15 November 2009

Two States - The story of my marriage

Knotty affairs

Author: Chetan Bhagat
Price: Rs 99
Year of Publishing: 2009
Publishers: Rupa
Pages: 269

Like all his last three works, Five Point Someone, One Night @ A Call Centre and 3 Mistakes of My Life, his latest, 2 States - The Story Of My Marriage, also leaves you with mixed feelings.

Chetan Bhagat's simple theme, rooted in middle class sensibilities and the ordinariness of life will once again appeal to his fans --- a sizeable class of emerging mid-brow readers. But let's be clear that it is the author's funny bone that saves the day for him again. His nonchalant wit gives a point to his observations and lends a perky liveliness to an otherwise not-so-great book.

Even if one were to lower the literary bar considerably, it's hard to ignore the numerous banal and trite elements here. Chetan's construction of dialogues at many places (especially involving women) is cringe-worthy, as are many of the situational turns that he introduces in the book. His sense of drama comes straight out of trashy Bollywood potboilers. Some scenes are so hackneyed and over-the-top, it could make Ekta Kapoor seem restrained! Chetan actually has a dowry scene where a bride's father keeps his pagdi at the in-laws' feet. In any case, the story has a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge flavour to it. But since this is partly an autobiographical story, we'll give that to him. It's derived from Chetan's own experiences when he married his wife, Anusha (pic below).

2 States begins where Five Point Someone ends. After his (mis) adventures at the IIT – where he loves and loses the professor’s daughter – Krish goes to IIMA to pursue his management studies. He falls in love with Ananya, a bright Tamilian Brahmin girl, who seems on a rampage to break every shackle imposed by her conservative upbringing.
She drinks once in a while, has no qualms with pre marital sex or even living in with Krish. But once marriage plans come into the equation, both realise they have an arduous task before them.
Krish’s Punjabi mother won’t let "some Madrasis" trap her son, (the Tamilians are referred as ‘those black people’ by various North Indian characters a douzen times! There’s no malise in Chetan’s description, but it does start to jar after a point), while Ananya’s parents are stuck up on their Tam Bram 'we are so educated and cultured' credentials. How both sides eventually come around and accept the match is what 2 States is all about.

The story is clearly dated, because, the events are inspired from Chetan’s own love story and this was a decade ago! Much like in Five Point Someone, the tackling of the campus romance between Krish and Ananya is pedestrian here too. The exchanges are drab and the female character, in particular, behaves with a strange aggressiveness that is altogether unappealing. There are a few snatches of humour here and there, but not enough for you to be reassured about the rest of the pages ahead.

But in a pleasant surprise, the book comes into its own when Krish applies and gets a job in Chennai. Suddenly, he’s thrown into a new place and has to use his time and charm to get to know Ananya’s parents and make them like him. Chetan’s humour gets unleashed in full force, as he talks about various aspects about Tamilians he finds puzzling. He finds it curious how everyone here wants to be up at the break of dawn. He notices their sparse, functional homes – contrasting with the obscenely lavish and ostentatious homes of the Punjabis. He refers to the Tamil snacks as ‘spirals’, observes the funeral-like silence when they have their lunch or dinner. In the description of his boss - Bala, Chetan sharply brings out the propensity for sycophancy found among people of the community. But he also sensibly subverts this aspect with the character of Ananya’s father, who grudges the fact that his work doesn’t get him the appreciation he deserves, because he does not speak up. Chetan alludes here to the excessive sense of decorum and protocol ingrained in many South Indians.
The author’s penchant for humour makes these portions immensely readable and to his credit, even though he points at several of the community's idiosyncrasies, it’s done out of a genuine feeling of bemusement rather than to poke fun.
In fact, the author is far more brutal with his description of the Punjabis – with their love for showing off, their lack of subtly, their pretentious living.

When it comes to observations of these two communities, Chetan displays his natural flair as a writer. However, his characterization and plot development are less than impressive. The parts where Krish tries to win over Ananya’s parents are interesting, but it spirals downwards when the girl comes visiting Delhi and stays in his house. This is the weakest section of the book. Then the whole chapter where both sets of parents meet at Goa is downright bizarre. Also, some of the exchanges between the parents are so rude and direct, it’s a little hard to believe that people would converse this way in real life.

The book bounces back in the final section, where Krish goes though a depression and in an unexpected turn of events, things falls in place. The part where Krish's boisterous extended family come to attend his wedding in Chennai and are shocked that they have to be ready by six in the morning for the rituals is genuinely funny. "Is this a marriage or torture?" someone asks.

The biggest plus for the book is the choice of narrator – which happens to be Chetan himself as Krish. He comes across as level-headed, sharp-witted and genuinely nice so that even when the action starts to slacken, you remain interested in the twists and turns of his life.

Finally, as I mentioned, it’s 50-50 deal. Lots of laughs and light moments, but enough that is puerile and commonplace as well.
So where does one place this one among his earlier works? This too has many of the weaknesses of the other books, but it's probably more palatable than his last two works in terms of plot, because this is a straight-forward, episodic book.
It’s quick to read, which should mean something at a time when people run out of patience and time so quickly. And yes, full marks for the humour.

- Sandhya Iyer


janaki said...

Agree with most of your comments.

And like you said, where he does extremely well, is in spoofing the idiosyncracies of the 2 communities. As a keen watcher of the Tam Brahm community (belong myself) and also having lived in chennai few years, i cant think of another book (yes, clive avenue)which has highlighted the nuances so well.

Sandhya Iyer said...

I know - I don't recollect any other book which nails facts about the communities so well. I liked it for that.

Anonymous said...

this is a good review. let me admit that i thoroughly enjoyed this book. right up my alley in terms of humor and the 'chaltha hai' attitude this book reeks off. i think maybe you are a little too harsh on him in some of ur critiques. I think - to be honest - the imperfectness is what makes this book enjoyable. I do agree tho that the characterizations get a little jarring at times - but overall to me this was his best book so far. BTW - i totally missed the connection from 5.someone to this - thanks for pointing that out. Must read for all - one of those books that you read, enjoy and forget

Sandhya Iyer said...

Thanks Anon

My favourite is 5 point someone, followed by this one. This book reminds me of a quote, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they will kill you" :-)

His sense of humour is Chetan's biggest redeeming factor.

Anonymous said...

there is one part of the book which was quite interesting. He has openly used CitiBank name and actually ridiculed their wealth management processes if you noticed. Am very surprised that Citi allowed this. What are the laws in India - would Citi be able to sue him for this :-)

Sandhya Iyer said...

Anon: Yes, it didn't strike me, but yes, the whole description on CitiBank is satiric. I don't know about the rules, but I'm sure Chetan Bhagat must have considered that :-)


Mam, perhaps I have not read as much as you have, but I find his books written by a good MBA rather than a good author.
You know, there are better Indian writers I have read(certainly you must have read) like Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie but they seem to be less popular amongst the masses. He seems to have exploited the fact that Indians(especially the youth) are rather new to Indian English writers, and writes in simple English. He writes about a very light subject which appeals to the masses, not something esoteric which might perhaps alienate some readers.

Furthermore, he always tries to add an elite institution's name to his books which gets him some assured readers.(Even I fell to this when I was in my first year at IIT.) And yes, all his book are about 100/-, :).

All in all, I find him a writer who wants his books sold rather than appreciated. I tried reading 3 mistakes after 5.someone, and found it rather boring and left after 30 odd pages. I haven't even touched his books ever since.

Bindu Tewari said...

I loved reading the book. The simplicity in which a larger subject of state caste has been brought up with a lot of humour. From where I see, it is a book which relates to the love of families as an essential ingredient in Indian weddings. It talks about the successful,intelligent, educated class having a strong bond of love, keeping family above love bond. It talks of intense relationship dilemmas, it touches dowry, it touches the extra importance given to fair skin... It talks about the shallownes of people, their inflated egos. It talks about how genuine love can make bridges on man made state system.

I love the language. Chetan is very well read is a fact....but he is not throwing his weight around by using very heavy words... he ensures that he uses simple words...so that his readers are not looking for dictionary while reading :)

His book is lovely. I can see bollywood running after him to make another movie.

Keep writing....

K3RV9N said...

His humour shines at some place but i feel he has stereotyped the communities..and in making fun of Tamils he went too far , making it more personal than cultural.
He could have avoided some vulgar Tamil words ( p252), and too much metaphor..

This is my first CB book and will be bored to death if all his other books have same style.
I agree with SATYAANVESHI , he is applying box office theory

Sandhya Iyer said...

Satyaanveshi - it's true that Chetan Bhagat thinks like an MBA and is very conscious of what will work with his readers and what will not. There is a bit of formula in his writing no doubt. It was clear especially in Three Mistakes of mY life - where he tried to make it very filmy and overdramatic with a violent climax. Ditto with Two States, where there are several scenes straight out of some 80s family sagas. For me, it is irritating and wholly unnecessary.
What works in Chetan's writing is his succinct humour and a certain robust common sense he demonstrates.

Sandhya Iyer said...

Bindu: Chetan is effective when he observes people and judges situations. He's not very good with plots and more often than not makes a mess of things. But I agree there is something likeable about Two States.

Sandhya Iyer said...

K3 - CB is hardly subtle, so yes there are portions (like south indians referred to as 'those dark people' a million times) which were cringe-worthy. There was stereotyping, but as they say cliches becomes cliches because they are often true! Being a Tamilian, I could relate to almost everything out there. It was exagerrated in a funny way, but I think I think I will give CB the benefit of doubt. Don't think there was any malice there.

K3RV9N said...

Agreed . CB would have exaggerated a little bit about communities to add melodrama. Yeah benifit of doubt goes to CB. May be he expressed the point of view of Krish ( North Indian ) guy in Chennai , with some of his comments.

Wonderful blog for book reviews.And your review are balanced. I have bookmarked this blog. thanks

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read 2 States: The Story of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

oddsratio said...

everything in place for another Bollywood film....sometimes it seems as if Chetan Bhagat is only interested in writing some ready-made script or screenplay short of things, just like instant Maggy noodles, just add a film crew and get a pot boiler.....the starting is interesting to me...as the proceedings go, they become pretty predictable...but I don't feel the last twist is possible by human nature....the action of the father of our protagonist was beyond explanation and far too contrived...and overall the melodrama part is the largest weakness of this book...till now five point someone is his best work

Anonymous said...

Does annanya alive after giving birth to twin child cz in the last part I didnt saw her there is only krish and his two children.

Anonymous said...

He is my favorite author and very good person too. I liked almost all his book but my favorite book is Half Girlfriend.