“We won’t let our children talk to a stranger on the balcony but do we have any idea who our children are talking to on the phone from anywhere in the world?” said bestselling author Chetan Bhagat at a session at the Times Litfest 2021. Having become synonymous with ‘bestsellers’, Chetan talked extensively about his recently released novel, ‘400 Days’ with author and poet Nandini Sen Mehra.
'400 Days' is the story of Alia, a mother who is determined to find her missing son while grappling with a failing marriage and individuality. Keshav Rajpurohit, Alia's neighbor and owner of a detective agency, helps in her quest.
Deliberately steering away from the romance genre, this book is a thriller that the author decided to write to step out of his range and "reinvent" himself as a writer. Furthermore, Chetan shared that he saw a lot of himself while shaping the character of a young, ambitious boy who vacillates between self-sufficiency and self-doubt. Chetan told Nandini that while parts of him have inevitably been instilled in all his characters, Keshav is one character in whom he sees most of himself.
“As you grow more experienced in your writing, you learn how to make characters which are based on you but a reader can’t tell,” said Chetan.
Speaking of the protagonist, Nandini expressed her admiration for the way she did not fit into boxes as a married woman and a mother and was her own person throughout the narrative. The discussion further enveloped motherhood and the expectations that seek to apotheosize mothers instead of humanizing them and letting them survive as individuals.
“I am sad that this point has to be even made but I think popular culture does drive this glossy picture and that becomes the norm; the burden of motherhood,” stated Nandini, who herself is a mother and has been subjected to criticism for not fitting into people’s idea of an ideal mother.
Adultery is another theme that is highlighted in the book, which Chetan wished to portray as a grey area, in contrast to the sin it has always been looked down upon at as. He clearly stated how he did not wish to endorse or justify it by any means but to try and understand it as a result of circumstances.
The session ended with the author giving out advice to the younger generation about reading. An imperative activity to keep the mind and imagination fresh and running, reading is slowly being replaced by social media that promises instant dopamine in exchange for a few seconds of content, mentioned Chetan.
“At the end of five years, you’ve read a hundred books and others have watched a million reels. Nobody remembers a reel, you remember a good book. Isn’t it?” he concluded.
(Byline: Bhavya Sharma)