Book: Half Girlfriend; Author: Chetan Bhagat; Publisher: Rupa Publications
Pages: 260; Price: Rs 176
Chetan Bhagat, the has been writing for years, and his books have sold in big numbers for many reasons that he chooses the right words that easy and tells the story in a format that’s most acceptable to the Indian reader. We have been treated to Five Point Someone, One Night at a Call Centre, The Three Mistakes of My Life, 2 states and Revolution 2020. The less known non-fiction book ‘What Young India Wants’ did not sell as many copies which was expected (no surprises his non-fiction did not cut the ice with the audience he generally has).
Now, we get Half Girlfriend – my fourteen year daughter liked it (the plot setting that is an English learner) and requested me to read – five times before i touched it!. As I spoke my friends and read the reviews, ‘There has already been some feminist outrage over the crudeness of the title, but as we begin to read we find out that Bhagat simply repeats his standard settings – a college, a common activity and a girl”
Like in all of Bhagat’s other novels the language remains simple and easy for someone with not so good English to follow the story, the hero, a man, suffers from a lack of self esteem. Like in most other novels, the girl he chases is beautiful, talented and we are given the impression that she is too good for him. (like in many other books!)
Additionally, Madhav is from a village in Half Girlfriend, which means the city/village divide is even higher, and the difficulty of his task to win the favor of this girl even greater. He comes from Bihar, the most ‘talked-about’ of the Indian states, and the most backward (a stereotype like all Punjabies want to re-settle in Canada) . He meets and falls in love with a beautiful girl from Delhi. Delhi girls, by definition, are all beautiful, fair and wear short clothes (stereotype again!). Bihari boys are closet chauvinists who freak out when denied the favor of the opposite sex, and utter choice, crass abuse in Bhojpuri (Mathali or Magahi) . Thus, Bhagat manages to reinforce many stereotypes about India and Indians.
What Yash Chopra was to Bollywood in the 90s, Chetan is to Indian literature today…. same old story served in new manner- a plot that cannot fail until the public really changes (which is less possible in 5-10 years). As I said, His books are in simple English, the script is rehashed, it reinforces stereotypes, and there is a boy chasing a girl (usually in college or after classes).
We get similar fare in Half Girlfriend, except that Bhagat now wants to prove the point that a country bumpkin from the ‘worst’ state in India can end up with a very rich, very beautiful, very ‘modern’ girl from the most sophisticated college in Delhi.
Though I have pointed out the similarities in most of Chetan Bhagat’s books, there are some stark differences between Half girlfriend and the likes of 5 Point Someone. Revolution 2020 is the only one I have not read. All his book title have a number in it this one has half and its half the fun too as i got in reading his first book. five point still remains is best work and looking at the writing style has has adopted it does not seem that he will change.
Half Girlfriend has really exposed Chetan Bhagat, not to be an imaginative as a writer. The earlier books were readable because most were based on Bhagat’s own life experiences. He could relate to the matter and hence expressed it better. He has done good amount of research in all his books.
The last two books fumble for the lack of relevance and context (they have reduced in the relevance for sure!). Half Girlfriend clearly shows that Bhagat has been unable to break out of the tried and tested boy-meets-girl script even after the incidences ceased to have basis in his own reality. The fact that he cannot think of a fresh script would point to his inadequacies as a writer. Bhagat in this book, also fails to tell us why a high-class metropolitan girl would fall for a rural boy with no talent except at basketball. While this is not impossible in real life, the reasons behind it remain unexplored until the very end. Chetan Bhagat’s book can be accused of relaying more on chance encounters, which means we as layperson could also get such chances of learning English from our girl-friends or boy-friends. In reality this does not happen!
Here’s another blow: Most of Bhagat’s other books held a lesson or moral for everyone to follow, however mediocre the expression was. Half Girlfriend is devoid of moral teachings. This is not to say that the book is an immoral piece of work – just that it’s a rambling love story lacking in moral purpose. There si motivation for people to speak better English to gain self-esteem and therefore some confidence – which is also better is plots like English-vinglish as movie.
But is that the worst of it? No. Would it be reasonable if I were to say that the book propagates the idea that if you seemed desperate enough to win a woman’s heart, she’d finally give in? In short, the philosophy that the girl always means yes even if she says no, as long as she’s being friendly.
One thing that can be said about Half Girlfriend is that it is less boring to read than Revolution 2020 ( I left it mid-way when once I picked it). This may be ascribed to the Delhi connect, which appeals to the Indian metropolitan crowd, and the stereotypes of Delhi women and Bihari men which everyone seems to love reading and assimilating into their minds. Of course, there’s the fact that Bhagat again manages to satiate the Indian appetite for dreamy, mushy romance. And sex.
So, the million dollar (or Rs 176) question: Is it worth a read? Only if you are a hardcore Chetan Bhagat fan, because it’s pretty standard plot (once again).
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Learning and Fun go together
In the groups of 2-5, the tip™ learning GAME has been played for 2 hours or more by 470 people as on Nov. 2014. The players or learners are in the age-group of ‘14-47’ years with most learners in the age group of 20-30 (over 300). The median age is 26; over 200 learners are engineering graduates. The learners enrolled for Conversation in English program had some understanding English but were not able to form their sentences correctly while writing or took a lot of time before speaking in broken sentences. Most of them were from Hindi-medium back-ground and not very confident speakers. They were very well primed on the game with some grammar lessons where they understood parts-of-speech and the visual tense chart by Dr. Eli Hinkel was shown as well as explained to them. The trainers also used a slightly different tense-chart on the white-board and a professionally designed poster on 9 key tenses. The focus remained composition and usage instead of mere memorization of the grammar rules (even the tense chart was not given to them). Some quantifiable outcomes have been captured in the feedback forms (L1[i]), pre/post assessments (L2[ii]):
↗ Learning and understanding of Tenses becomes easier for almost everyone (close to 100% -as per learner’s feedback).
↗ Increased motivation and engagement in over 98% cases (checked before/after the game-session that lasted 30-45 min. the extensions to continue to play the game asked by the participants)
↗ Moderate competitive element enhanced effective learning as it kept learners interested in listening before speaking in all cases (~100%).
↗ Helped the learners to understand, learn, remember and apply grammar rules 2x better than the repetitive drilling practice and 3x better than translation sheets. (perception recorded at L1 level)
The qualitative advantages that we got -in over 85% of the cases- are listed herewith, in no particular order; some have been ticked by the 5 trainers/teachers who used this game in their classes:
↗ tip™ Game leads people to do spontaneous practice right after the theoretical overview -in the same session. (Monika, trainer is MA in English)
↗ Consolidation of grammar rules through the learner’s natural desire to apply what he already knows or mix and match the rules of grammar. (Manpreet, senior V&A trainer with British Telecom)
5 People playing Tense GAME and learning to Speak in English.
↗ Students who enjoy the challenge of participating in interactive games: tip™ makes them smarter and more confident as they hit the winning streak. (words picked/summarized from the feedback forms of some trainers observers)
↗ Among other abilities, the game helps develop students’ social capacities (81%), memory (86%), spontaneity (92%) and creativity (88%).
↗ Many usages of a particular verb form are understood and vocabulary of verbs is better applied in real-life situations. Over-usage of present continuous (a typical Indian-ism) is prevented to a very large extent. (Many students confirm this in their feedback)
↗ When offered at the same price point, the Game was preferred over a fully equipped Language Lab with computers and head-phones best in class and interactive content (Ms Ashima Rai – the center manager of T.r.i.c.k.s)
It is obvious that the use of games in a learning environment will not only change the dynamics of the class, but it will also rejuvenate students and help the brain to learn the rest of the material more effectively. Do we have the time and willingness to change for the better?
[i] Level 1: Feedback is taken right after the training session or after every fifteen days within the training programs
[ii] Level 2: Is the difference between pre-post training and is captured through test of understanding
[iii] Most Commonly Used Verbs have been taken from varied sources and word-lists, the regular and irregular verbs are mixed-up well like veggies in a salad bowl.