Is Making India Awesome actually awesome?

I know what you’re thinking. First, I tortured you with my real-time Facebook review of Making India Awesome. Then, I tortured you with the parable of the bookstore about buying the book. And, now, here I am reviewing the damn thing on my blog.

Awesome. Just awesome. Everything is awesome!

If you want to know what the book’s about, here’s the book trailer:

Oops!  Sorry. That’s the song from the Lego Movie. Not the link to Chetan Bhagat’s book trailer.

But, this song sums up everything Chetan Bhagat wants for India. He wants to make India as awesome as he dreams it can be. As awesome as the Lego Movie. Or maybe even awesomer!

Isn’t that awesome?

Of course, it is.

But, do you really need to read his book to make India awesome?

Why, yes, you do!

Look. I get it. You’ve had it with this guy. He’s everywhere. Overexposed. You scream, “The writing! The love stories! The movies! Nach Baliye! When will it stop? Please make it stop!”

Well, I for one hope he doesn’t stop. And, the writing in this book isn’t bad. Really. It isn’t. I swear.

So, why bother reading this book? Because Bhagat writes things Indians need to hear in a way that Indians can understand—and maybe even care about. Because that’s the real issue: getting Indians to care enough to change themselves and their country. A year after the Modi wave swept through India like a tsunami, Indians can be categorised in four main categories:

  1. The cynical—You voted for Modi and the BJP. You thought you had broken the stranglehold of Congress. You were thrilled in the days following the election. The stock market and the rupee rallied. Acche din were on the way! But, a year later, you’ve become disillusioned. Where are the big economic reforms the BJP promised? You don’t see any acche din. You hear lots of din coming out of politicians’ mouths, but it’s just the usual garbage. Isn’t it?
  2. The scared—You didn’t vote for the BJP. Maybe you’re Muslim. Maybe you’re Christian. Heck, maybe you’re Hindu. But, you feared a BJP win. You remembered the riots in 2002, and you were scared. You still are. You feared that the more conservative blocks within the BJP would put the screws to you. A year later, the government seems to be on a kick to ban everything. First, beef in Maharashtra, then India’s Daughter, and now porn. (Although they seem to have come to their senses on that last one.) The list goes on—and on. Your fears have been realised. What now?
  3. The apathetic—You didn’t vote in the elections. You sat in Starbucks sipping your mocha and enjoying your holiday. You complain that India sucks. It will never change. It’s all chalta hai, anyway. A year later, nothing has changed. You were right. It doesn’t matter what you do. Nothing changes. Or does it?
  4. The haters—Maybe you voted. Maybe you didn’t. But one thing unites you: your hatred for Chetan Bhagat. You’re the ones who engage in the bhakt/Aaptard trolling on his Twitter feed. As a foreigner coming into the Age of Bhagat 10 years into the phenomenon, I have to say I really don’t get why he’s such a lightening rod for your hatred. If you don’t like his books, fine. That’s cool. Your choice. But, to hate him for being him seems a bit silly. Don’t you think?
  5. The dreamers—Bhagat himself falls into that category. They are just as sick and tired as you are of the corruption, the poverty, the poor infrastructure, and the increasingly competitive but failing education system. And, yet, for some reason, they continue to believe. They hope. Thank God for these dreamers. Without them, we would be nowhere. Without dreamers, you would not have people working to make the world a better place. Indian dreamers are people like Aditi Gupta with Menstrupedia who fights to break down menstrual taboos and has created a comic book available in four Indian languages and counting. Won’t you join them in their dreams for a better India?

Oops! That was five categories. Clearly, math is not my thing.

My point is that regardless of which category you fall into, you have something to learn from this book. Is it a perfect book? Of course not. No book is perfect. But, if you are frustrated by everything you see around you, and you want solutions, then read this book. You don’t have to agree with Bhagat’s solutions. I think he misses the mark in a few places, but at least he gets you thinking about how to solve the problem and not just sit there. On your computer. On your anonymous Twitter handle. Complaining. And posting stupid memes of Modi, the rockstar. Seriously. Knock that off. You’re upsetting Shobhaa De.

But, let’s get to the review, shall we?

The structure

Like What Young India Wants, Making India Awesome is a collection of Chetan Bhagat’s essays. Most of them are from his TOI column and have appeared in print over the last year or so. There are a few new essays and some older ones that have been updated for this collection as well. The book is broken down into four parts:

  • Awesome governance (politics and economics)
  • Awesome society (who Indians are and what they need to change)
  • Awesome equality (women’s, gay, and minority rights)
  • Awesome resources (the youth)

The opening essay features a mind map of the book that carries you through each section. I loved this graphic for the insight it provides into how Bhagat thinks and ties his ideas together. The map is far more nonlinear than I expected from the former engineer/banker/Excel guru. The graphic captures the interconnectedness of the problems and solutions as well.

And, I’m sorry. If you want to see how Chetan Bhagat thinks, you need to read the book. I’m not using a screen capture from my Kindle here. Buy your own damn book.

While fascinating, the structure does demonstrate one major flaw in the book. At one point, Bhagat says, “these millions of youth across the nation drive my politics.” Yet, the youth do not drive the book. That section is last and reflects a major misstep in my mind. On one level, I understand Bhagat beginning the book with larger structural issues like politics and economics, but the youth of India are its future. No one connects to this market segment better than Bhagat. So, why not connect to them from the beginning? Put them first. In his mind, his politics, and his book. Engage them, and then move into the bigger, tougher issues. To me, the book feels like it would have been better read backward. Of course, I am an American, and we are all about individuality. Indians tend toward the collective first. So, perhaps the organisation makes sense in that way. That might be my prejudice showing, too. But, these kids have enough people talking at them. This was Bhagat’s chance to talk to them, and he missed it. Instead, he begins the book with the essay “17 Commandments for Narendra Modi.” Consequently, to me, the book feels addressed more to Modi—and those like him in the corridors of power—than it is to the 19-year-old guy who wants to read this book because What Young India Wants was inspirational. Yes, that guy really exists. I swear.

Normally, in this part of my review, I give you the good and bad of the book. However, because the book doesn’t have a plot, I am going to give you the top 3 best and worst essays instead.

The best essays

True confession time: I am a fan of Bhagat’s columns. I have been since I read his essay on the Food Security Bill. That essay remains one of my favorites in this book.

  1. Pro-poor or pro-poverty?—This essay on the Food Security Bill questions the wisdom of this massive program to feed India’s poorest poor. The ending of the column is sheer poetry for how Bhagat takes the program to its rather illogical conclusion. Nuts! Everybody likes nuts!
  2. Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth—This letter connects so beautifully to Bhagat’s target audience that I wish it had been his first essay. He really does get inside the head of this fictional character and explains in a nonjudgemental way the biggest challenges facing India’s young Muslims.
  3. Once Upon a Beehive—This parable is the essay that inspired me to write my parable of the bookstore. I loved how simply it explained how corruption seeps into even the most hard-working culture. He doesn’t place blame; he merely explains the process. Great story-telling.

The worst essays

If you read Bhagat’s TOI columns regularly as I do, this book offers little new material for you to feast on. Unfortunately, it also means that columns of which I was not fond the first time around made their way into this book.

  1. Ladies, Stop Being So Hard on Yourselves—I can’t begin to start enumerating what’s wrong with this essay. Everything from the tone to his advice rankles me. This essay is the only essay he has written that I actually hated. Women in India, like their Western counterparts, must often work twice as hard to gain half the recognition they deserve. And, he’s telling us not to be so hard on ourselves! How about the men give us a fair shake we deserve and treat us like equals? Where are they in this equation? That this essay first appeared on Women’s Day amid the India’s Daughter controversy makes me wonder if Bhagat has lost the pulse of the culture somewhere. Yes, I know this one went viral. But, was it for the right reasons?
  2. 17 Commandments for Narendra Modi—Bhagat likes numbers. A lot. So, it’s not surprising that he begins the book with a numbered list. But, when I first read this column originally in TOI, it felt like an attempt to boost SEO rankings or an audition to write for Buzzfeed India. His fashion advice to Modi was downright hysterical. This essay feels the least solution-oriented to me.
  3. 50 Shades of Fair— This essay feels misplaced somehow. On its own as a column, it’s a good essay, but not his best. The topic of Indians’ obsession with white skin is complex. I am putting it on the worst list because I had hoped for the book that he might explore the topic a little deeper. But, this treatment feels a bit too much like a first coat of Fair and Lovely—just barely scratching the surface.

The verdict

@chetan_bhagat‘s #MakingIndiaAwesome is an awesome must read, but it could be awesomer.

5 thoughts on “Is Making India Awesome actually awesome?

  1. A wonderful analysis, Jean. This goes beyond a normal review, because you have actually embedded a few solutions (to make India awesome) within the review. I hope Chetan Bhagat reads this, because this is one of the most constructive reviews he’ll probably get for Making India Awesome. Personally, I’m all for Making India Awesome, but wondered whether this book was just playing on the title (we are fast-becoming a jhumla-spouting nation anyway) or had real solutions. Glad to know it’s almost there.

    Like

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