Author: Chetan Bhagat
Price: Rs 99
Year of Publishing: 2009
Like all his last three works, Five Point Someone, One Night @ A Call Centre and 3 Mistakes of My Life, his latest, 2 States - The Story Of My Marriage, also leaves you with mixed feelings.
Chetan Bhagat's simple theme, rooted in middle class sensibilities and the ordinariness of life will once again appeal to his fans --- a sizeable class of emerging mid-brow readers. But let's be clear that it is the author's funny bone that saves the day for him again. His nonchalant wit gives a point to his observations and lends a perky liveliness to an otherwise not-so-great book.
Even if one were to lower the literary bar considerably, it's hard to ignore the numerous banal and trite elements here. Chetan's construction of dialogues at many places (especially involving women) is cringe-worthy, as are many of the situational turns that he introduces in the book. His sense of drama comes straight out of trashy Bollywood potboilers. Some scenes are so hackneyed and over-the-top, it could make Ekta Kapoor seem restrained! Chetan actually has a dowry scene where a bride's father keeps his pagdi at the in-laws' feet. In any case, the story has a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge flavour to it. But since this is partly an autobiographical story, we'll give that to him. It's derived from Chetan's own experiences when he married his wife, Anusha (pic below).
2 States begins where Five Point Someone ends. After his (mis) adventures at the IIT – where he loves and loses the professor’s daughter – Krish goes to IIMA to pursue his management studies. He falls in love with Ananya, a bright Tamilian Brahmin girl, who seems on a rampage to break every shackle imposed by her conservative upbringing.
She drinks once in a while, has no qualms with pre marital sex or even living in with Krish. But once marriage plans come into the equation, both realise they have an arduous task before them.
Krish’s Punjabi mother won’t let "some Madrasis" trap her son, (the Tamilians are referred as ‘those black people’ by various North Indian characters a douzen times! There’s no malise in Chetan’s description, but it does start to jar after a point), while Ananya’s parents are stuck up on their Tam Bram 'we are so educated and cultured' credentials. How both sides eventually come around and accept the match is what 2 States is all about.
The story is clearly dated, because, the events are inspired from Chetan’s own love story and this was a decade ago! Much like in Five Point Someone, the tackling of the campus romance between Krish and Ananya is pedestrian here too. The exchanges are drab and the female character, in particular, behaves with a strange aggressiveness that is altogether unappealing. There are a few snatches of humour here and there, but not enough for you to be reassured about the rest of the pages ahead.
But in a pleasant surprise, the book comes into its own when Krish applies and gets a job in Chennai. Suddenly, he’s thrown into a new place and has to use his time and charm to get to know Ananya’s parents and make them like him. Chetan’s humour gets unleashed in full force, as he talks about various aspects about Tamilians he finds puzzling. He finds it curious how everyone here wants to be up at the break of dawn. He notices their sparse, functional homes – contrasting with the obscenely lavish and ostentatious homes of the Punjabis. He refers to the Tamil snacks as ‘spirals’, observes the funeral-like silence when they have their lunch or dinner. In the description of his boss - Bala, Chetan sharply brings out the propensity for sycophancy found among people of the community. But he also sensibly subverts this aspect with the character of Ananya’s father, who grudges the fact that his work doesn’t get him the appreciation he deserves, because he does not speak up. Chetan alludes here to the excessive sense of decorum and protocol ingrained in many South Indians.
The author’s penchant for humour makes these portions immensely readable and to his credit, even though he points at several of the community's idiosyncrasies, it’s done out of a genuine feeling of bemusement rather than to poke fun.
In fact, the author is far more brutal with his description of the Punjabis – with their love for showing off, their lack of subtly, their pretentious living.
When it comes to observations of these two communities, Chetan displays his natural flair as a writer. However, his characterization and plot development are less than impressive. The parts where Krish tries to win over Ananya’s parents are interesting, but it spirals downwards when the girl comes visiting Delhi and stays in his house. This is the weakest section of the book. Then the whole chapter where both sets of parents meet at Goa is downright bizarre. Also, some of the exchanges between the parents are so rude and direct, it’s a little hard to believe that people would converse this way in real life.
The book bounces back in the final section, where Krish goes though a depression and in an unexpected turn of events, things falls in place. The part where Krish's boisterous extended family come to attend his wedding in Chennai and are shocked that they have to be ready by six in the morning for the rituals is genuinely funny. "Is this a marriage or torture?" someone asks.
The biggest plus for the book is the choice of narrator – which happens to be Chetan himself as Krish. He comes across as level-headed, sharp-witted and genuinely nice so that even when the action starts to slacken, you remain interested in the twists and turns of his life.
Finally, as I mentioned, it’s 50-50 deal. Lots of laughs and light moments, but enough that is puerile and commonplace as well.
So where does one place this one among his earlier works? This too has many of the weaknesses of the other books, but it's probably more palatable than his last two works in terms of plot, because this is a straight-forward, episodic book.
It’s quick to read, which should mean something at a time when people run out of patience and time so quickly. And yes, full marks for the humour.
- Sandhya Iyer