4 back to back bestsellers have made Chetan Bhagat a demigod in the Indian literary circles and the world too has been lavish in its praise with Time Magazine, The Guardian and The New York Times hailing Bhagat as ‘India’s Paperback King’ and best-selling author. It was no surprise therefore, that as soon as ‘R2020’ (as Aarti calls it) hit the shelves earlier this year, it was eagerly lapped up by faithful fans all across the country. One of my students let me borrow the book and I’ve enjoyed savoring it page by page over the Christmas holidays.
Revolution 2020 – Love. Corruption. Ambition. – With its suggestive title and silhouettey (I just coined a word there) cover, surely grabs ones attention at the very onset. The image of the three characters and the jagged sketch of Varanasi are indicative of an intense love story set in the most unusual of settings.
The reason I refer to Varanasi as an unusual setting is because Bhagat’s last four books have had a very urban feel and appeal. They are about cool kids, living the good life and having the benefits of a city upbringing. (Generally speaking) The setting of R2020 is refreshingly different and I give Bhagat full props for bringing alive a city that I have not had the chance to visit. The descriptive passages with their detailed images of the Ghats, the flickering diyas floating along the Holy river, the alley ways, the boat rides, the burning pyres, the pilgrims washing away their sins and probably a whole lot of other things –make Varanasi as important as any of the story’s three protagonists. In fact, when Gopal moves to Kota to pursue his studies, the narrative feels like it is missing something integral to the plot. I was so relieved that the action returns to Varanasi soon after and I’m positive that if any Bollywood director chooses to adapt this story, the camerawork and images will be simply spectacular.
Another thing I loved about this book was the way Bhagat has portrayed what I believe are his three best characters till date. Yes! Aamir Khan has immortalized Bhagat’s earlier cult character, but Gopal, Aarti and Raghav are a cut above. They are so real, so well etched and so beautifully rounded and yet they never lose touch with the ragged edges of reality. There are moments in the book where they spout dialogue that I could imagine my best friends telling me – their silly jokes and playful banter, phrases that are grammatically incorrect and sometimes even the most profound and thought provoking musings – all this and much more can be found in equal measure. Their journeys are so real – they evolve, they mature and they grow – The childhood squabble over half a piece of chocolate cake and the irony of the chocolate cake discarded at the very end are a small and poignant examples of how beautifully Bhagat is able to map their lives and loves.
Bhagat even touches on and throws light on corruption in education and politics. Like Ragahv, it is clearly evident that the author too has carried out some very in-depth research. The book is bound to make people sit up and realize that sadly, these practices are alive and thriving in our nation.
As you can see, I’ve quite enjoyed reading R2020. It sort of took me back to my teenage days when us friends would sit around some steaming coffee and swap personal stories. While reading the story, I felt like I knew these three people – I could understand what they were going through, I could see the cogs in their brains turning, I got what made them tick and why they did what they did.
But it was the end that left me a little uncomfortable. The dramatic lead up to and Gopal’s sudden change of heart, his sacrifice and his pulling away from his childhood sweet heart after a brief encounter with a farmer’s son- the pieces just didn’t fit properly for me. I’m not saying I don’t think people can change – I’m just saying it was a little forced, predictable and a bit of an anti-climax. I still need to mull over the various things the concluding pages could imply but frankly speaking, it didn’t leave me with a sense of closure that I long for at the end of a good book. Besides, a thorough romantic would never let go of his true love – never! There is always another way or another option to explore.
All said and done, I officially have a new Chetan Bhagat favorite. This story will stay with me long after. The ending is sensational enough for me to keep playing it over in my mind and I’m sure will make for some great scenes when it eventually but inevitably hits the theatres. But it’s the idea of a youth led Revolution that has got me hooked. Herein I feel, lies Bhagat’s major strength – he appeals to the youth of India. He pulls at our heart-strings. His voice resonates with us and echoes long after the last page has been turned.
Just look at the last year – there is clear evidence that the youth in India, have had enough and are ready to affect unprecedented change. It’s happening already. Young people today, are unafraid of challenging the status quo and demanding what is right and just. Change may take time but it will come eventually. We need more Ragahv’s in our nation and I think R2020 will go a long way in ensuring that. I give full marks to Bhagat for having the guts to tell this particular story at this poignant time in the history of our country. I’m sure he had a million other ideas for his next outpouring but the fact that he chose to tell this one makes him, like Raghav– a bold, fearless and passionate young Indian. Just what our nation needs.
I’m writing this review as we stand on the threshold of a new year and I believe in my heart that 2012 would be the perfect time to begin the revolution! Afterall, the revolution must start with us. With You. With me.
Happy New Year, everyone!
‘Sometimes life isn’t about what you want to do, but what you ought to do.’ – Revolution 2020