Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book review: 2 States by Chetan Bhagat


One of the books that I asked husband-ji to bring back from India was the hugely popular "2 States", by Chetan Baghat. It is based on a true story - about the romance of a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl - and their long road to marriage with two opposing families.

One of the many things that foreigners don't realize about Indians/India - is that interstate marriages within India are still taboo. Since each state has different languages and completely different customs, elders prefer that you marry someone from the same state, and even better - the same community. They think that will make life, in general, easier. So, a North Indian who wants to marry a South Indian would face just as much opposition as if they were marrying a foreigner.

Being a foreigner myself who is married into a Tamil Brahmin family, I can relate to this novel a lot. There were so many cultural mannerisms (distinctly Tamil) that I chuckled to myself while reading, having the inside knowledge. There was one part in the novel where the Tamil Brahmin girl basically introduces herself as part of "the purest of pure upper caste communities ever created" (p.7). I had a good laugh at that one, because yes, many Tam-Brahms really do think that way (I know from personal experience!!!)

Another thing that was hilarious, was the Punjabi boy's observation that Tamil families "looked grumpy" all the time. The first time he saw a picture of her family, it reminded him "of the strictest of strict teachers" (p.14), and was deathly frightened. In another part of the novel, he nicknamed his future Tamil FIL "Grumpy-swami" in which I literally laughed out loud while reading. In reality, Tamilians do look severely grumpy. I often go through pictures of my inlaws and struggle to find a good one, because in all of the pics they have this grumpy expression like they have eaten a sour lemon!!! As some of my readers remember, before my MIL left, I told her she looked a lot like "Grumpy cat"; and since completing this novel, I have totally started calling husband-ji "Grumpy-swami"! Hey Chetan, thanks for the awesome nickname, yaar!

(Classic grumpy Tamil expression!)

It also made me think of my inlaws, since they are like the real version of "2 States" with my FIL being Tamil, and my MIL being Telugu, and all the struggles they had to go through when they got married.

The lengths that the young couple had to go to in order to get their respective parents to "like" them were absolutely exhausting to read, but eerily familiar. As I always say, in Indian families, respect is earned and not simply given for free. But alas - that is Indian parents. As it said in the novel, "from biscuits to brides, if there is anything their children really want, parents have a problem" (p.39).

One of the parts in the novel that I was totally fuming at where when both respective families attempted to do "bridal viewings" while the boyfriend/girlfriend was present. It was just so blatantly rude - and the girl/boy had no choice but to sit there in silence "like a domestic servant" (p.124). The parents presented the "perfect" spouses, which ended up being totally wrong for them (no surprise there!!!) The Punjabi MIL picked out a girl who was "fair skinned and not too educated", who ended up being quite idiotic and slutty. On the opposite end, the Tamil inlaws picked out a guy who was very educated and successful, but the first question he asked Ananya was if she was "pure". It never fails to amuse me how people are entirely different than what they sell on their "marriage resume"!

One of the things I thought was a little shocking (but not surprising) was the stereotypes that the North had of the South, and vice versa. The North Indians were blatantly racist, oftentimes the Punjabi MIL referring to the Southerners as "black people doing their black magic" (p.68). And in the reverse, the Southerners thought the Punjabi family were "crass and uneducated" (p.51). But in reality, both just had different ways of expressing themselves.

Overall, I thought the novel was a great, feel-good novel. I loved how at the end of the novel, the protagonist said their children would be a true Indian - because they represented the joining of the two states. Being in an intercultural relationship, I could definitely relate to so many of the topics in this novel!

P.S. Conservative Indian parents NEED to read this novel...!

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Quotes from the novel:

"I saw [Chennai]. It had the usual Indian elements like autos, packed public buses, hassled traffic cops and tiny shops that sold groceries, fruits, utensils, clothes or novelty items. However, it did feel different. First, the sign in every shop was in Tamil. The Tamil font resembles those optical illusion puzzles that give you a headache if you stare at them long enough. Tamil women, all of them, wear flkowers in their hair. Tamil men don't believe in pants and wear lungis even in shopping districts. The city is filled with film posters. The heroes' pictures make you feel even your uncles can be movie stars. The heroes are fat, balding, have thick moustaches and the heroine next to them is a ravishing beauty." (p.77)

"Tamilians love to irritate non-Tamil speakers by speaking in Tamil only." (p.101)

"These stupid biases and discrimination are the reason our country is so screwed up. It's Tamil first, Indian later. Punjabi first, Indian later. It has to end. National anthem, national currency, national teams - still, we won't marry our children outside our state. How can this intolerance be good for our country?" (p.102)

"I thought about my [Punjabi] family. The only nakshatram we think about is the division of petrol pumps when we have to see the girl." (p.122)

"Marble flooring is to a Punjabi what a foreign degree is to a Tamilian" (p.124)

"It's not arrogance. [Tamilians] are quiet people." (p.220)

"She is too intelligent to be a good daughter-in-law" (p.229)

"Actually the choice is simple. When your child decides to love a new person, you can either see it as a chance to hate some people - the person they choose and their families. However, you can also see it as a chance to love some more people. And since when did loving more become a bad thing?" (p.266)

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Dear readers, have you read the novel or seen the movie? How did you like it? For those of you in intercultural relationships, could you relate to it?


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24 comments

  1. I think the protagonist was a HUGE jerk. An asshole of the first order. He disrespects his future wife, allows his mother to talk trash in front of her, is a biased, judgmental sort of fellow and honestly, doesn't deserve the happy ending the book meted out to him.

    I had reviewed this book 3 years ago.. : http://www.bhagwad.com/blog/2010/book-reviews/book-review-2-states-by-chetan-bhagat.html/

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    1. That is so interesting to hear your reaction! I thought he wasn't as likeable as Ananya - who was definitely the protagonist, but I didn't have as strong reaction to him. I thought both the boy and the girl were openly disrespected publicly by the parents. But the protagonist was definitely a momma's boy and should have spoken up to set some boundaries, especially with his mother.

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  2. I read this book quite some time ago, so I do not really remember the exact moments and phrases. My general feelings about this novel go more with Bhagwad's opinion.

    I felt the book stereotyped too much and the moment he realises he wants to marry the girl is too much.

    I personally find Chetan Bhagat's novels and especially "what the male in the novel thinks" pretty sexist - i know that is how it is in India and most Indian men are like that but that is what irks me - however educated they may be, in the end they end up being sexist jerks.

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    1. That is interesting, I can understand what you're saying. I haven't read Bhaghat's other novels yet, I have heard this one was supposed to be the best one he wrote. My only criticism is that there was too much sex in the first part of the novel and not enough real romance. And then it seemed like he had to work harder with her parents than she with his. And also he did not speak up enough against his mother when she said all racist things against Ananya.

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  3. @Alexandra

    I can relate to the Punjabi bias "black people doing black magic". The say the same about Bengalis. According to them, Bengalis being worshipers of Goddess Kali practice black magic. Bengal is a centre of black magic. Our "Durga Pooja" in their minds is some kind of occult ceremony involving magic. Being a Bengali and living in Delhi, I am often amused the kind of ideas that Punjabis have. They seriously believe that all Bengalis can perform black magic. They talk trash about all cultures Bengali, Bihari, Tamilian. They feel that other cultures are just not good enough. They judge people by money and physical strength. They will politely ask you about your culture then make fun of it but you dare not say anything against their culture. They won't tolerate it.

    The second great crime a Bengali does is eating fish. When I was young, we were made fun of because we were fish eaters. Yes, this kind of nonsense does happen among educated people in a big city like Delhi. Fish smells and is dirty compared to their butter chicken. In Delhi all you need is the art of showing off even if you have little in your pocket. I have often been told by my Punjabi colleagues that there is tremendous pressure in their community to show off.

    About the film "Two States" it was complete mismatch casting the hero looks like the elder brother to the heroine. I wished they had chosen a younger guy.

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    1. I haven't seen the movie yet but will try to soon. Hopefully it won't be disappointment. I hate when you like a book and then the movie turns the story into crap! LOL
      One thing I did not like about the novel was that I felt the Punjabi MIL only accepted the Tamil girl because she was fair. Like I would have rather liked to read of a beautiful dark skinned Tamil guy as the heroine. I think that would have made the novel better and more realistic.
      I get that sense from many (but not all) Punjabi's too. In the South, we often eat on banana leaves at functions and someone remarked "it looked dirty and unnatural". Like hello, actually it is better for the environment and as the Tamilians say "more pure". Sometimes Punjabis are to Tamilians like night and day!
      It is interesting to hear your experiences and the discrimination you have faced being a North Indian also. Who would have thought, that there would be so much discrimination in the same region only! It is ignorance more than anything...

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  4. @Alexandra

    I sometimes think that the various castes and communities of India are like strong forts guarded by fierce warriors. These forts of tradionality and conservatism need to be stromed. Maybe we need to bribe the gatekeepers to open the gates of these forts to allow the forces of change to come in. However, in our overzealousness to bring about change no harm should come to the inhabitants of these forts.

    I also feel that what allergy is to body, love is to Indians society. Both result in violent reactions.

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    1. There was an article a while back about how the lack of inter-community and inter-caste marriages has ruined India. In the article it said that 2,000 years ago, it was all inter-caste and inter-community marriages, and then it got more conservative. Needless to say, we need to get back to that place of mixology!

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    2. @Alexandra

      Some 2000 years ago an experiment started in India. People started marrying within their own castes, perhaps to encourage the superior gene pool. Maybe is was the need of that age, but nobody told them to stop and look where we have arrived.

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  5. @Alexandra

    The great Indian poet Mirza Galib wrote this about love. Perhaps, he was talking about interracial couples:

    "An innocent love has just that story of pain,

    A mansion of paper,in the time of rain.

    What a ritual of love,what a condition of this age,

    Voice is wounded and needs a song to stage.

    In this way,show my broken heart to her,

    To recite a couplet with wet eyes to her.

    Don't expect to land across,

    Dinghy is old,storm to surpass.

    Innocence of by heart is vulnerable to love again,

    Again a river of fire,to be sunk yet again.

    Understand that this love is not easy,

    A river of fire and to go drowning"


    -

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    1. I don't know if it is talking about interracial love, I think it is talking about young love, a naive love. Maybe a first love that is lost.

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    2. @Alexandra

      The last two lines are the most famous.

      "Yeah Ishq nahi aashan itna to samaj leeja, ek aag ka dariya hai or doob ke jaana hai"

      "Understand that this love is not easy,

      A river of fire and to go drowning"

      Generations of Indian lovers have been warned about the tough path of love, quoting these two lines. Whenever someone says I am in love in India, these lines are quoted. Be careful friend, it is going to be very very tough.

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  6. @Alexandra

    I am not a north indian. We belong to east india, from the state of west bengal. My father's family migrated from his home state many years ago. I am as much a delhi resident as any punjabi. What north indian punjabis do not understand that we are as much north indian as they are. Our language Bangla (often mistakenly called as Bengali), has the same script, like hindi, same words but slightly different prounounciations. Bangla is actually closer to Hindi more so the same language. But, Punjabis and many north indians look for distinctly north indian characteristics aggression, quick tongue, display of wealth etc, qualities in other communities and dismiss communities which do not qualify on such parameters. In delhi, if you are confronted and you cannot beat up the other guy, you are not man enough. South Indians, bengalis and certain other communities do not behave that way. We simply put emphasis on other things which are not of much importance to delhi residents. It is cultural and nothing to do with communities. I have read your post on "common indian identity". I wish Indians could understand this identity which you as an outsider has understood so profoundly.

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    1. Sorry, my mistake. I know you said you were Bengali but since you were born and brought up in Delhi I assumed you thought of yourself as a North Indian.
      For us Southerners, everything north of us is north india LOL...
      As a firangi, the discrimination between regions and things like caste is just plain crazy. It's like they need a reason to hate each other. I feel bad that you have had such bad experiences in Delhi...perhaps you can relate in that way of being treated like a firangi. We too are in a city full of Punjabis and are often looked down upon. We are not into flashy material things...
      I'm glad you liked that post :)

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    2. @Alexandra

      There is something else. Punjabi culture is everywhere not only in India but also abroad. It comes through bollywood which has punabi songs. TV serials have punjabi families. Come to think of it 90% of bollywood is punjabi from actors to directors. There was a time when the hero in the movies had punjabi sir names either "Khanna" or "Malhotra". Alone came Mr. Amitabh Bhachan and popularize non-punjabi castes names "Srivastava" "Saxena". In all his films he was called "Vijay Srivastava" most of the time.

      Most foreigners abroad actually confuse north indian punjabi cuisine as indian cuisine as it is readily available. Tandori/muglai are actually punjabi/muslim cuisine. On top of it, Pakistanis and Bangladesis also serve the same kind of food which reinforces the belief that Indian cuisine is all about "tandoori chicken'. Punjabis are enterpriseing people and have prospered every where. They came to Delhi after partition in 1947, from Pakistan lossing everything in the communal riots. However, they have build themselves and became prosperous in Delhi. It is said that if a canal is build from India to Canada, punjabis would be found flowing in it. Every punjabi has some relative in "Kaanada" (Punjabi pronouncation for Canada). I like their hard working, gung ho attitude but they are aggressive and have little patience for those who are different from them. Their overwhelming influence on the cultural landscape often submerges those cultures which are not very aggressive.

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    3. @anonymous - Recently I read an article on the Madras Saravana Bhavan founder in the New York Times newspaper. It mentioned in the article about how you can find "underwhelming North Indian cuisine" everywhere, which is so true.
      Here I often meet Westerners who think Indian food is "butter chicken and naan" or they think everything is oily and creamy. Few people have heard of dosa or idly, and when my hubby cooks they are amazed at how different it it. I wish there were just as many Indian cuisines that reflected all the different regions.

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    4. While we discuss North/South differences, they are entirely different set of indians (rather call peaceful indians ;) ) whose culture and traditions in certain areas are much better than mainland people. eg: No dowry, women are treated equally...etc...
      #NORTHEAST INDIANS

      I'm a south indian and like few points from them to be learnt by Rest of india. :)

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    5. @anonymous - Yes, I think they have a lot of wonderful traditions. I hate how some Indians do not consider them to be "real Indian" or they call them "Chinese". They are as Indian as everyone else and we have so much to learn from them.

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  7. @Alexandra


    "It is not possible for everyone to leave the entire world for one particular person

    There are more important things in life than love, love is not everything for life"

    I am sure lovers might disagree, but this is also one of the realities of life.

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    1. One of the realities of life indeed...
      Love is amazing but as I am getting older I realize that there must be other passions in life to fulfill oneself. Love is a central part of life but there are other things too.

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    2. @Alexandra

      Here are two people fighting over the importance of love in life. I is a very humourous prespective on love:


      --MALE--
      Wonder why people fall in love
      Wonder why they die for someone
      Wonder why , wonder why ?
      Think about it , love has but sorrows
      In love every effort is never enough
      In love one has to bow one's head
      In pain you have to smile
      Why do they mix this poison in their lives ?
      Wonder why people fall in love
      Wonder why , wonder why ?
      Wonder why , wonder why ,wonder why?

      --FEMALE--
      Without love what else is there in life ?
      The one who has no love is lonely
      Love brings a hundred colors
      Love decorates life
      People in love meet furtively
      Wonder why they are scared to say it outright ?
      Wonder why , wonder why ??
      Wonder why , wonder why ,wonder why?

      --MALE--
      love is a useless infliction

      --FEMALE--
      love is beautiful in every aspect

      --MALE--!
      oh from love we are better off staying far!

      --FEMALE--
      every form of love is true

      --MALE--
      Oh , those who take the steps leading down to the river of love
      Neither do they sink , nor can they come out of it
      Wonder why , wonder why ?

      --FEMALE--
      all fall in love
      Wonder why you are the only one who wont admit it
      Wonder why , wonder why ?

      --MALE--
      Wonder why , wonder why ?

      Here is the full song

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ir3WEfoqHNU

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  8. Hi Alexandra!

    I recently found your blog and find it very amusing. 2 States was a super impactful movie for me. Granted I'm dating an indian born, american adopted guy - even my sister who is punjabi who married a punjabi found it ridiculously accurate. But I think what the movie fundamentally does well is illustrate the issue surrounding judgement, lack of unity and pride on a greater level. The quote you pulled out:

    "These stupid biases and discrimination are the reason our country is so screwed up. It's Tamil first, Indian later. Punjabi first, Indian later. It has to end. National anthem, national currency, national teams - still, we won't marry our children outside our state. How can this intolerance be good for our country?"

    Is basically what every culture in India faces. Somehow Indian's have missed the point that collectively we are strong than apart - yet people fight politics with religion, dislike for losing authority with cultural biases and are just plain mean.

    I appreciate your blog and this review of the book! I've yet to read it, but thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

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    1. That is the quote I love the most... I totally agree...
      You will love the book!

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  9. "Even your uncle can be a movie star" hahahaha love it!

    Reading through the comments this reminds me of another movie 'chak de india' where they made a real point of instilling that we are all Indian. I think the coach asked the girls to state their name and where they're from and they each kept saying their respective states rather than saying they're from/representing India!

    ReplyDelete

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