Chetan Bhagat has a new target audience. He is done with IIT geeks and management rookies. It seems he wants women who love soppy romances to join his fan club. That’s why 2 States—The Story of My Marriage, his new book, is cast in the mould of something that Nicholas Sparks is likely to pen.
As a rule, Sparks never wastes time building up a romance. The falling-in-love part in most of his books is the easy thing. It’s how his characters sustain the love that he’s interested in. That’s exactly what Bhagat has done in 2 States—no dwelling on campus nostalgia, no build-up to how the lovers meet, no exploring the difficulties of how two people with a really strenuous study schedule manage time for “cuddles”. The first kiss is done with by Page 25, the sex is over by Page 26 and then you are flash-forwarded a year and a half later, when it’s time for the protagonists to get recruited off campus, into the real world.
2 States—The Story of My Marriage: Rupa & Co., 269 pages, Rs95
The plot (or the lack of it) is simple. Boy Krish Anant meets girl Ananya Swaminathan in the canteen of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). Actually, make that a Punjabi meets Tamilian. Love happens. On graduation day, both sets of parents are told that along with an MBA degree, Krish and Ananya have selected a prospective spouse from IIM-A too. All hell breaks loose. But instead of Krish and Ananya just telling mummy and amma that the Punjab and Tamil Nadu divide cannot really keep them apart, the duo decide to work at convincing their folks that they have made the right choice.
From four wedding rings (in India we marry the whole family, not just each other), teaching would-be wife’s super intelligent kid brother every day at 5.30am and dodging a qualified prospective Tam-Brahm software engineer groom settled in the US to solving the dowry crisis at a Punjabi wedding, Krish and Ananya never flinch in the face of trying circumstances that contrive to keep them apart.
Sure, the story starts at IIM-A—that’s because Bhagat is smart enough not to disappoint his existing “campus novel genre” fans, but the IIM-A campus is out of the story after the first 52 pages. The real action starts in Chennai when Krish sets out to persuade Ananya’s parents that even though he is not “a Tamilian, a Brahmin and an Iyer (all those are separate things and non-compliance in any can get you disqualified)” he is worthy of their daughter. From the usual digs at dumb Punjabi boys not getting Carnatic music, meals on banana leaves, large Rajinikanth posters—the picture that Bhagat paints of Chennai is a clichéd overdose of how a gauche Punjabi would view this city and its people. Delhi and the Punjabis are dealt with in the same manner—silly Dolly, who wants an IIM-A grad for a husband; Pammi aunty, who will buy a son in-law with flats and more flats; Duke, the software engineer bridegroom who does not have the courage to tell his parents to stop making dowry demands at the wedding mandap.
Krish’s efforts at wooing Ananya’s parents are applause-worthy and stretch over 110 pages. Ananya, however, gets to convince her mother-in-law and her brigade from Punjabi Bagh (Rajji and Lappa mamaji, Shipra maasi) of her worthiness in less than 30 pages. Bhagat seems to understand that to rope in his new target audience, it is better if a large chunk of the grovelling comes from the guy and the woman pretty much breezes through.
Sometimes, making fun of communities can make for great humour, but when a story is just an overdose of stereotypes, it tires the reader. Would I read 2 States again? No. Would I buy the next Chetan Bhagat book? Sure, just to find out who he is out to seduce next.