Chetan Bhagat has to be one of the most controversial literary figures in India right now. His books have attracted both bouquets and brickbats, and there is nothing more people love than venerating him, and vilifying him in turn. I am also in two minds about Bhagat. His books generally have the emotional maturity of a preteen, but they hold up a mirror, albeit rather inelegantly, to the face of today’s society. The characters in Bhagat’s books are familiar, and hence, relatable, which is what makes Chetan Bhagat popular.
A friend of mine had lent his copy of “Revolution 2020” to me. Although I don’t veer down the CB-inspired path, I picked up this book because, hey, everyone needs some lad lit now and then!
Remember the moment that comes in almost every book – the moment when you go ‘aaaah’ when you get the part where the title starts making sense? Fair warning – it does not come in this book. Alright, you stumble on the reference to the title somewhere in the novel, but for all its worth, it could have been called ‘Desperation 2020’ and it would not have mattered. The message of the book is quite grand – it tries to question the true meaning of success and sacrifice. It also tries to weave politics, corruption, the rat race of education, and love into a grand tapestry of the spiritual, chaotic backdrop of Varanasi, the holiest place in India. However, the book fails miserably.
Revolution 2020 narrates the tale of three friends – Gopal, Aarti, and Raghav, who predictably form a love triangle. The language of the novel is similar to a Bollywood potboiler, with awkward hindi phrases and stilted english sentences. Text messages and online chats make up a major part of the prose, leading to severe disenchantment on my part.
It is neither the language nor the treatment of the subject that ensures the downfall of this novel. The biggest drawback of ‘Revolution 2020’ is the characters. None of them are likeable. They fail to display a certain depth, which is a trademark of an excellent character. Their actions are befuddling, their motives even more puzzling, and they end up more as cardboard caricatures than creatures of flesh and blood.
Meet vertice A – Gopal – the son of an impoverished teacher, who fails to clear the IIT-JEE, wastes a year and drains his father’s meager savings, while idling away for an year in Kota. Later, he becomes immensely wealthy despite his lack of a degree, by building a college on his plot of land with the blessings of the local goon and politician. Aphorisms about girls and men constitute a great deal of Gopal’s thoughts. While some of them are really pithy, others begin to grate on the nerves soon. The story has been narrated from his point of view. Apart from the listlessness that permeates his entire being, Gopal’s thoughts have more to deal with Aarti than anything else.
His polar opposite is Raghav, smart, good-looking and the resident genius, who gets a great score in the JEE and enrolls in Banaras Hindu University. His inclination is more towards the pen. He morphs into a fiery, passionate scribe who cares more about justice than moolah, forsaking a promising future in Infosys by taking up a job in the local newspaper. He later starts printing his own newsletter, “Revolution 2020”, after he is fired from his job, when he kicks up a storm about the legalities of Gopal’s college.
The beautiful vertice C is Aarti, a girl who dreams of escape. She has both the guys falling for her. She is earlier in a relationship with vertice B, but later becomes entangled with our hero, Gopal. She is the most puzzling of the three. Apart from her incredible beauty, her lure is mystifying, and her behaviour is baffling. She oscillates between Gopal and Raghav, till Gopal casts the final die, and ties up the future of all three characters in a single afternoon.
Despite its inability to put forth the thought across, Revolution 2020 raised some thoughts to ponder. What exactly counts as an achievement? Is education an indispensable part of being successful? Is corruption the right way to garner wealth when faced with dire penury? and will India ever be free of this malaise? But the question that plagued me the most was, “When would Chetan Bhagat finally get over his fascination of the IITs?” Really, I have been burning the midnight oil trying to find an answer to this, but the end is definitely not in sight. I think I will have to pin my hopes on Chetan Bhagat’s next book, and discover if his limerence has finally been extinguished.
To conclude, there is a remarkable similarity between the movies of Salman Khan and Chetan Bhagat’s books. Revolution 2020 topped the best selling list in 2011. It’s obvious – elitists may rage and storm, but the public has spoken!
This is a guest post by Pooja Wanpal | Picture courtesy: Rupa Publications, Goodreads Inc