Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Half Girlfriend - Chetan Bhagat

Date of Reading: 12/12/2014
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2014
Rating: 3.5/5

          An intriguing title and a love story with beautiful twist; as always Chetan Bhagat didn't disappoint. There are some things that attract me to a romance story. One, obviously the habitual pleasure it offers to a lethargic mind; we could easily guess the story pattern most of the times and reading the story turns out to be a pure joy of finding out the way this special novelist treats this most popular theme.
          Secondly, the background where the story is set. Romance novels are the best way to know the average life style of a common man (middle class or rich -- interestingly the poor section of the society doesn't have much time for love as there are more pressing concerns) in a country you are interested to know more. And that is the most delightful part in 'Half Girlfriend'.
           Bihar, the poorest in a poor country, shines brightly throughout with their warm hearts and tasty litti-chokha making best of their limited circumstances. Thanks to Chetan Bhagat, a state which rarely comes to lime light is gifted with a chance to speak her story.
         Author is on one of his regular book tours in Patna when he meets Madhav Jha who runs a school in Dumraon. He comes with a set of journals which originally belonged to his half girlfriend Riya who is dead now. Reluctantly and at the same time intrigued by the term 'half girlfriend' Chetan accepts the tattered notebooks and meets the guy again next day to hear his story.

         Madhav and Riya meets at St. Stephen's College, Delhi in a basket ball trial outs. Friendship blooms immediately but Riya is reluctant to move forward to a physical relationship. So she becomes his half girlfriend which is closer than a friend. She hails from a rich family where girls are not regarded worthy of attention and for her Madhav's love and care is a fresh breeze.
         When Madhav pushes forward his love interest their friendship breaks and later Riya discontinues her studies to marry Rohan. Madhav completes his graduation but turns down the job he is offered, to help in his mother's school.
        The village school their family runs is in a pathetic condition and so when Bill Gates visit India for his charity foundation, he too applies for a grant. They are offered one opportunity to present before the delegates and for the above purpose Madhav is needed to give a speech in English. He starts taking English classes in Patna where he meets Riya again.
Chetan Bhagat
         She is a divorcee now and his forgotten love blooms again. Though his mother resents this relationship, she helps him tackle the speech and the event becomes a huge success when they win the grant from Gates' Foundation. In between Riya disappears leaving a note saying that she is affected by lung cancer and would like to spend her last days alone. Madhav is completely shattered and when years later she gets her journals from her old landlord, he didn't have the heart to read them.    

        Chetan compels him to read some specific parts where they come to know that Riya has lied about her sickness as she doesn't want to create a conflict between Madhav and his mother. Her former experience in marriage has taught her a lot about spiteful mothers-in-law.

         Madhav leaves to New York to find Riya where he suspects her to live as a singer. After three months of search, in a dramatic climax he finds her singing in a bar and a romantic episode comes to much awaited closure. Author visits the couple again when they are blessed with a boy. 

Some interesting quotes:

'Sometimes following your heart leads you nowhere"

"If you live in a hostel, never throw away food"

"Why do companies bother with such interviews? Perhaps it makes them feel better to talk about the problems of the world, even though the actual job involves sitting at a desk and punching formulas into spreadsheets".

"Girlfriends come and go but, thank God, mothers don't break up with you"

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