Published: 07th October 2020
The Chetan Bhagat interview: I have a PhD in being trolled, but I don't take it seriously anymore
Right after the release of his latest novel, author Chetan bhagat spoke to us about switching genres, his life as an IITian and exams in COVID
Chetan Bhagat's new murder mystery is much more than a 'the-butler-did-it' plotline. To begin with, there is no butler. The Punjabi family where the arranged marriage/murder happens probably has a bua or a chachi instead. You'd be constrained to believe that one of them did it, but we don't know that yet. One Arranged Murder is still new enough to throw 'no spoilers ahead' tags around.
On the other hand, the author tells us that the book is quite different from all of his other books. No character here has gone to an IIT and Bhagat doesn't make a cameo appearance here as he did in One Night at the Call Centre, Revolution 2020 or The Three Mistakes of my Life. With his second consecutive murder mystery, he seems to have broken into the genre. "One should always keep reinventing themselves," he says. "My books will always have something fresh, even though I'm not that fresh," he laughs.
Watch Full Video Interview: https://youtu.be/M1OUjESA7Hs
A week after its release, the book is the #1 Bestseller on Amazon. No surprises there. This is territory that Bhagat has been used to since Two States managed the epic sales volumes that it did. And yet, he was so excited that he couldn't stop tweeting about it. But the version of him who wore a Batman T-shirt and sat down in front of his computer screen to talk to us was quite the contrast. In a rather calm voice, he tells us, "Reading requires concentration. The story has to be extra gripping."
He spoke to us about a lot more things, from his previous books to the IIT life and his children who just started to read his books.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Someone who read your books a decade ago wouldn't have imagined a future Chetan Bhagat who writes murder mysteries. Was that a difficult switch?
Authoring One Arranged Murder wasn't as difficult as writing my first murder mystery The Girl in Room 105. That one required a lot of reading and research and I was quite nervous. At the same time, the new book is more challenging because the murder happens in a Punjabi joint family. The challenge makes it creatively satisfying, otherwise, I'm churning out the same stories.
You've paced yourself over the years. But did you ever have moments of self-doubt or felt like giving up at any point?
Yes, there were those moments. There are things that people usually expect out of a Chetan Bhagat book. But here, they're baffled. These stories are hard to write because every reader here puts on the detective's hat. They're trying to solve the case, as they read the story. So, I had to adopt different techniques here. The clues must be planted, but they shouldn't be too obvious or obscure. Getting that balance takes a while. It is a simple story, but the interconnections are complicated.
Bhagat was referred by the NYT as the biggest-selling English-language novelist ever in India
As you said, there are things that people generally expect out of a Chetan Bhagat book. Almost every book has a character who went to the IIT...
There's no IIT reference for once. However, in the previous book, the detective is an IIT Delhi alumnus.
Even though it has been 25 years since you graduated from IIT Delhi, you interact with IITians regularly, through events or social media. Are things still the same?
Life in IITs has changed a lot. The main difference is the intervention of technology. We didn't have mobiles or laptops in our time. We would go to calling booths to make a phone call. If you remember, Five Point Someone was set in an IIT in the 1990s.
In 2020, there was a lot of hue and cry among the student community about conducting the engineering and medical entrance examinations, amid COVID-19. Where do you stand in this issue?
I feel it would have been better to postpone these exams. This year was quite bad. At the same time, the news tells us that we may have a vaccine in the next three to four months. So why not we wait until then? It is not easy for everyone to appear for these exams. Already, these entrance exams cause a lot of anxiety. You lose 5 marks and you lose your rank. On top of that, students may have been anxious to get to the exam centre. Then what if someone who sits next to you coughs? You would worry that you may contract COVID.
I think a vaccine is round the corner and expected in a few months. Maybe the NEET and JEE could be postponed until then and see the situation in early 2021.— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) August 25, 2020
Entrance exams cause enough anxiety anyway, adding Covid anxiety to it is not necessary.
You have always been quite vocal about everything under the sun. On the flip side, you have been subject to massive social media trolls. Does it ever get to you?
I have a PhD in getting trolled (laughs). Every time a book releases or I have something successful, it increases. I don't take it that seriously anymore. That is probably because I'm older now. I am 46. But when you're young, you're still not sure about yourself and these things affect you. You tend to think about whether they have a point and if you're unworthy. Then you realise that they're the ones who come to your account to say something about you. It's not you, it's them. If they don't like my books, they can stop reading it. If they're regularly posting hate comments about me, there is some connection. There is misguided love. Maybe they badly need my attention or want me to do better.
You've always been upfront about the fact that you write in simple language, where the reader doesn't really have to pick up a dictionary or ponder over the meaning of a phrase for hours. Was that a conscious decision?
I write for Indians and for most of them English ii a second language. In many places, people don't even speak it fluently. How do you call yourself an Indian writer and not connect with Indian? I'm not a South Bombay writer (laughs).
Now that your children are teenagers, have they started reading your books?
They just started reading the new book. It's nice to have 16-year-olds read your books and give their feedback. They tell me that they like the book. Until recently, they did not know what their father did and I didn't encourage them to read my books. They started by reading Five Point Someone.