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Bestselling someone

india Updated: Jun 10, 2008 13:15 IST
Sushmita Bose
Sushmita Bose
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The 3 Mistakes Of My Life
Chetan Bhagat
RUPA
Rs 95 PP 258

One day @ a coffee shop in a popular five-star, I bumped into the fat cat head of a publishing house. He came straight to the point. "What is it about Chetan Bhagat?" he asked me. Meaning exactly what? "He writes such good stuff," he elaborated, "Easy to read, gripping, eye for detail... AND, man, what great pricing - under 100 bucks." The last detail, he said, shows up Bhagat's 'strategic' bent of mind. "It's his B-school background," he downed the last drop of his pineapple juice. "No mistake about that."

I had to gravitate against everything fat cat said. Would it be okay to pan The 3 Mistakes Of My Life, I asked HT's redoubtable Books Editor. YES, he said. It should be easy (to pan Bhagat), another colleague told me: the guy's anything but 'lit- erary'. Also, I've not read Bhagat's earlier two bestsellers, so the full force of literary incompetence would hit me harder.

The 3 Mistakes Of My Life, in a nutshell: writer gets email-cum-suicide note from The Businessman; writer tracks him down in Ahmedabad, but Businessman has already tried to kill himself; lying in his hospital bed, after his stomach has been flushed out, Businessman recounts story of his life. The narrative is about friendship, love, politics, the Bhuj earthquake, Godhra riots - oh, and cricket.

I started out believing it'll be a song doing a hatchet job on Bhagat. I whooped in delight as I came across "We have come to offer solutions, not just sell some balls." Yes, he wrote that. Along with "Excuse me, your headlight is hanging out", "I stared at the soft-skinned face that hid such hardness inside". The piece de resistance, to my mind, was: "Her eyes turned moist and her long fingers trembled. Before moisture turned to rain, I had to exit." But then there was also "God gives talent so that the ordinary person can become extraordinary. Talent is the only way the poor can become rich."

After everyone laughed and cried, lived and loved and died - and even after the 3 Mistakes - there is a Happy Ending. Naively simplistic, quintessentially Indian - and I realised what the fat cat from publishing said is right (which is why he sets average, mean standards in the sector). Bhagat writes unremarkable prose and plays to the gallery. And he sells his wares in a buyers' market because he has his finger on the pulse of an entire nation. Lest we forget, the book jacket thoughtfully quotes: "The biggest-selling English-language novelist in India's history."

I agree: it's a clear case of fact over fiction (and 3 Mistakes is purportedly not even fiction). Chetan Bhagat is definitely not a mistake.