Monday, December 5, 2011

When Satan Bhagat lost to Pakistan...

(L to R) Bhagat, Goswami, Hanif and Hamid 
A few hours before Pakistani authors Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid were to meet India’s “hottest writer” Chetan Bhagat at Times Literary Festival in Mumbai, Bhagat cheekily tweeted:  “Session will discuss ‘If Pakistan is beating us at literature’. Yeah right.” 

I have never read Bhagat, nor do I intend to – but I do like Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid's books. While I have had the honour of meeting Hanif, who is so full of humility, I’m sure Hamid would much be the same -- unlike his Indian counterpart, who is so full of himself.

After checking Bhagat's timeline on Twitter for two days for first-hand updates on the litfest, I stumbled upon the coverage of the session here
Arnab Goswami, Times' Now's loud anchor who was apparently less loud that day, moderated the session by asking the two Pakistani writers whether the volatile political condition in their country had led to an explosion of creativity and if that spurred creativity.

Does chaos spur creativity 
Hamid: Writing English fiction is far simpler in Pakistan but dangers of speech are everywhere. Ideas have power and sometimes they can be threatening. There are gradations of threat: you're in the realm of impropriety if you talk about drugs and sex, but you're still relatively safe; politics is a trickier territory; and religion, more dangerous. 
Hanif: If there's an explosion in my city, (do I go to work with the feeling) 'Oh great, today I will write better...’? Journalists do get excited by these things. But a writer like any other citizen would want peace and quiet. As writers of (English) fiction, we do not face as many risks because people (who read it) usually think it's not about them at all!
Bhagat: A country like Pakistan that was seeing so much upheaval it was bound to produce more creative literature than relatively peaceful nations (such as Switzerland).

Explosion of creativity
Hamid: Since Pakistan has been in the news people are more interested in knowing about the country and the explosion, if any, has been in the attention it has been receiving rather than in creativity.
Hanif: A part of the reason why authors (not just in Pakistan) were getting attention was because the media had seen a large amount of growth. With 24-hour news channels and special feature supplements, authors do find themselves in the limelight in ways they never did before.
Bhagat: Pakistani authors are the flavour of the season in the West and should they hope to succeed (commercially) they must look at home. Be careful when you look at the West for validation. One of the reasons why the Indian publishing industry has grown the way it has is because publishers don't necessarily look at award-winning books all the time. Prizes are irrelevant. A publisher (today) looks at commerce.

Why authors write
Hamid: It's tricky not to play to the gallery.
Hanif: I wrote a book about a dictator who was dead and about whom no one -- not even his family -- cared. Asking me if I was playing to the gallery (would be ridiculous). I don't know if there is a gallery to begin with. I don't think there is a formula possible for these kinds of things. Writers don't talk about markets. I feel like I am in a boardroom!
Bhagat: To bring about social change. I write because things are so wrong here and story needs to be told.

The Pakistanis won hands down. No wonder Bhagat forgot to tweet about it.

PS: Read this on a friend's FB page:
Chetan Bhagat arrives at our the Time Out Food Awards last night. I pertinently probe if the bad boys of Pakistan - Hanif and Hamid are emphatic backstage (they ripped him at the Times Literature Carnival). He forks his steam bass, chomping, 'I could have given it back to them, they are guests, they anyways come from an unfortunate place,' he quips. Those guys strutted around like pagan warlords to me, didn't seem pitiable. 'I think one of us might have to tweet,' I try to regain my composure. He scurries away, though not before spooning mud chocolate cake off my plate. Bitter, is he?


  1. Who the hell called him India's hottest writer? That man writes trash in the name of literature.. And I am not joking.. He doesnt write in english.. He writes Hinglish.. The only he is popular is because he packages his crap a little better than his desi counterparts (ie authors of books like Jab I met you, Anything for you Maam and nonsense of that sort).... Bhagat's opinions are no benchmark for anything.

  2. There is nothing wrong with the optimism of "Shinning India" but it gets distasteful when you belittle someone based on socio-political situation of that country and not on a personal merit. Shahi Tharoor also falls in that category sometimes.

  3. Anon 1, the Times' lit fest organisers called Chetan Bhagat "India's hottest writer"...

  4. heya,how u guys holding up.Not related to ur post but thought i would point u to an interesting article by pervez hoodhboy
    and a reply

  5. Thanks Constantine for the links. And did you see this:

  6. I'm a bit lost - can you explain how the Pakistanis won?

  7. Hey I saw this on youtube and reminded me about your post:

  8. I am an indian have read both mohsin hamid and chetan bhagat.I must say I am a fan of Mohsin's writing Moth smoke is my favourite and chetan bhagat's as well.i like ali sethi's wish maker and Fatima bhutto's book as well.

    Chetan according to me is a fluke but his simple writing has won him a lot of readers and it is encouraging a lot of kids to pick up reading habit.hmmmmm

    First of all they shouldn't have chosen the topic itself,why add to the already existing bitterness.The world of literature is something which binds ppl together and help us know the other person's world.

    To the debate, yes Pakistan seems to have an upper hand in the current time and they have some excellent writers as well.A lot have been written abt India and by Indians.Pakistan is taking baby steps and they r doing with panache.

    Ppl world over are curious to learn abt this mystery called Pakistan.And its best learnt thru books than the world will know they have a normal life too.

    Love and light to all

  9. It is kind of silly, both for TOI, and onlookers to engage in an environment where the metaphor is that of competition or debate. I have been to many a round tables, where literary writers banter, talk, joust, and eat or drink while people quietly listen in like a fly in the wall. As long as writers in the sub-continent have this Us Vs Them, it will eventually lead to farce.

    The sub coontinental diaspora is large and diverse. Readers and commentators who just focus on English alone will miss out on contributions of other language.

    My dos pesos.

  10. Really weird that someone would think of literature in terms of competition. Guess these media walaas will go to any lengths to hype something up.

    That being said, if it is a competition, then I am ashamed of being represented by Chetan Bhagat. He should consider it his good fortune to even share the same frame as Mohd. Haneef.

  11. Dunno why Bhagat 'lost'. William Darlymple(sp?) said some time ago that Indian writing in now passe' in the West and Pakistani writing is 'in'. Bhagat probably had that in mind.