and middle age. The book’s subtitle – there is more to men than bromance – tells us more about this interest. “A man’s life is also affected when he gets married, when he goes to work. What happens when his mother and wife fight, when there’s office politics, when his father is disappointed in him? It’s not bromance but every man goes through this. Yet I have never seen any novel on this,” he says.

Ketan is frank enough to admit that he is not much of a writer. At every stage in the writing process, he would ask acquaintances for feedback. Often, he would find himself sitting in a bookshop or in an aircraft, handing a few pages of his manuscript to a complete stranger. The feedback was useful. Recalling a meeting with the lyricist Jaideep Sahni, he says, “he spent half an hour with me after the flight landed and said ‘Ketan, there is nothing known as writing. There is only rewriting. So rewrite till you feel you have said what you wanted to say’.”

“It’s a debut novel, so there’ll be a lot of mistakes. But I promise everyone that it’s a very sincere attempt,” he says.

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