Chetan Bhagat swaps plotlines for real problems in his latest release, India Positive
Chetan Bhagat is a man with a plan — for the whole country, by the looks of his latest release: India Positive. A collection of new essays and selected columns that work as a manifesto change, the author has covered everything from education to employment to equality. Over a decade after his debut with Five Point Someone, the author looks back at the common thread through several his works, in terms of narratives that reflect present-day national issues. And also, does he want to get into politics? In a candid chat, the 45-year-old touches upon all of that, as well as the economy, how to stay motivated and fatherhood.
You said recently in an interview, ‘all fiction novels are about national issues’. Could you elaborate?
Yes, if you notice any of my books, like Five Point Someone was about the education system, 2 States was about the North-South divide, The Girl in Room 105 was about Kashmir and so on, every book of mine definitely touches about an issue that affects the country today.
Now that you have a book of essays, would you say that non-fiction is a more impactful form to discuss the very same issues?
I think both forms can be impactful, but there are just too many issues in India to write a fiction novel about everything. A non-fiction article helps me touch on a lot of the country’s problems and can stick to the issue and don’t have to worry about weaving an interesting plot around it.
Would you consider consciously combining the two — fiction and a relevant issue — like say women’s safety, LGBTQ or politics? Would a timely marriage of the two spur on more change?
I have been doing exactly that for years, though I haven’t touched on LGBTQ issues yet. I just don’t know the issues involved well enough to have a take on it. One Indian Girl was about feminism and that connected with a lot of women in India though.
Today, a large number of citizen opinions about problems tend to be negative and critical without making much action toward change. Does India Positive seek to turn that around with its messages and how?
I try to be a solution-oriented, practical person, even if that means my solutions are simplistic. I even get mocked for it sometimes, as in who am I to suggest solutions. I guess if others can criticise and point out problems, I can be positive and suggest solutions too.
We noticed that one of the topics you have covered is how to create a more equal society. Could you walk us through your thoughts on that?
Well, you would have to read the essay for that, but I guess we have to work towards a ‘level playing field’ concept as a nation. Equal to me, simply means equal opportunity to strive and do well, not necessarily a communist style equal rewards for all.
What’s the biggest burning issue in your opinion — that once solved — will by default solve a number of others?
There is no one burning issue, but I think we are so poor as a nation that we have to grow the economy at a much faster rate than now and that might solve a lot of our problems.
Given all of these thoughts and detailed solutions — have you considered getting into politics yourself?
I have thought about it but I don’t think I am cut out for it. I love what I do now as well, and politics is a 24x7 job and may require me to give up a lot of things I do. Hence, I decided not to go for it.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a new fiction novel. I also am doing a lot of motivational content on Instagram.
It has been well over a decade since your first book came out. How has your writing process evolved over the years?
Writing never gets easier. It is always a challenge. What does get better is your ability to schedule and estimate deadlines better. You also become less anxious in the middle of it as you know, eventually it will all get done.
Would you ever consider writing outside of the book format — like a comic or a play perhaps?
I have but frankly, I don’t have the time for it. I keep a pretty full schedule.
For the budding crop of Indian writers: what’s some good advice on dealing with rejection and what should one keep in mind with a changing literary scape?
I think you have to become good at writing and know what are your strengths. Learn to write, edit, market — an author has to handle it all these days.
You do a lot of motivational talks for students. What are the questions that keep repeating themselves and how would you answer them?
I guess most people want to know how to stay motivated, despite no guarantee of success and the chance of failure. And I tell them to be strong and consume motivational content every day to keep their reserves tapped up!
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Skin in the Game by N Taleb. Sapiens is next on my list.
It was Father’s Day recently. Give us a peek into your life as a dad. Do your sons Ishaan and Shyam like to read, have their interests influenced your reading list, and what else do you do together?
Yes, my sons have read a fair amount of books for their age, although the advent of smartphones has reduced reading for all of us. We play games, go out for walks, travel, play pranks on each other. I do my best to be there for them as much as possible despite my schedule.
India Positive, published by Westland Books, INR 225.
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