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Chetan Bhagat has written his seventh novel and this time he has added another bauble to Brand Bhagat. He’s gone feminist, he claims.

To find, arouse and then channel his inner woman was an arduous journey. He went for a waxing session to feel women’s pain since he couldn’t actually have the monthly period. He also spoke to 100 women about their lives, loves and in-laws. And then, of course, there was the long lineage of chick-lit to sift through.

Only after all that did she come to him, One Indian Girl.

Or Radhika Mehta — bright, wheatish, Punjabi, with her fabulous, high-paying job at Goldman Sachs in New York, and her inept attempts at finding love.

The outcome?

Let’s just say it’s an awkward attempt at cross-dressing.

One Indian Girl is a screenplay masquerading as a novel, a chick-lit pretending to be more and Chetan Bhagat a Punjabi man dying to write a Mills & Boon.

Bhagat’s feminism, then, is limited to Radhika screaming “I’m a feminist” to herself, while all around her sexism, patriarchy, misogyny abounds.

Bhagat, in fact, body shames all her aunts, and populates Radhika’s world with characters created out of one-line clichés:

Adorable, calm dad and hyperventilating, harried mother.
Non-committal boyfriend Debu; older, married, boss-lover Neel; and Brijesh, the suitable boy picked from a matrimonial site by her mother.

He lets overt sexism at her workplace pass, and, often, lets his own prejudices and fear of feminists creep in.

Somewhere in Mr Bhagat’s head dwells an image of feminists he calls “elite”. The image of these “evolved, Khan Market” women, who he says are disconnected with India’s “normal, middle class girls”, is that of Angry Birds. He doesn’t write for them, he says.

One Indian Girl, he says, speaks to girls in Bulandshahar and Jaunpur, and it’s for them that he’s opening a window to a new way of being. But someone needs to tell Mr Bhagat that Angry Birds dwell in Jaunpur, too. And we all know a few.

Edited text of the interview

Hi, congratulations on your book.
Smiles

You’ve said in interviews that you spoke with 100 girls as part of research for your book…
Ya

So, 100 specific?
That was the target I gave myself.

Right. So tell me three things you learnt about women that you didn’t know before…
One, that different women have very different ideas about what they want out of life, especially when it comes to work-life balance… there’s a very strong need in many women to have a career as well as a nice home… Feminism doesn’t mean that they don’t want to look after the home. So that was something, because I thought feminism means ki bhai, ghar ka kaam nahin karna hai, ghar pe nahin bethna hai…

Second, a lot of women said, “I’ll help you with the book, but hey, I’m not a feminist”. Which was quite a shocking thing for me… (but) that I think is because feminism has got a bad name. It’s in the clutch of some very extreme women who hold very extreme viewpoints and the ordinary Indian girl doesn’t relate to that…

And third, lots of prejudices about sex, desire, wanting to like a guy. It is considered ki you are a bad girl, you are a slut. All these constructs are there in women’s heads a lot… Karte wohi hai jo karna hai, but it’s riddled with a lot of guilt…

So you had some misconceptions about feminism… that it’s not about…
Mujhe laga it’s a movement where women become very (thinking)… strong. That it’s about being STRONG. It’s a movement to give strength to women, but strong doesn’t mean dehumanising. Strong doesn’t mean cutting out emotion, cutting out vulnerability. You can still be like any other girl, full of self-doubt, confusion…

You really thought that feminism is about…
Ya… Lot of girls in India think ki feminism mein kuch alag hi ladkiyan hain.
Two journalists came yesterday… One journalist… you know what she told me? Yeh feminism na, if you are a lesbian then you can probably be a feminist…
Just imagine! What hope is there for an ordinary girl…
But that’s how women think. So maybe you need to redefine it. Maybe we need to make it more palatable…
Abi kya hai, the average Indian girl, what does she want? If I’m pursuing my education and career, my mother should not push me for marriage. If I get married, my saas should not give me tanaas, ki garam-garam phulke kyun nahin banaye. Yeh hai average Indian middle class…
If you tell them, bas itna hi chahte ho tum? Tumhen toh aur ladna chahiye… They are like, bas, hamein yeh miljaye, hum itne se khush hain…
So I think that’s where the movement needs to become culturally and context specific. That’s one thing I hope this book will do — Radhika is a very real Indian girl. She’s trying to be a feminist… Even though she’s very successful, andar se, her psyche, she thinks like a normal middle class girl…

Did you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
I’ve read. I’ve seen. But, you know, it (One Indian Girl) has some sex scenes, but they are also…

Actually, I wasn’t asking because of that.
Haan, I’ve read. I read big bestsellers anyway. To see ki isme kya hai. I considered writing something like that but it’s not my…

Huh?
No, you know, I don’t have a view on it. I mean, I like to write on things that I have a view on.

Why, you just said na, women have misconceptions about sex…
Woh dal-diya usmein (One Indian Girl)… There is a lot of… It is my boldest book in terms of sex scenes. I don’t think any of my books have such elaborate sex scenes.

The book spans four years.
Ya. Three-four years.

Two sex scenes?
Usi mein dekho Twitter pe hungama mach gaya.
What really gets people’s attention is that I show middle class girls having sex. It’s very disturbing to men…
See, if it’s a gori girl, if it’s a Fifty Shades, toh phir S&M bhi chalega wahan.
Yeh West Delhi ki ladki, jiski shaadi ke, matlab, pakode ban rahe hain, and then she has sex — that’s very close to home. That could be a girl they know. That could a girl around them. It’s unsettling for men, that a woman could be like this — she may demand, she may choose, she may go from one man to the other, it’s not something men are prepared for, so even these two (sex scenes) are… Page 57 is now trending on Twitter.
(speaks in a rushed, excited voice of a reader) Page 57 pe sex scene hai, yeh sex scene aa gaya, sex scene aa gaya, sex scene aa gaya
Because it’s a desi girl… Baki toh, porn is there everywhere. 50 Shades kya hai. Kuch bhi nahin… See it, why read it.

I asked because of Radhika’s inner voice — Mini Me. That’s like in Fifty Shades, where she has Inner Goddess.
I was careful not to make it that. But, you know, I needed a Mini Me because what girls think and the kind of… Mini Me is that cultural, you can even call it the mother voice. The mother never leaves you.
I found girls talking to me, and they are talking, talking, talking, talking and, suddenly, they’ll totally contradict themselves in their chain of thought. “Haan, I like this guy you know, I want to take things ahead… Mera bhi mann tha, main karoon. But it’s wrong na, to do something, sleep with him…”
It was almost like a parallel track.

Schizophrenia?
It’s not schizophrenic … it’s conflict, confusion in their head…
Girls think on multiple tracks. Men don’t. Men, one track.

Men don’t have a voice in their head, father’s voice?
…Not so much ya. Not on a daily basis. Women are just told too much… Women are told to take care of their looks all the times. They are constantly told, aise baitho, legs fold karo.
I don’t even know how they are able to think clearly because they are constantly made aware of their surroundings, their appearance, how they are coming across.

So they internalise it?
Ya, there’s a lots more internal chatter.
Of course, everybody is different. Some people are… They don’t think much. It’s fine. But generally, in women, there is more neurosis.

So, in the two sex scenes in your book, both times Radhika has an orgasm, which is great…
Which I wanted to show to women…

And both times it’s courtesy oral sex. Is this something that your research threw up?
Well, it’s one very overlooked thing in India… oral sex is very clearly pleasuring woman. And I think it’s important that women find out that it exists, frankly, in a country like India, and that they deserve it. And it’s a way they can have orgasm.
Describing how you can have an orgasm via intercourse would need a very, very explicit, G-spot kinda scene which I didn’t want to do… In the second sex scene, she orgasms twice. Second time is through intercourse. Both are not…

Ya, one is.
Neel is amazing na. Neel toh kaise bhi kara-dega.
We both laugh

But it’s deliberate. The oral sex references were deliberate because I felt that it’s something that gives a woman… it’ll make a difference. Millions of women are reading the book. At least they’ll discuss with their boyfriend, “Yeh kya hota hai…” Which is good.
(smiles) Ek seva toh kari.
haahaaaa

So are you saying women don’t…
Women are confused. Or they will never ask. And men won’t do. So phir, kaise? You know. So now, I have…

So now they can open page 57…
hahaha and follow the instructions… If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

You’ve called One Indian Girl a feminist book. How is it a feminist book?
It’s a feminist book because it shows a character who, by the end, stands up for herself, is no longer as needy, is no longer looking for validation from a man and understands her own womanhood better and understands what she wants in life better and is not willing to compromise for it. So in that way it’s a feminist book.

In the book, there is this dialogue between Radhika and Brijesh, when she asks him, “Are you a feminist…”
Goa mein, haan.

And he says, “Feminist is the wrong term, it should be humanist.” So are you…
There is that school of thought. Even Hillary Clinton’s video you see, gender rights are human rights, that’s what she says…

But Hillary Clinton is not writing the book. You are. The dialogue goes, “Feminist is the wrong term. It should be humanist.” And Radhika says, “That’s true”. Why would you…
But people have liked it. You know, I asked people their favourite line from the book — it’s there, on my FB page. And that’s one of the most liked lines. People like it. It’s easy to understand. What is wrong in it?
Some people say that you need the term feminist because their rights have been repressed so long that you need it. But, in essence, baat galat toh nahin keh raha na…
It’s like, jaise aap rang ka bhed-bhav nahi karte, dharam ka nahin karte, gender ka bhi mat karo. Ek tarah se he’s just trying to say that.

But not looking at it in this, you know, very simplistic… if you don’t look at it in a completely dumbed down kind of…
It’s not dumbed down. It may be an oversimplification. But to call it dumbed-down is being judgmental. A lot of people think that way. This view is not an isolated view.

But, if there’s a rights movement, in this case for women, and they want to call it feminism, isn’t the first step to acknowledging the movement, the issue, accepting what they want to call it?
I’m not Brijesh. I’ve written a full book on it (feminism). If I didn’t think it was important, I won’t have written a book on it. And talking about the word, I could have avoided the discussion only. I could have chopped off the discussion… It’s his (Brijesh’s) way of putting it. There are different ways of looking at it.

I want to know what’s your way of looking at it.
My way is that it has to come democratically, and, ideally for me, women in India should decide. They should all get involved, in a mainstream way, and they should define what this is.

This is a straight chat between Radhika and Brijesh. There’s no conflict. They are just talking, so that’s why I was puzzled. Why be a feminism denier in a book that you are calling…
No, no. She’s with a guy she’s having an arranged marriage with. She can’t have an argument, na. She’s listening. She just says, are you a feminist Brijesh. Because it’s important to her. The fact that she asks him the question is because it’s important to her. Ki tu kya hai, tu batade mujhe. Ki tu sambhal payega mujhe ke nahin sambhal payega. He may not have given the perfect answer, but that’s who Brijesh is.

But she agrees with him…
She’s like, it’s a nice way to put it. There’s nothing to disagree… Ya, she doesn’t go on to say, (in a mock serious, superior tone) but feminism means… She’s Radhika, and she’s getting married, and she’s doing dope in Goa…

But, but… Feminists do a lot of dope.
She’s not that kind of feminist.

Okay. But my…
Achcha, anyway. Let’s go on.

There is so much product placement in the book…
There’s no payment made. Brands are pop culture icons today, whether we like it or not. Brands help me define a character… They help me put people in context. “They went to Starbucks” brings a certain authenticity to the character for me because that’s the consumerists society, that’s the world we line in now, and especially this girl, who works at Goldman Sachs. I hate giving fake names. I hate it.

I was thinking that maybe because your writing is so much like a screenplay, that’s why…
You see, some writers describe a room. Woh room aisa tha, chair aisi thi… I just say, they went to Starbucks. Boom! Ho gaya. The reader knows. I save a whole page of description because people can imagine it.

Clearly you see this as a film.
Maybe, one day… It’s harder to put a project together (with a woman in the lead and three men). If people like the story, and if somebody with money believes it’ll be a good film… I’ll not put the money… I think there’s interest. Kangana wants to do it. I think it’ll make a fantastic film. It’s got all the fun elements — it’s got shaadi-vaadi…

It’s a little Tanu Weds Manu and a little Queen…
And yet it’ll make a point. I don’t know what we’ll do with the explicit scenes though. We’ll have to tone them down. Otherwise Nihalaniji won’t like it.

Nihalani is directing the film?
Noooooo…

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