{Book Review} 2 States - The Struggles and Hilarities of Modern-Day Desi Romance

2014 Apr 10 - by Shriya
Chetan Bhagat is a renowned contemporary Indian author who has a talent for reaching out to his audience with relatable fictional stories. He's best known for his book Five Point Someone(2004), which turned into the hit movie 3 Idiots (2009). His other books range from deeper meanings in Revolution 2020(2011) to social commentary in What Young India Wants (2012).

{via www.lelobooks.com}

2 States came out in 2009, and it's about to be released as a motion picture starring Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor on April 18th. The story is based on Chetan Bhagat's own real-life romance with his wife - Bhagat is a Gujarati while his wife is Tamilian. 2 States is a love story about two students from two very different Indian cultures, and the barriers they cross as well as the hilarities they face on the path to marriage.

Chetan Bhagat and his wife Anusha {via vidya.ravisblog.net}

The protaganist Krish Malhotra meets the love of his life Ananya Swaminathan at IIM Ahmedabad, where they are both part of India's smartest elite studying to be future business leaders. Ananya is an anomaly at the school - for one, she is female, and she also happens to be the most beautiful girl that any of these (let's face it) nerds have ever seen. Plenty of boys take a liking to her, but she ends up ditching class one day with Krish and the rest is history!

Well, not so much: because the two come from very different cultures, their lifestyles and habits are constantly at odds. For example, Krish is very close to his overprotecting Punjabi  single mother who lives in Delhi, while Ananya is the star of her hardworking and brilliant Tamilian Brahmin family who upholds religious and familial values stubbornly. Neither family would approve of an inter-state and inter-caste marriage, but the two lovers decide to be together anyway - and they face a lot of challenges in between.

{via pranavgupta.me}

I found their dedication to each other despite the circumstances to be endearing and awfully realistic. Krish only wins the approval of Ananya's family after he takes a job in Chennai (away from his dear mother) and tutors Ananya's younger brother - even while Ananya's family is attempting to marry her off to some other man. Ananya just barely wins the love of her future mother-in-law days before the wedding by learning how to make proper Punjabi rotis and even helping organize Krish's cousin's big fat Punjabi wedding.

There are some painfully stark caste and cultural differences which represent the internal struggles India faces even today. Neither Krish's nor Ananya's family approves of their initial plans to marry, and they both make snide remarks at each other's cultures. Although these tended to be hilarious (Krish's mother is constantly poking fun at how fast Tamil is spoken and Ananya's parents find the Punjabi custom of drinking heavily at weddings to be an abomination), they speak to deeper cultural trenches that India must bury in order to truly integrate as one state.

{via koimoi.com}

My favorite parts of the book involved Krish's stay in Chennai, where he desperately tries to win the approval of Ananya's family. He's flabbergasted at the concept of eating a traditional South Indian meal whilst seated on the floor and served on a banana leaf plate. I cracked up at the scene where he dons a lungi given to him by Ananya's father when he stays over as a guest one night and doesn't have sleeping clothes - I can't wait to see how Arjun Kapoor will look in that outfit in the movie!

The book's contrasting elements of modernity and rigid traditionalism make it an excellent and eye-opening read. We see this couple who goes to a very modern university and engages in the very Western concept of premarital sex suddenly hit a brick wall when they try to simply love each other. It just goes to show that India, as smart and modernizing a country as it may be now and in the next few years, will always be stunted in its growth by the prejudices of the caste system and biases against other cultures.

{via worldcinenews.com}

Overall, (spoiler alert!) the book predictably ends on a promising note (as given away by the fact that Chetan Bhagat himself is happily married), with a big fat Indian wedding. The bickering families end up compromising after seething at each other during the very stressful wedding process and decide on a South Indian traditional wedding ceremony with fun Punjabi elements in the reception. I'm excited to see the costume design and props used in the movie version of the ending!

As for the upcoming movie, the trailer looks promising - and it seems to do justice to the wedding at the end in terms of music and colorful outfits. Arjun Kapoor fits the Punjabi typecast that he is playing, but fun fact: Alia Bhatt is actually Gujarati! Nevertheless, her performance in Student of the Year brought her to potential It-Girl fame, so I look forward to her playing the light-skinned, yet very very Tamilian Ananya.

I highly recommend this book (and any of Chetan Bhagat's stories) because it's uplifting while still discussing some very real issues. I give it a 4/5 stars, only because it's too quick a read and could go a little more in-depth about these cultural barriers that the protagonists face. However, I was very happy that the two main characters retreat to their relief and married life after discovering that they are, after all, from only one state: India.