Chetan Bhagat is at it again. With ‘One Indian Girl’ all the classic hallmarks of a Chetan Bhagat novel are in place-a Punjabi middle class family, love (gained and lost), a wedding, an effort to break the stereotypes and witty sarcasm; albeit with one difference- the narrator is an independent, intelligent, prototypical female voice- Radhika Mehta, VP, Goldman Sachs.
As the excerpt and prologue give you a glimpse of what to expect of the protagonist, the very first chapter makes it clear as daylight that she thinks and has opinions of her own. While Radhika expresses them freely to her parents, it is difficult for her to act on them in front of her would-be in-laws and to-be husband, given all the conditionalities of ‘good bahu’ society heaps on her. Take, for instance, the way she is expected to be all dolled up in a silk salwar kameez (and not in comfortable jeans-t-shirt) after a tiring flight, to greet her in-laws. All the notions of logic are a foregone conclusion about equal sharing of rooms since it is always the ‘girls’ side’ which is expected to adjust – a girl has to dive in to touch as many pairs of feet as possible in the first meeting to fulfil the criteria of a well-bred-/homely (read docile and submissive) girl/bahu. These and all such teeny-weenie instances of gender discrimination that are made known subtly yet effectively throughout the novel.
So just when you begin to think Radhika’s story is that of another nerdy, weird narrator with an internal monologue, bent on waving the flag of feminism, confused with what to do of her life, the author surprises you with a twist – a twist enough to keep your antennae up, hear her out and most importantly keep guessing. Mr. Bhagat sure knows his craft well and plans out introduction of all the characters in perfect sync. So we are taken back in time as Radhika’s dark forgotten past creeps into her future threatening to make her already unsorted life more miserable.
Everything is not unveiled all at once, but the beauty of the book precisely lies here- the author has taken enough care to capture the reader’s attention and make them see the transformation of a highly intelligent-yet-insecure ‘girl’ into a self-assured-self-valuing ‘individual’ without being judgmental anywhere. Meanwhile the hypocrisy of the society in general and men in particular is laid out bare, making no bones. For instance, her first boyfriend Debashish Sen, who quotes feminist texts and advocates ‘women should fly’, cannot handle her bonus (her flying above him), which is almost triple the amount of his salary. Neel Gupta, Partner, Goldman Sachs, who while appreciated her flying and even encouraged it at times, could not see how a career-oriented ambitious girl like her could also aspire to be a mother, even look forward to changing diapers or to quote the author, ‘have a nest’.
In a different scenario, it also drives home the saying of ‘never judge a book by its cover’ as the Bollywood-cricket-loving honest ‘typical’ (read conventional IT guy) Brijesh provides some of the most profound insights of life, and logicality of feminism – just another name for ‘humanism’ according to the author, who ‘acts’ on the lines of concept without knowing its definition. The book effectively shows Radhika’s vulnerabilities too, as she fails to take right decisions at right times. But we are after all human and nobody is supposed to be perfect.
Some of the best lines and insights in the book come in the closing chapters, where finally our caterpillar finds her wings, her logic, her voice and her act to become a beautiful butterfly (or should I say an soaring eagle) that she was always meant to be. A worthy victory for a girl in our times, if you ask me. The novel combines all the elements of a worthy read – fun, wit, reflections on love, success, equality, rights etc. as the author boldly dives into a woman-psyche giving it a voice. A congratulatory feat in itself.
Go for it regardless of your stand on Chetan Bhagat. This journey won’t disappoint.