A year after the launch of Slumdog Millionaire, the Oscar-winning movie of Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A, : Who is the most read living Indian writer? Is it a) Aravind Adiga (Booker prize-winning author of The White Tiger); b) Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children); c) Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy); or d) Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)?
The answer: none of these. one of the vital characteristics of the new India is that the educated middle class who once turned to English for business applications now see it in a different light. The manner of typical English language and culture in many parts of former colonial society is coming out from its bitter colonial past.
This new middle-class audience like executives,salesmen,convent educated youth,clerks has an appetite for literary entertainment that falls between the elite idiom of the cultivated literati, who might be familiar with the novels of Amitav Ghosh or Salman Rushdie, and the Indian English of the street and the supermarket. Theirs is the Indian English of the outsourcing generation. For these people, one author appeals , that is Chetan Bhagath.
The author of the romantic comedy One Night @ the Call Centre has now published four novels and sold some 2.5m copies in the last five years. His work is available in all the places, though it has never been seriously reviewed there in the West. His real market is in India where, still scorned by the literati, he is known to virtually every college student. According to press reports, Bhagat's latest novel 2 States sells a copy every 20 seconds, and is only outperformed by his previous bestseller,The 3 Mistakes of My Life.
The key to Bhagat's success is that he addresses the everyday concerns of India's middle-class youth, in a language they can relate to, and also consciously strives for a mass appeal. His books sell at 95 rupees , the same price as a cinema ticket, and are aimed at supermarkets. "We don't have bookshops in every town", Bhagat has said. "We have supermarkets. I want my books next to jeans and bread. I want my country to read me."
Bhagat writes in the quick-fire campus idiom that young Indians use and exploits a brash populism critics as to reach the widest market. His first novel, Five Point Someone, adopted a breezy, ironic tone to explore the lives of the exam-oppressed students who cram to get into the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and then rebel against the stultifying atmosphere of academic competition.
It features soft drugs, binge-drinking and an affair between a student and his professor's daughter. One Night @ the Call Centre is a romantic comedy set in an office where bored young Indians try to resolve the mindless inquiries of Midwestern American technophobes.
Inevitably, Bhagat has his own blog (chetanbhagat.com/blog). Just as inevitably, he has a theory about his runaway success. He says his novels reflect a generational divide in India. Bhagat's model society is China, Bhagat told the Guardian. "In China, it was bloody, but India needs to learn that the old ways are not always the best ways."
But in the world of books, in any culture, the old ways have a habit of persisting. After One Night @ the Call Centre was made into a successful movie, Bollywood came calling again. Five Point Someone was signed up by one of India's most powerful film city Bollywood , and retitled3 Idiots, for its most bankable leading man, Aamir Khan.
When it was released, in a manner horribly reminiscent of old Hollywood at its worst, 3 Idiots made scant reference to Bhagat's original work, to the author's well-publicised fury. But one thing sure has happened after 3 idiots, new generations will be reading more more from Chetan bhagath., their rocking star in writing.