Author: Chetan Bhagat
“The world’s most sensible person and the biggest idiot both stay within us.”
If you have read my reviews before (I hope you have), then you must know a little bit about my interest in India. I have spent most of the free time in my gap year reading books by Indian authors, trying to teach myself how to dance Bollywood style, and watching almost only Indian cinema. That said, none of the resources I used while learning more about India was as funny or as informative as Chetan Bhagat’s 2 STATES. In fact, I was so impressed that I went on to read five out of the seven novels Chetan Bhagat wrote. Although I enjoyed reading all his books, 2 STATES was my absolute favorite. Maybe it’s because it was my first Chetan Bhagat book. Maybe it’s because I finally got the answer to what had puzzled an Indian film fanatic like me: Why did India have a North Indian film industry famously known as Bollywood and a South Indian film industry?
The plot is not something extraordinary. The novel explores the life of Krish Malhotra a Punjabi boy (North Indian), who falls in love with a Tamilian girl (South Indian) called Ananya Swaminathan at the prestigious university known as IIMA, and their quest to convince their parents to overcome their differences and agree to the marriage. I know this is a very common plot that people have read or seen in a movie way too many times, but this book is worth a read because it addresses some deep and social issues that most stories like this ignore. For example, the book addresses the world’s (especially Indian) obsession with fair skin. Chetan Bhagat takes us through the struggle black Indians face. A struggle of being condescended, being called ugly, and being dubbed a “black magic user” in order to trap fair looking spouses, in case you happen to fall in love with a fairer person. When I read this at first, I thought maybe there was a slight hyperbole to what the author was saying, but when I researched about it, I found that the Indian fairness cream industry was worth 450 million U.S dollars according to Newstatesman.com, and that it would increase by 11.2% by 2020 according to Strategyr.com. This shows that there is too much pressure on black Indians to whiten their skin, since white skin is associated with beauty, success, youth, and privilege. India is not the only country that has a huge market for whitening products. Japan has the biggest market for these products, and this market is increasing in most south Asian countries. This represents some deep rooted racism that denies people to be seen for who they really are beyond their skin color.
I could go on about the many issues addressed in 2 STATES, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises in this book. Go on and read it. If you are not a reader, you can also watch the movie. It may not be as informative as the book, but it is funny and has a great soundtrack album. Also, whether you choose to read the book or watch the movie, you will still learn that there is a sea of difference between south Indians and north Indians. Differences that range from public things like language and skin color to more intimate things such as rituals and wedding ceremonies.