Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two States, The story of my marriage - Chetan Bhagat

Book Title Two States
ISBN: 8129115301
First Published: 2009

Synopsis:
The story of a North Indian boy falling for a South Indian girl and his struggles in convincing both sides of the family into accepting this relationship.

Category:
Simple, Funny

Genre:
Romance, Drama

Language:
The couples live-in together and have sex before marriage. The language, however, is not very profane.

Favorite Quote:
Forgiving doesn’t make the person who hurt you feel better, it makes you feel better.

Review:
Two States is the story of a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl falling in love, and instead of taking the usual route of eloping to get married, believe in convincing their parents for their union. The book is funny in a simple sort of a way and packs some lessons too – like being Indian instead of being North or South Indian and the importance of forgiving.

The book can be divided into three sections, and these sections evoked different emotions from me: Tolerant, Incredulous and Annoyed.

Tolerant:
The language is juvenile. That in itself is not a reason to dislike a book – I loved the writing style of Twilight, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. I was not expecting a Salman Rushdie from a Chetan Bhagat. However, when a juvenile style of writing is combined with cheesy lines and shallow emotions, more than losing its edge, the book becomes a caricature of bad writing. Consider, for example, the dedications page:
This may be the first time in the history of books, but here goes: 
Dedicated to My In-Laws.* 
*Which does not mean I am henpecked, under her thumb or not man enough.

Ever since the movie Lives of Others, I give a lot of importance to the Dedications page. Considering that this book is inspired from his own marriage, and also that the book makes ample fun of the in-laws (to be), whose positive traits have been conveniently ignored, I found this page to be a very poor joke.
Or maybe not. I am a Tamilian, and as Bhagat mentions in his book:
The Tamil sense of humor, if any, is really an acquired taste.

Incredulous:
The book is full of stereotypes. Punjabi and Tamilian stereotypes to be precise. Of course, Bhagat has added this disclaimer in the beginning:
I would also like to tell all South Indians I love them. My better half will vouch for that. I have taken the liberty to have some fun with you just like I have with Punjabis – only because I see you as my own. You only make digs at people you care for.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the stereotypes now:
Punjabi:
  • Primarily concerned about food.
  • Usually on the heavy side.
  • Overdressed and with a preference for bling and gaudy jewellery.
  • Love showing off their wealth.
  • Usually outspoken, loud and dramatic.
  • Believe South Indians have a complexion complex.
  • Love to shop.
  • Education is not exactly a priority, especially for a girl.
Tamilians:
  • Love the IIT tag and foreign degrees.
  • Eat only Idlis.
  • Almost all of them are black (not dark), and most of them use generous doses of talcum powder.
  • Listen to horrible Carnatic music.
  • Docile, repressed and the only sign of rebellion is talking in Tamil to non-Tamilians.
  • Tamilian men usually have thick glasses and oiled hair, and since they cannot get girlfriends themselves, prefer arranged marriages.
  • Tamilians don’t like to have fun and like to follow the rules. Fun, for them, is usually associated with guilt.
  • They like reading The Hindu, and are comfortable with silences. The dinner is a quiet affair with everyone exchanging dead looks.

To sum it up:
Marble flooring is to a Punjabi what a foreign degree is to a Tamilian. 
When people land at Chennai airport, they exchange smiles and proceed gently to the car park. At Delhi, there is traffic jam of people trying to hug each other to death.
In the beginning of the book, Bhagat through the protagonist Krish, mentions the following reason for wanting to be a writer:
Someone who tells stories that are fun but bring about change too.
Now, what does the author do to serve the bigger cause – vis-à-vis, make inter - state marriages acceptable?
  • Does he finally understand the city and its people or his girlfriend (or vice versa)? No.
  • Does he show the positives of the stereotyped parents and South-Indian (and North-Indian) bosses? No.
  • Does he show some exceptions to the stereotypes – like an educated Punjabi girl, a non-blingy Punjabi parent, a non-gossipy relative, a cool south Indian friend, a drinking and meat-eating Tamilian? No.
  • Does he lie his way through to the girl’s parents' hearts? Yes.
  • Does he expect the girl to lie to his parents and do the household work to impress his mother? Yes.
  • Does he manipulate the brother, the girl’s parents and his mother into accepting for the marriage? Yes.
  • Despite the lofty talks of wanting to bring about change, and constantly putting down a multinational bank like Citi, does he, in the end, resort to the traditional method of flattery to get his job done? Yes.

After all, in his own words:
No matter how accomplished people get, they don’t stop fishing for compliments.
Annoyed:
When the parents of the boy and the girl finally meet, the protagonist tells the girl to make her parents buy a lot of gifts for his mother and not let him pay or do any work. He convinces his mother that the girl will be docile and submissive after marriage. The boy’s only defense is that he was lying and trying to get both the sides to like each other. Of course, how a girl's side will like a boy or his mother for forcing them to buy "gifts" is debatable.
Forget the feminist angle, but this looks like a life full of lies and a lot more gifts from the girl’s parents just to let the parents get along. Again, the ever eloquent author, provides this conversation between the boy and a girl as a gist of the issue: 
Girl: “No I want to marry where my parents are treated as equals”
Boy: “You should have been born a boy”.
Girl: “That’s so sexist, I would have hung up if I didn’t care for you”.
To be fair, the girl ought to be smacked too. She assents to marry the guy who didn’t like her wearing shorts, asked her parents to buy gifts and thinks that only a boy can demand equal rights for parents.  
This is not the first book with a manipulative or a non-likeable protagonist. There is Gone with the wind with a raunchy heroine and Fifty Shades of Grey with a sex-starved lead, not to mention all the unreliable narrators. The reason why this was as glaring as it is was because of the promise that the book is about change. If the change in inter-state marriages can be achieved only through lies and manipulations, then the marriage is not worth it.

Verdict:
It is an easy read - the language is simple and easy to follow. Of course, it is light on the pockets. But please read the book with minimal expectations. Bhagat does not disappoint, at least in terms of mediocre writing and shallowness that is expected out of him.

3 comments:

antbrain said...

Apadi podu !!

Anupama Srinivasan said...

I should send some aloe vera to Chetan B, he must be feeling the burrrn wherever he is!

The guy is a glorified blogger and language is so-so. I read this book with no expectations and even laughed at some jokes. I can give him that much..

siraj said...

what ever points you have quoted were true.., but the soul which is in this story was quite magnaficient., And i am very pleased with his style.,

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