Thursday, March 11, 2010

A scrutiny of the Mass’ism advocated by Chetan Bhagat

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Recently I went through a lecture delivered by Chetan Bhagat at the leadership summit organized by Hindustan Times in 2008, from his official website. The following link leads to the text of the lecture- . After going through the lecture, as I analysed it in my own small way, I faced within me some serious questions regarding the philosophy Mr. Bhagat has been advocating for quite some time now, as reflected in some of his other lectures also. However, here I just attempt to express what I have managed to conclude focussing mainly on some points highlighted in the aforesaid lecture in specific.
As I proceed to do so I assume that people who have read this much have also gone through the body of the lecture delivered by Mr. Bhagat, following the link. Now, as we concentrate on the lecture, I would like to start by saying that it no doubt makes one introspect. And one thing I have also tried to remember that unless we don’t contribute positively, we should not criticise others. But I must say what Mr. Bhagat has done is to raise the issues, but the solution offered to the complex and diverse problems appear to be somehow linear, though I don’t want to snatch of him the honour supposedly deserved by him for raising the issues. But, I beg to differ in certain aspects........'I think it is cooler to know how people think in the streets of Indore and Raipur than who’s walking the ramp in South Mumbai. '.....That is indeed the optimum condition. But as reflected in Mr. Bhagat's own writing he, with the kind of literary gift he possesses, doesn't or, may be can’t reflect that life properly. What he actually does is to explore the vacuum in those people's lives and show the have nots a dream of a dreamy India. Well that is not a sin; besides this lecture is not directly related to his writings. But since he has quite explicitly criticised the conventional elitism ( of course that is not a very important thing to preserve; but as we know anything in extreme may turn out to be bad......yes populism and extensive degree of democracy too; one is free not to subscribe my ideas...........I too perhaps have to introspect time and again........but as for now, I prefer to conserve this) and recommended it to be replaced by his brand of populism( well, his brand of populism got much success. but one may doubt whose success is it after all, when one turns a generation into reading, but only to a certain brand of literature, giving a damn to the others , which often, prove to be qualitatively high genres. If populism helped in developing a class from out of the elite circle into one having refined taste then it's no doubt appreciable. But if that does nothing but creating just another genre catering the needs of a greater people in its own way, then the very success of such populist claims of reaching down and elevating people loses ground) I think we should at least try examine his points rather than flatly accepting or rejecting them.
Of course the central idea reflected by Mr. Bhagat, that a lot of things require to change, is undeniable. His class as a writer apart, the fact that he can connect with millions of Indian youth can't be ignored either. You are absolutely right in your stance that instead of talking the focus should be on action, to make India better. The ideas or the approaches advocated by Mr. Bhagat are also positive; they may not be flawless, but one rational man doesn't and should not expect perfection in absolute term from anyone, a leader or a common man. While one must not overlook the fact that Mr. Bhagat's suggestions, their brilliance notwithstanding, lack in a detailed sustainable plan, the other thing that is no less important is the real impact of the kind of activism Mr. Bhagat is involved in. Now to comprehend that we must look towards the reader base he has. Does Mr. Bhagat really reach out to those other millions of Indian youth who are outside the milieu that flaunts its familiarity with trendy lingo and sophisticated gadgets? Yes, Mr. Bhagat calls for spread of education and especially English. Even a fool will not doubt such proposal of inclusive development. But, the question of the hour is, did Mr. Bhagat do anything new than echoing the long standing collective desire of a lot of people for a better India in a trendy lingo or a catchy expression? The answer is no. One may argue that the solution ought not be new, rather its implementation requires something new, in our spirit, approach and mindset. Now the second question that crops up is whether Mr. Bhagat has done anything other than talking from the podium of that leadership summit. I don't know about any other deed of him than writing a few fictions, delivering lectures here and there, writing some 'society centric' articles in some newspapers, and oh yes, leaving the plum career opportunity of an Investment Banker, who got two degrees from two elite institutes of this country, though he has got a penchant for denouncing elitism, sometimes directly vented in his anger towards IITs and IIMs. Now one may again ask me a disturbing question, if writing itself is not an action contributing a lot of positive things to the society. I have to admit that it is. Thus at the end of the day, the answer again revolves round his capacity as a writer. Now I would prefer not to engage myself in the age old debate regarding classics and bestsellers. And let’s be very clear that popularity or saleability is not a sin. A classy work may also sell like hotcake in its own right. That is where the delicate and thin line remains, which masters achieve and most of common people thrive for in vein. I know that here the debate doesn't involve Bhagat the writer. But, since at the end of the day Bhagat has got almost nothing in his account, no direct involvement which counts, but his projected image as a writer who portrays society that qualifies him to comment in this regard, I could not but take into account his literary contribution. Now the fact that Bhagat sells must have some reason behind it. He undoubtedly can connect with the youth, and shares, at least, through his works, their collective aspirations. Now we want things to change. Not that our forefathers did not want it. They wanted it in their own ways and their aspirations might have been voiced by some other kind of expression. That might have managed currency in their times, but as time passed it just faded away.
That is why we must examine the real capacity of a self proclaimed messiah like Mr. Bhagat or his writing for that matter. Can he really inspire the youth of the nation? Or does he just cater the need of support to some people to sustain their illusory sense of participation in the social spectrum. We all want a better society, and I fear that most people, quite like me want that in platter. But does Mr. Bhagat open any new vista to those who want to explore it? Or do they really need this vocal tonic from Mr. Bhagat? I think Bhagat or no Bhagat they would have done their works. And judging myself I can bet he is too weak a leader to inspire the lazy lot into some real work. Rather some other writers who have not so openly vouched their activist self silently make one introspect and bring some refinement that drives a man to follow some morals, though the process may be slow.
And as I proceed to examine the impact of his social activism, I find nothing but the cocooned comfort of class in their illusory world of participation in the social dynamics confined to blogging, twitting and that sort of things (though I am ashamed of it, I have to admit my presence within this class) and increasing Mr. Bhagat's brand value as a socially committed writer.
Yes, I don’t deny that a preference for elitism exists in India. Perhaps it has something to do with our colonial hangover and partly with the rigour that is involved in maintaining quality along with being mass’ist. Mr. Bhagat’s writing can serve as a perfect example here. I know that would be the optimum situation. Someone rightly said that we Indians have a penchant for absolute perfection, not tested in terms pragmatism. But, if we are really interested in action rather than talking or dreaming, we have to examine the feasibility of our projects and determine our further steps accordingly. Now, one may claim that even if Mr. Bhagat compromises in the quality of his writing he does so consciously, not for the purpose of capturing the market but to convey some messages to the mass in such a way that suits them best, simple and trendy, for a broader purpose of educating them gradually. While examining Mr. Bhagat’s way of practising democracy, we must keep in mind that democracy is grey. So is India, being world’s largest democracy, be it bad or good; in democracy things are always relative. Now being the mother of diversity, our country rears a huge chunk of mass at each different level of society, their quality, character and attitude so different from the other. Thus, if one tries to shake elitism off and reach out to people across the social strata that can never be done so simply, in a uniform way. These different layers of mass have to communicated in different languages or expressions. Mr. Bhagat’s lingo as well as the Pan-Indian dream he sells falls short in this aspect than just communicating to one class of our country. The actual process involved in eradicating elitism may involve such extensive effort as to divert the focus from one’s area of specialization, which made him supposedly ‘elite’. So quality is likely to see a setback. Of course, intellectual superiority or material success has more to do than just creating a protective cocoon around the person concerned. One is always expected to contribute something for a broader purpose. And in my opinion, that should be best done in a system that streamlines the resource down the line categorically. The first and foremost responsibility lies in discharging one’s professional responsibilities. Then, comes the issue of contributing something more; the civil society or if one has reservation against using this set term the civilised people must take the responsibility. Now, simply because that is beyond our professional domain we should not take that in an amateur way. We must look for a system that will yield the best result. Now can you imagine a man with a Ph.D. in physics teaching elementary arithmetic to a boy of class one? If he’s teaching his own son or grandson the issue is different. But, to be practical and honest he can’t treat each kid of his locality as he does the boy from his family. He can of course do so. But the question is in which way can his resource be best utilised. Perhaps you’ll agree that for that job there will be more people, the professor concerned may have some other jobs which may be best done by him or people of his stature only. Here as I said other jobs I didn't mean delivering lecture in the class; he may be involved in his own research or write a book or get involved in such a number of works apart from discharging his duties responsibly. So the central idea is how to reach out to people in such a way that works and generates the maximum output. As far I can think trying to reach out to them who are just one or two tier below is an interesting idea. But, if we try to be mass’ist in our attempt to illuminate our surroundings, considering our limited capability in practical light, we are most likely to end up generating even less than what we could generate in our categorically limited approach. A lot of courageous and great people tried it. And history is there to tell us that only the Great Gandhi could claim some credible success in this respect. That’s why I, for the time being, would prefer to advocate limited ‘elitism’. Now, to be honest, I chose this limited approach because of my own limitations. Now one can ask, then why am I criticising Mr. Bhagat, when he is trying to reach out to people, a thing I couldn’t do. Here, I would like to reiterate the fact that the idea is not to reach out to people only, but to give them a refined uplift. Had reaching out been the only standard of success then our cricket and Bollywood had done it more successfully than Mr. Bhagat, even before the time Mr. Bhagat started. They reached out to more people across more vast and various segments, and tried to promote a brand of patriotism and nationalism which , to my utter disappointment, get visible only when there is a match or when the Border kind of movie is shown on TV. One must take a note that the Bollywood brand of nationalism, however inadequate it be, at least does not do away with the diversity of our country, what Mr. Bhagat does as he sells his Pan-Indian dream among the so called Gen-Y people, who have recently cropped up in this country and in practice are far from representing the whole young generation of this country. Those movies also have been constantly crusading against corruption, denouncing elitism, promoting traditional Indian family values of its own kind and so on. But, as we take our eyes off screen what we see is a state which at best can be identified as a distortion of the original idea. As I think the idea should be to convey the right thing in the right way, however limited the audience be. If you cannot manage a class of seventy, you must consider dividing them into sections, and impart the desired things to a limited audience. That will automatically be extended downstream and the gross result will multiply; I admit there will be some error and hence don’t expect mathematical accuracy however. This is a gradual process, slow and steady. But just being mass’ist may help one avoid the contemporary stigma attached to elitism, not in contributing anything positive. However, elitism as used in this context should not be equated with snobbery and rudeness. Had mass’ism been really potent to bring in any positive change Bhagat has many predecessors to claim the trophy. The only consolation for him, I think , is the fact that it did and perhaps will never work.Thus to my great disappointment, I have discovered that at this juncture of time I have no way other than to think about the next step with 'a pencil in my hand’. The way ahead is to be found by myself; at least Mr. Bhagat won't tell me.

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