Friday, 2 October 2015
Book Review: Making India Awesome, by Chetan Bhagat
Chetan Bhagat’s latest offering Making India Awesome is a work of non-fiction, a bunch of essays addressed to Indians who care and want to make a difference. Bhagat tells us that 80% of Indians don’t care about politics or government. Within the balance 20%, 80% are permanently aligned with a side, say with Modi or the Congress Party and will never criticise their side. Therefore, Bhagat’s essays are addressed towards the 20% within the 20% who are non-aligned and care. Bhagat calls them “Caring Objective Indians”. What comes out indirectly is that Bhagat is also not allied with any person or party – some of his essays criticise the BJP and some the Congress.
I agree with a number of Bhagat’s homilies. He is all for gay rights and empowering women. He wants men to support their wives’ careers’ the way Mary Kom’s husband Onler Kom has done. He has seventeen commandments for Modi and I agree with each of them. In a second essay on Modi, one analysing the "Modi effect", Bhagat says that Modi’s success is largely due to luck, since he only had to deal with the not-so-smart or effective Rahul Gandhi. BCCL’s monopoly and stranglehold over Indian cricket is questioned. Bhagat opposes the ban on porn and alcohol and wants Indians to watch their diet and eat less junk food.
Bhagat has a number of pieces addressed to Indian Muslims and though Bhagat simplifies issues, on the whole his advice is sound. Similarly, there are a number of articles addressed to women. I am not sure they’ll all go down so well, but I am convinced that Bhagat means well.
The best of the lot in Making India Awesome are two chapters on admissions to Delhi University (which could apply to any other prestigious college’s admission process) and the pressure to score high marks. Bhagat speaks from the heart and makes very valid points.
I do not agree when Bhagat says that the creation of Telangana was a mistake and that it does not make sense to break up states into more efficient administrative units. In fact, there is a very potent argument that it is time to restructure India into smaller states.
However, as usual, Bhagat refuses to revolt or stick his next out. In one essay he cribs about how a VIP, a Minister’s convoy held up traffic and nearly caused him to miss a flight. He does not name and shame that VIP. When advising the Congress, Bhagat asks them to weed out party members who are old, rusted and tarnished. I have some sympathy for Bhagat’s demand for young politicians, but even ignoring his beef against “old”, I wonder why Bhagat can’t name the Congress politicians he wants to be weeded out. Did he mean Sharad Pawar? Is he scared of taking names? Funnily, Bhagat tells us that India’s bureaucrats understand the system well and can fix the system, but according to Bhagat, Indian babu’s don’t have “guts”!
Bhagat also does not spell out things when he could. He wants the economy to be opened up and controls removed. What does he mean by this? Most controls on foreign investments are based on the principle that India is not ready for full capital account convertibility (the ability to convert Indian assets and currency into foreign assets or currency and to take them out of India without the need for the RBI's approval). Does Bhagat want India to permit foreigners to invest in Indian real estate without restrictions (which may drive up prices even higher?). On this aspect, I expected something much better from Bhagat – after all, he is a former banker!
Bhagat manages to discuss Godhra without offending or blaming anyone or adding any value.
On India’s northeast, he says that every time one visits the Northeast, the locals beg us for attention and to be treated as Indians. ‘The Northeastern people are beautiful and attractive. They also have slightly different, more oriental physical features as compared to the rest of us.’ Trust Bhagat to make matters simple. Isn’t Bhagat aware that there are a number of places in the Northeast where the people don’t think they are Indians, where plains people aren’t welcome? As for racism, surely it’s a two-way street? Just as many Indians think the North-easterners are different, many in the North East think Indians are too dark and different. Many parts of the Northeast have resisted integration with independent India because historically they have had very little to do with what’s now called India and because they are very different in terms of looks and culture.
When arguing for the replacement of Devnagri with the Roman script, Bhagat calls himself a Hindi lover. Yes, we were recently educated on that point by noted lyricist Gulzar, weren't we? Sorry, I’m being cheap and at the risk of digressing, let me say that as an emcee, Bhagat was only doing his job when he said something nice about Gulzar’s poetry. If in the midst of a headache, I respond with a “I’m fine” to your “How do you do?”, I does not mean I am a liar. It merely means I do not want to share my personal details (my headache) with you at that point in time. You get what I mean. I’m totally with Bhagat on this one. For the record, my Hindi is really atrocious and I've been trying to improve it with Bhagat's help.
Kashmir is conspicuous by its absence. In his What Young India Wants, Bhagat had advocated negotiating with Pakistan over Kashmir, even going to the extent of suggesting that India be prepared to make compromises.
On the whole, Bhagat writes in simple English, which is grammatically correct. No, it is not beautiful or lyrical prose, but it is easy to read.
As I read Making India Awesome, I had this nagging feeling that some of it was familiar stuff and that I may have read these thoughts earlier. Was Bhagat plagiarising from someone else’s work I wondered and turned to the internet. What did I find? No, there’s no plagiarism and that’s because all the essays in Making India Awesome (except for one titled We The Shameless, which has been entirely re-written) are articles previously published on Bhagat’s own blog and are still available on-line. For this reason, the articles relating to Indian Muslims and women’s rights have a lot of overlap. In fact, two of the articles relating to women’s rights start off with a reference to the Bollywood movie ‘Cocktail’.
Hear, hear, all you Chetan Bhagat fans out there. You need not buy Making India Awesome. Instead, you can, if you wish, re-read his old articles on his blog. Below you’ll find the list of articles from Bhagat’s blog which have been compiled, with minor modifications, to create Making India Awesome. Of course, the introduction and conclusion are previously unpublished pieces. I do wish Bhagat’s publishers had disclosed upfront that Making India Awesome is almost entirely composed of previously published articles.
AWESOME GOVERNANCE: POLITICS AND ECONOMY
Seventeen Commandments for Narendra Modi
Games Politicians Play In The Silly Season Of Elections
Revenge of the Oppressed: Why corruption continues to be around despite the outcry against it
The Kings in Our Minds
The Telangana effect
Analysing the Modi Effect
Can India’s Backward Polity Ever Provide A Pro-Growth Economic Environment?
Rahul’s New Clothes, And The Naked Truth
Swachh Congress Abhiyan In Four Essential Steps
Once Upon A Beehive
Rescue the Nation
To Make ‘Make in India’ Happen, Delete Control
Pro-Poor Or Pro-Poverty?
The Tiny Bang Theory for setting off big-bang reforms
AWESOME SOCIETY: WHO WE ARE AS A PEOPLE AND WHAT WE NEED TO CHANGE
Time To Face Our Demons
We Have Let Them Down
Watching The Nautch Girls
Let’s Talk About Sex
The Real Dirty Picture
Saying Cheers in Gujarat
Our Fatal Attraction to Food
Cleanliness Begins at home
India-stupid and India-smart
Scripting change: Bhasha bachao, Roman Hindi apnao
Mangalyaan + unlucky Tuesdays
A Ray of Hope
Junk Food’s Siren Appeal
AWESOME EQUALITY: WOMEN’S RIGHTS, GAY RIGHTS AND MINORITY RIGHTS
Ladies, Stop Being so Hard on Yourself
Five Things Women Need To Change About Themselves
Home Truths on Career Wives
Wake Up And Respect Your Inner Queen
Indian Men Should Channelize Their Inner Mr Mary Kom
Fifty Shades Of Fair: Why Colour Gets Under Our Skin
Section 377 Is Our Collective Sin
Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth
Being Hindu Indian or Muslim Indian
It’s Not moderate Muslims’ fault
Mapping the Route To Minority Success
AWESOME RESOURCES: THE YOUTH
Open Letter to the Indian Change Seekers
We the Half Educated People
Du-ing It All Wrong, Getting It All Mixed up
How the Youth Can Get Their Due
Scored Low in Exams? Some Life Lessons From a 76 percenter