A perfect ten for Chetan Bhagat
Five Point Someone
by Chetan Bhagat. Rupa & Co. Rs 95. Pages 270.

Chetan Bhagat might have scored a five-point average in IIT, but Kannan Shastri gives him a perfect 10 for Five Point Someone. Youthful, funny and highly original, the book guarantees more than a few laughs. Humra Quraishi, meanwhile, catches up with the new celebrity on the literary block.

Five Point SomeoneChetan Bhagat may well have scraped through IIT as a five-plus pointer. But he scores a perfect 10 with this book — a hilarious, rollicking account replete with witticisms and unforgettable one-liners.

The book, as the blurb says, is not to help people who aspire to get into the IIT, or even help those who are already there to pass out successfully. Far from it. It is about this guy, Hari, and his two friends, who consider themselves the underdogs because they have five-point something GPAs (Grade Point Averages), and their (mis)adventures in the four years they spend at IIT. It is about their constant struggle to beat a system which judges everyone by their GPA, and which, they feel, suppresses the creativity of a person. So they set out to make the most of extra-curricular college life, by devising schemes which will help them maintain their five-point something averages with just two or three hours of study a day. The resulting free time is spent in boyish adventures, be it playing squash, roaming the city or trying to woo the professor’s daughter. In short, all that they should not do at IIT. But the one thought nagging them all is, will they make it?

The book, besides having a humorous appeal, also deals with the fears and insecurities of the students in one of the country’s top institutions. Its description of the lives of students in IIT or other higher-education institutions such as IIM or NID, rings true. It could be Harvard, except for the desi flavour of the locales. IIT provides the backdrop against which the story unfolds, but it could just as well have been any other elite institution — elite in terms of the aspirations of its students but eclectic in terms of their social, cultural and economic backgrounds.

The author delves into the minds of the students, their motivations and aspirations in the competitive atmosphere of IIT. The personal lives of the characters are also beautifully interwoven into the narrative. The protagonist’s involvement with his professor’s daughter forms the love angle of the plot, and their love life accounts for more than a few laughs. The fact that her father is the kind of person no under-performer wants to meet, only adds to the drama. Sentimentality is kept low-key, but not underplayed while portraying the warmth of friendship or bonds of attachment.

The book dispels the commonly held notion that IITians generally ‘have it made’. The reader gets to know that life at IIT is totally performance-oriented, with never ending notes, assignments, lectures, etc. It is also a subtle take on the GPA system, which kills the students’ originality. But, in the end, the characters realise that it is precisely this drudgery that makes the IITians what they are.

The narrative is interspersed with wonderfully funny incidents, like when Hari sneaks into the professor’s house in the middle of the night to wish his daughter a happy birthday, or when he appears for a viva after downing half a bottle of vodka to "boost his confidence". The language used is original, and the dialogue fresh and youthful. The casual, easy-flowing style makes for easy reading. This is 270 pages of pure fun, and a steal at Rs 95. Carry on, Bhagat. You are doing pretty well for a five-point ‘somethinger’. There’s (been) life after IIT. So, tell us more, even while we wait for Bollywood to light up the screens with your script.

Chetan BhagatNow that there’s news that IITian turned banker turned writer Chetan Bhagat’s debut book, Five Point Someone: What Not To Do At IIT (Rupa), is to be turned into a feature film, it’s time to get serious. With this, he would perhaps become famous overnight. Instead of treating him as just another IITian trying to make it into the literary world, his skills are to be assessed more seriously.

Chetan Bhagat graduated from the IIT in Delhi in 1995 and then did his MBA from the IIM at Ahmedabad in 1997. While working in an investment bank in Hong Kong (where he still works), he hit upon this idea to write a novel on his days and experiences at the IIT, taking the reader beyond the seriousness of it. To the realities of the system, to the everyday functioning of the IIT and all that it stands for.

To Bhagat goes the credit of removing the mask of intellectualism with which the IITs are associated. With this book hitting the stands, the perceptions have fallen.

The everyday realities have been so well webbed that it doesn’t take you to a wonderland, but rather moves you smoothly towards realities that are pleasant and fun-filled.

Credit ought to be given to this young author for his grasp of the human psyche. He knew well enough that there would be a great readership for the book, if for nothing else, simply because it breaks many myths. Then he saw to it that the price wasn’t above Rs 100. Being a banker, his numerical intelligence is still intact.

He has a shrewd sense of what sells and what doesn’t. Interviewing him several weeks ago, I was taken aback seeing the great combo in him—writer and a great seller—which is hard to come by. Not once (in spite of provocative queries) did he answer without actually thinking. Call him smart and a go-getter. The biggest quality you like is his motto: "Don’t stop making friends," a line that he quickly scribbled in the copy of the book which he presented me.