You can be a feminist without hating Chetan Bhagat. Really, it’s possible! (Just like you can love literature and read his books at the same time.)
I just finished reading Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl. I want to talk about the book, the subject it deals with — feminism, and its writer. I’ll start with talking about Chetan Bhagat first.
The widely held belief on social media is that the MBA-turned-writer is extremely troll-worthy. He makes silly, inane comments on serious issues. He seems to pander to the masses in the subjects he deals with in his books and the way he packages the stories — serving a blend of all the popularly relished Indian flavours on a different plate, with a different main ingredient each time. The allegations against him also range as high as diluting the art form of literature and turning it into a vile, money-making proposition. Hard-nosed critics have also pointed out that his books are only popular because they’re read by people who read little else, so what would they know? Taking a cue from such comments, perhaps, a large majority of the Indian population has also found a convenient way to elevate themselves to the stature of ‘serious readers’ — by decrying Bhagat and his books every time they’re brought up. Oh how their bibliophilic hearts seem to bleed on social media every time Bhagat picks up a pen! Well, I don’t think these points need to be countered in order to show how logically flawed they are, or rather, how they lack any semblance of logic whatsoever. The vast body of art and literature produced by humans so far has not diminished simply because Chetan Bhagat is writing and people, a large number of people, are reading his books. That’s just bizarre, it is almost like luxury car owners protesting the existence of autorickshaws. Not to say that Bhagat is the huffing-puffing, environment-choking, three-wheeled ride in the world of four-wheelers. But simply, to emphasize that he belongs to a different category, and each category holds its own respectable spot within a larger domain, in this case, the domain being literature.
Moving onto the book, having read a lot, but not all of his other work, I’d say that the book does better than his past ones, it communicates its intended message quite clearly. It is a step in the right direction for anyone who is trying to understand the concept of feminism. The critique against his protagonist, Radhika, has been that she has been created to represent a ‘likeable feminist’ as opposed to someone who stands firmly toeing the line that must divide what is ‘feminist’ and what is most certainly not because she accepts alternate definitions of feminism when her husband-to-be states “I don’t think anyone has to specifically call himself or herself a feminist. If you’re a fair person and want equal opportunities for all, it’s a start.” Well, as far as I know, agreeing to disagree politely never made anyone less of a feminist or less of anything, at all. And it definitely did not take away from the point they were trying to make — about feminism or anything else. The book lays the premise that feminism, as the word stands for women of today, does not always mean a choice between black or white. Through the experience of two relationships, with two starkly different men, the protagonist, Radhika, brings out the message that a feminist isn’t necessarily a woman who wants a high-flying career and just that. She also highlights that wanting a family, a husband and a life of mundane, everyday moments does not disqualify a woman from being a feminist. True, the book has a lot of moments that would play out better on Bollywood screens than in a text that claims to be about feminism. But then again, just like in the debate of what counts and what does not count as literature, there’s no manual to how the message about feminism must be dealt out and how it must not. We live in a world where we’re free to make our choices and while we should exercise this right, we must also do so without undermining the choices of others. Be it in life, or in matters of literary preferences.
As for feminism, nothing can take away the fact that it is a much-needed term and movement in today’s world. Not even the fact that it is being discussed more than ever now, so should we retire it from our daily lives? No, for its work is far from done. In a fair and just society, the choices one makes and indeed, the choices that one is offered must not change depending on one’s gender. Everyone who believes the same is a feminist. They may believe in more detailed, minute definitions, they may practice it in ways that seem extreme to some, and there might be others who like to prioritize other things in life over practicing this in their daily lives, and perhaps even in the larger decisions of life. Let them be. If it makes them happy, if they’re making an informed choice, let them be. But if you see them struggling with this, or making these decisions out of the fear of consequences, or the lack of choices, or due to certain pressures, and you’re in a position to help them, by all means go ahead. If you feel compelled to talk about this, to share your thoughts on this, to make more people aware, to help empower those who do not realise the importance of this in their lives yet, do what you can. If you see someone else who is doing a good, or even a fair job of expounding this message to the world, appreciate. In the world of social media, write, comment, share. Do this regardless of whether the person is a good friend, a random blogger, a well-loved celebrity like Emma Watson, or a widely-loathed figure like Chetan Bhagat whose very mention you feel compelled to snigger at. For once, attempt to break away from that compulsion if you can. For feminism, too, is about being able to break away from unreasonable compulsions that are placed upon us, directly or undirectly.