"Completely baffled and spellbound by looking at the Liberal Muslim mindset. Would not hv known it, if @chetan_bhagat would not hv written it," tweeted a Chetan Bhagat fan in response to his Sunday column, 'Letter from an Indian Muslim youth'.
Bhagat did not write his column about the young liberal Muslim; he wrote it as one:
Everyone seems to care for Muslims, but no one actually wants to listen to us, particularly the youth. I keep hearing political leaders promising to uplift us. I don't know how they plan to uplift us and only us, without uplifting the nation. But then, I am a nobody, what do I know?
Bhagat, of course, is not a nobody, but a highly successful, well-educated upper class writer who is neither young nor a Muslim. Imagine, say, a John Grisham appointing himself as a spokesperson for African Americans, and penning a letter as a young black man, addressing white American leaders. It requires unseemly gall to speak as a member of another community and on their behalf. More so when it is accompanied by little expertise (there is no evidence that Bhagat has spent any time researching the attitudes and opinions of this demographic).
But hey, as Bhagat points out, "You forget, this writer also writes fiction." Hence, his psychic ability to answer that other burning question: What do Muslims want?
We need jobs. We need good schools and colleges. We need a good, clean home with power and water. We need a decent standard of living. We don't need it as a handout. We are willing to work hard for it. Just, if you can, create the opportunities to do so.
We don't need a psychic to tell us most of the above is likely true — who doesn't want jobs or education or basic amenities? More striking is Bhagat the Muslim's deep aversion to leaders who "wear Muslim caps" and "dole out freebies." His free market devotion to entrepreneurship and development, outright rejection of reservation quotas, and disdain for the empty secularism of unnamed parties.
Lo and behold, Bhagat the Muslim holds exactly the same opinion as Bhagat the author — except he happens to be Muslim, albeit of the fictional variety. This remarkable coincidence reveals the real intent of the column: to tell Muslims what they ought to want. The views they ought to hold to qualify as a 'modern' or 'liberal' or 'good' Muslim.
The crime of intellectual dishonesty compounds the first sin of presumptuousness.
"Many of us non Muslims listen to Muslims with great care & well wishing. We've as much right to take up their issues as you," tweeted Madhu Kishwar when writer Zahir Janmohamed criticised Bhagat's column. His response: "And one can speak about Muslims without condescending to them or denying their agency to speak."
Bhagat, in his better moments, can do both. He was far more enlightening when he tweeted last week about an encounter with a Muslim man who gave him a lift to the airport: "Stranger Shoaib, telco professional. Dropped me close to gate but away from cops. 'Muslim on a bike. They'll trouble me'. That's also India." If Bhagat truly wants his readers to know more about young Muslims, a conversation with a real-life Shoaib would be far more useful than any imaginary one he chooses to invent.
Unhappily, this tendency to play 'Daddy knows best' is becoming a pattern with Bhagat. This latest outing is of a pair with his offensive Women's Day column, 'Five things women need to change about themselves', which paints women as bitchy, cat-fighting, insincere, insecure and dependent ninnies. The bahus in Indian soaps are more complex and three-dimensional than Bhagat's version of the average Indian woman.
Over and again, Bhagat freely invents his own version of the 'other,' be it women or Muslims, tells these fictional creatures what they really need, and then pats himself on the back for his broad-minded views. Because nothing screams progress quite like a privileged male telling the rest of us what we want.
I don't have 5 or even 2 things that Bhagat needs to change about himself. I'll settle for one: Stop playing Daddy.