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Chetan Bhagat on One Indian Girl

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“How many of you are feminists here?” asks Chetan Bhagat to an audience, many of whom are sitting on the floor by the foot of the stage like in a college festival, at Ampa Skywalk mall. From where I stand, I get a keyhole view of exactly three hands shooting up. “That’s just five per cent of the crowd here. What about the rest?” asks Chetan, with a puckered face, and continues in a measured tone, “Feminism is about equal rights for women and men. Don’t you want that?” A few shuffle in their seats, a majority insouciantly try to click a good picture of him.

Inside the office of Landmark Store, away from the crowd that has gathered for the launch of One Indian Girl, Chetan expresses his concern about how the term feminism, which forms the core of his latest work, is misunderstood. “It’s interesting how most Indian women do not want to be called feminists. I interviewed around 100 women {from flight attendants, hotel staff and a Serbian DJ} to understand the challenges and conflicts they face. While they helped me with the inputs, they were not comfortable being called feminists!” he says, arching his brows in surprise. Why is that? — he wondered aloud, and from the replies he gathered, he feels “it’s probably because they think that being one is akin to being called an activist or a candlelight holder in a streetside march.”

He wants to change that, and he believes that Radhika, the protagonist of his book, will help start a dialogue on the subject. Chetan describes her as a strong independent woman who hails from a middle-class family, but earns in crores in an investment banking company in New York. He pulls up an anecdote from her life to reflect on a larger issue “of how our social structure doesn’t know what to do with women who are successful.” He says: “In the book, her mom asks her not to mention her salary in the matrimonial ad, as it might deter suitors. This is the story of several women today. Even if she is in the highest rung in her career, we wonder what kind of daughter-in-law or wife she will be.”

Ever since the book hit the stores a month ago, it has been bobbing on waves of controversies, which for Chetan, a nine-books-old author, now seem like straws in a whirlwind. “I don’t bother about them. Probably five years ago, I would have. Not any more,” he says. “Many hyper feminist groups said that Radhika is not feminist enough because she is devastated when her boyfriend leaves her. But she is human, and it is natural to be sad,” he adds. Earlier this year, Twitter trolls hit a peak when the author decided to wax his body “to feel the same pain that women go through”.

Chetan had anticipated the brouhaha. “But not this much,” he adds with a laugh. “Every time my book comes out — be it Half Girlfriend, 2 States or Revolution 2020 — there is noise around it. And this time, I have taken a topic that everyone has strong views about. I understand that it is a bloated word, and it took me almost 10 years to gather confidence to bring it out,” he says. “This is also the first book I am bringing out in a woman’s voice. I knew it was a big risk while I was working on it.” What kept him calm were Mark Zuckerberg’s words: ‘The biggest risk is not taking risk’, and his wife’s review of the book. “She called it my best so far,” he says.

By Naveena Vijayan