Mark Twain & Miss Lou underline that other point of view about Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat

Harshit Agarwal @Harshit248 tweeted in response to yesterday’s blog: “Are you saying that chetan bhagat writes in English? Hahaha what joke?”

Sagar ‏@sagar_rpurohit  courteously offered: “@rashmeerl with due respect for u n @chetan_bhagat, I like to say that books by chetan r pathetic to be even considered as literature.”

Wilson Dass ‏@wilson_007xlnc  said Chetan “Is a Disgrace to English Literature!!”

Meanwhile, Nikunj Sharma ‏@nikunjsharma3  suggested that “books have other purposes and messages to convey, for vocabulary building buy a dictionary instead”


39 ‏@Rakesh_Official confessed to being a “a big fan of CB Sir”.

That’s a thin sample of violently expressed opinions of all sorts that have been rolling in but let’s pause for a minute and consider the following:

Mark Twain

Miss Lou

Most people, including @Harshit248 ‏@sagar_rpurohit and ‏@wilson_007xlnc (to name but three of those who think Chetan’s writing is not fit to be labeled “English”) will recognize Twain as a “literary” writer. They will probably agree that he has written the sort of novels that dignified and enriched the English language and literature in general.

Jamaica's favourite poet - and she didn't write 'English poetry"

Jamaica’s favourite poet – and she didn’t write ‘English poetry”

I doubt that most people outside of Jamaica will know Miss Lou and yet Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett-Coverley is that country’s most popular poet (she outsells everyone else). As an affectionate portrait in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s most authoritative and oldest newspaper, put it: “Miss Lou’s insistence on the inherent worth of Jamaican expression that established in the populace a respect for their language and tradition – the belief that ‘patwa’ wasn’t merely corrupted English, but a creation of immense vitality and humour.”

It goes on to quote her: “Some thought Jamaican-English was vulgar, out-of-order language. It came out of the African heritage and at that time anything African was bad: hair, colour, skin, language, music. But I thought it was fascinating. Everything had a rhythm. It was a creation of the people. One reason I persisted in writing in dialect in spite of the opposition was because nobody else was doing so, and there was such a rich material in dialect that I felt I wanted to put on paper some of the wonderful things that people say in dialect. You could never say ‘look here’ as vividly as ‘kuyah.'”‘

There you go then. In a sense, Chetan Bhagat and others who don’t write “English literature”, are like Miss Lou. They have “rich material” (as she said) and they use it in a “dialect” that is “vivid” and material to those for whom they write. (And that’s not the world, it’s Jamaica in the case of Miss Lou and India, in the case of Chetan Bhagat.)

Finally, a word on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. Did you know that Twain was criticized for writing the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the American vernacular?

It was the first novel to do so and used phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or “it warn’t no time to be sentimentering”. In doing so, it consciously veered away from the imitative American writing that approximated European literature.

Today, Huck Finn is called “the Great American Novel” and Hemingway said all modern American literature comes from that one book, but back in the 1880s, “it warn’t” necessarily so.