Sunday 5 January 2014

Chetan Bhagat: The Writer - Prof. Om Juneja

Prof. Om P. Juneja, Prof. Emeritus, HMP Institute of English Teaching and Research (Vallabh Vidya Nagar), Former, Prof. Dept. of English, M.S. Universtiy of Baroda - having talk with studetns of Department of English, M.K. Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar. The topic of discusion is 'Chetan Bhagat - the Writer'. The speaker discussed:
* what is right / wrong with Chetan Bhagat
* Politics of Awards
* Young India and
* why study Chetan Bhagat?

The students of the Department of English are studying Chetan Bhagat's 'One Night @ The Call Centre'. They (especially Ajay Jajeda, Avani Dave, Deepti Joshi, Hirva Vora, Riddhi Jani and Nidhi Kunvarani) actiely participated in the talk via Google Hangout on Air.

You can view the auto-recorded video (which is interesting feature of Google Hangout on Air. Keep in mind, it is not simple video call over Hangout. It is Google Hangout on Air!)with a few edits on YouTube. The video is embedded hereunder:

Chetan Bhagat is quite a controversial write in the gallaries of canonical literary studies. Thus, he arouses quite contradictory reactions. There are people who are die-hard fan - and there are who do not miss a chance to attack him. View this wonderful video where the author meets the hater:

There were interesting debates on news channels regarding Chetan Bhagat's new book 'Half Girlfriend'.
Here are videos of those talk-shows:

(Nepathya - Aside)
Isn't the success story of Chetan Bhagat the success story of capitalism? The Capitalism functions on one mantra: 'Under the garb of Freedom, encash everything!" Turn everything into commodity, market it, create buyers and earn money. Be it faith or literature, market it like beverages and skin whiteners; and see the tamaashaa! Those who are not surprised to see the rising demand of Ganesh Pandals, are not surprised to see rising demands of Chetan Bhagat; as they very understand the market phenomenon in capitalist societies. However, the question is: "Are those who are surprised at Chetan Bhagat phenomenon, surprised or shocked at rising marketing and commodification of rituals/faith? (last two videos and this note updated on 29 Aug 2014)

There was an interesting discussion on 'What makes for a canonical writer?' on ELTAI Literature SIG. Let me share some of the observations which were discussed on this thread: (To give due respect to the originality of all the contributors, their views are copy-pasted retaining font size, type and colour as they designed them :) )
Some people say that Chetan Bhagat is not an "established writer". Some others say that he is not a literary author.
  • So making a research or study on his works is useless and wont bring any good response or help increase API. 

    Now may I request you learned masters to please help me appease my curiosity and tell me how to differentiate between 'an established writer' and a 'non established writer' OR how to know whether a particular author is a literary author or not.

    For ex. Adiga wrote a single novel and he is accepted as an established writer and a literary author but Bhagat, despite writing almost half a dozen books is still lacking this status.

    Please help me. I'm much puzzled. ~ J.K. Mishra

  • A difficult problem really. There are no set formulae to evaluate a writer to admit him in the literary fold. 
    A work should be faithful and true to the world it creates. It should present human problems and situations and not lead us into fanciful worlds of unreality. Apart from them there are formal features of a work which also help us to judge it.
    Try to read relevant chapters in Rene Wellek and Austin Warren's Theory of Literature. You may find them useful. ~ Nagarajan
  • I do not know if I will be able to satisfy you with my query but let me try to answer. No work is really literary or non literary. It is we who place it in categories. I personally think that if a book is able to touch us deep inside and make us feel then the book is good as it emotes with us. As students and teachers of literature it is our duty to remove hierarchies and accept differences. Unfortunately, we are caught in this mire of canonisation. Today in many universities there are popular fiction courses and you may know about the anthology on pulp fiction. I do prefer Adiga to Bhagat because I felt that Adiga brought out the problem of the poor beautifully while I feel with Bhagat the purpose of the story is more to gain an audience. These are my own views. ~ kalpana Rao

  • It's all politics of literature teaching within the academia.  It's the reader and his/her assessment that matters. A few Mphil students of mine have done research on Bhagat.  One is doing PhD.  I have recommended him for PG course in a few autonomous colleges.  Mostly, those who denounce him have not read him!
    Common people have rejected Adiga though he is accepted by academics and award-giving institutions like Booker because of a new moral standard the White Tiger seems to suggest.
    The idea of canonical text can be traced back to ten qualities of a great work in Aristotle's Poetics.
    If we judge by Aristotle' standard, most Dalit lit cannot be labelled lit at all. ~ John Sekar
  • I personally feel that no author, no art form, no form of any representation is either inferior or superior. Nothing is beyond the reach or relevance of academic interest.  These are days when we have serious research projects on cartoons, advertisements and even graffiti!  The crucial thing is probably the approach we take in analyzing or studying them, and the tools we use. ~ Lal C.A.

  • Chetan Bhagat is a master story teller and one the best-selling authors during the recent times.  All his books provide enjoyable reading.whether we consider them as literary works or not. It is  also a different question  altogether  if they would stand the test of time or not.  

    In my view one may take them up for research for the this level students are after all expected mainly  to get a thorough knowledge of methodology of doing literary research. But in the case of Ph.D. degree we expect  our scholars   attain a certain amount of scholarship at least in the field chosen. Can we expect it on the part of one who has just worked on Chetan Baghat?  ~ 
    S. Rajagopalan. 

  • Your point is worth arguing indeed. It all depends on how to classify the author in terms of literary canon. But if the canon is itself elitist how to identify the author for your project is a disturbing question. But one thing is sure, if the thesis statement accommodates the seriousness that is required, no one can reject it outright. In Malayalam literature also this kind of discussions happen especially (humorously) of course between two Varkeys. One is Muttath Varkey who is a popular writer of the late 50s and 60s and Ponkunnam Varkey who is a devoted Modernist with a strong moorings in native culture. The former was not generally taken seriously by the academia for "want of high seriousness" but the latter is adored by many researchers. Go ahead!   ~ 
    Dr.Muralikrishnan T.R.

  • I do not think that serious research on Chetan Bhagat is not possible and no univeristy can deny or invalidate degree, if a really serious work is done on any popular culture or literature. In fact, now it is time to give serious readings to contemporaneity in art, literature and culture.
    Popular fictions represent contemporary taste. If we deny its study, we will fail to understand it in future. They are cultural artefacts which requires serious attention. They have an appeal to the readers/viewers/audiences, which cannot be asked to abstain from. One should make genuine attempt to understand it. We should not forget that it was Aristotle's study of popular Greek dramatist and it was Dryden's study of popular English dramatist, that they are with us. We have glaring examples of writers like Wordsworth, who was considered as childish and his poem, nursery rhyms by elite critics - today the critics are dead, and Wordsworth is remembered as epoch-maker in hitory of Literature. Samule Beckett's 'absurdity' has an appeal to the people - and after bashing from elite critics, people started giving serious consideration - and Martin Esslin termed 'theatre of absurd'.

    So, the question of whether to study CB or Amish, or JKRowing or James Hadley Chase, Mills and Boons or for that matter any popular writer is irrelevant.

    But the important point is to give serious reading with scientific inquiry, objectiveness, systematic analysis, relevant hypothetical question, and with deep insight into the nature of research. The research tools/questions/methodology is important > in fact, it is 'the' important thing > rather than the object /text under evaluation. We can keep tools devised by Aristotle, Dryden, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Matthew Arnold, New Critics, Reader Response theorists, feminists, psychological critics, Northrop Frye, Marxists (this can be of great help in CB's case), post-structuralists (Derrida, Paul DeMan et all), post-colonial (Homi Bhabha, Spivak et all), new historicist (stephen Greenblatt) and New Cultural critics (from raymond williams, heidbige, hoggarth to Slovaj Zizek). . . . and if possible, device 'new canon' to read these new breeds of writers.

    The follwoing articles and books can be useful in the study: 
    Peter Swirski, "Popular and Highbrow Literature: A Comparative View" 
    Matthew Schneider-Mayerson "Popular Fiction Studies: The Advantages of a New Field" 
    Popular Fiction: Why We Read It, Why We Write It by Ann Maxwell/Elizabeth Lowell
    The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction EDITORS: David Glover, University of Southampton, Scott McCracken, Keele University. ~ 
    Dilip Barad

  • The ongoing debate on Chetan Bhagat needs some clarity. We can't question whether he is a literary figure or not. Keeping in view his books and their contents, we can easily observe the elements of literature .i.e. fictive background, ironical temper, imaginative impulse, comical vein, reformatory zeal, etc. that largely constitute the corpus of any literary piece. From all these angles, he stands as a literary figure.
    What we can question is- Is his language literary? that is also an important part of any powerful literature.From this angle, he doesn't have a literary pen at his command. A literary language is identified with a brilliant use of figure of speech, its narrative details, unconventional syntax intending to widen the horizon of literary expressions, unusual range of vocabulary, etc. Actually, it is the language of literature that induces irresistible reading of any literary writing. The force of language interwoven with thematic strings constitute a powerful literary creation. But Bhagat miserably fails in stuffing his works with this remarkable feature. We can juxtapose his writings with Arundhati / Kiran, etc. to understand this point more clearly. This linguistic weakness of Bhagat will always make the sensitive readers of literature doubt his literary potential to be reckoned in terms of universal and eternal values a literary piece truly inculcates.~ 
    Dr. Raj Kr Sharma

  • He is making so many young readers sensible towards zeitgeist. Beneath his seeming simplicity, hokey spiritualism n bollywoodish philosophy, there is 'something unnarratable - which compels people to read him. ~ Dilip Barad

  • To many, the call center has become the symbol of India's rapidly globalizing economy. While traditional India sleeps, a dynamic population of highly skilled,articulate professionals works through the night, functioning on U.S. time under made-up American aliases. They feign familiarity with a culture and climate

    they've never experienced, earn salaries that their elders couldn't have imagined (but still a fraction of what an American would make), and enjoy a lifestyle that's a cocktail of premature affluence and ersatz Westernization. It's a subculture that merits closer exam ination, and in Chetan Bhagat's One Night @ the Call Center, a breezy bestseller that has taken middle-class India by storm, the Samuel Johnsons of this brave new world have found their Boswell. ~ Shashi Tharoor.
  • Serious critics will no doubt quibble with the two-dimensional characterization, the pedestrian prose, the plot's contrved deus ex machina, and the author's hokey spiritualism. But non of that matters. ~ Shashi Tharoor.
  • Bhagat's tone is pitch-perfect, his observer's eye keenly focused on nuance and detail. Verisimilitude is all. ~ Shashi Tharoor.
  • multiplying, and the demand for skilled "agents" has driven salaries up to ever more attractive levels. Although many may suffer the angst this novel so effectively conveys, most see a job in a call center as a passport to a better life, one offering more possibilities and choices than were imaginable to the previous generation. These young Indians may keep unsocial hours, neglect their family obligations, drink excessive cocktails with names like "Long Island Iced Tea," and date each other with
    a casualness that horrifies their par ents. But they are part of a social and economic revolution that is enriching and transforming India, mostly for the better. Chetan Bhagat may not entrely approve, but it's this new India that's buying his book.
  • Do not miss to visit > and his blog on this site to read responses from the readers and author's answers.
  • One reason why I find Chetan Bhagat interesting is because he is so different from academically hyped `Indian Writing in English canon comprising mostly of the diasporic writers like Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri or Kiran Desai. The guy writes about people and world with which the ` Eng. Lit' academics are not really familiar. Bhagat's novels are about India that is more recognizable than the one you find in The Moor's Last Sigh or The Midnight's Children. The Eng Lit. scholars are more conversant with Jhumpa Lahiri's expatriate NRIs living in New York than with people who work in the call-centre just round the corner. ~ Prof. Sachin Ketkar, M.S. Uni., Baroda. Read more . . .

All the students of Semester 4 (New Literature Course) are suggested to post thier views on how enriching it was to listen Prof. Juneja - on Google Plus Community of our Department or as comment under this blog.

Do not miss to review following writeups on Chetan Bhagat:

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