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Chetan Bhagat, Barkha Dutt And A Tale Of Two Chitthis

10/05/2016 6:27 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - JUNE 2: Author Chetan Bhagat during a conclave Sampark, Samanvya avam Samvad (Connect, Coordinate and Communicate) being organized for the officers of Ministries of Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, at Convention Hall, NDMC, Parliament Street, on June 2, 2014 in New Delhi, India. (Photo By Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

On 16 April, The Times of India published an open letter written by Chetan Bhagat to Kashmiri youth. On the back of the recently reported unrest at NIT Srinagar, Chetan penned down this well-intentioned letter encouraging young Kashmiris to revisit (and perhaps shun) their anti-India sentiments. It was not the best piece that Chetan has ever written. It wasn't the worst either.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a complicated topic in the Indian political and communal landscape. J&K is a potent live-wire with a frustratingly short fuse. Only meant to be handled by academic, political, or social experts. Or by those seeking an adventure. Therefore, good on Chetan for being adventurous.

His open letter was well-constructed. It was enormously poignant, sufficiently blunt, and fairly logical. I chanced upon it while going through my Twitter feed on that day, and it made enough sense to an absolute J&K novice like me to decipher where Chetan was coming from.

There is abundant political rhetoric thrown around when it comes to J&K, most of which is, frankly, lost in translation for us "lay" citizens.

It is my view that in India we often shy away from penning down such "matter of fact" and from-the-heart opinions about the contentious issues holding the country back. There is abundant political rhetoric thrown around when it comes to J&K, most of which is, frankly, lost in translation for us "lay" citizens. This political garbage is good enough to fuel prime time TV channel debates only. Our popular media (print, online, and television), should invest more in responsibly crafted opinions about matters such as J&K, with a view of connecting to the ordinary citizens. Invoke their sentiments, lure them in a meaningful dialogue or debate, and thereby seek solutions.

Hence, I was pleased to read Chetan Bhagat's letter to the youth of Kashmir. It seemed like a sincere attempt at conveying a heartfelt opinion to perhaps the most disenchanted group of citizens in India. I remember feeling an urge to send him a tiny tweet back, appreciating his write-up.

But Twitter is a strange beast. It's a famous person's folly, designed to self-promote and "trend". And if you are not famous, you do not trend, you troll (while hoping to trend). In a matter of moments, after positing his open letter, Chetan Bhagat too, unravelled himself on Twitter. He did not have to seek the assistance of a troll to do so. Instead, he shot off a tweet to the famed Barkha Dutt, seeking feedback about his missive.

Barkha Dutt, in her response, sounds like an egotistical academic who is furiously critical of the dissertation submitted by a PhD candidate.

Ms Dutt, responded with a brief response. She'd go through Chetan's piece later and provide a detailed response in due course. It was an extremely polite interaction. Yet, if you read between the lines, you could sense that Chetan's write-up had inflamed a dormant spark in Barkha. She perhaps felt the need to measure up Chetan's opinion against the entire body of her acquired expertise on J&K through years of covering the state (starting with the Kargil War).

So Barkha Dutt went away, and dissected Chetan Bhagat's open letter to the Kashmiri youth. Her reply came a few days ago, in the form of yet another open letter, this time addressed to Chetan Bhagat. After a mild appreciation of Chetan's content and understanding of J&K, Barkha Dutt's open letter takes him apart, pointing out the shortcomings in his narrative, and his evident lack of grasp on the finer details.

Barkha Dutt, in her response, sounds like an egotistical academic who is furiously critical of the dissertation submitted by a PhD candidate. She pours in her wealth of understanding of the intricacies of J&K into her response. In doing so, academically, she slams Chetan Bhagat out of the park, for a Chris Gayle-like 'six'.

J&K yet again offered a burning platform, but the discussion ended at two "writers" debating each other's content. No wonder the status quo prevails in Kashmir.

And herein lies my frustration.

An open letter written by Chetan Bhagat, which I initially took as a sincere attempt to reach out to the masses, was reduced to a ping-pong contest between to media personalities vehemently trying to outwit each other. At least, it appeared to be so.

A conversation that Barkha Dutt and Chetan Bhagat could have easily had in their own time over a cup of coffee ended up clogging the columns of mainstream media with no real service to the public reading it.

One open letter led to another one. The one by Chetan Bhagat, I now feel, was merely an attempt by him to test his skills as serious writer. The response by Barkha Dutt, rather immodestly, restored the pecking order between the two in relation to their respective expertise on J&K and its intricacies.

In the end, all that occurred was that Chetan Bhagat managed to write an article that trended. So did Barkha Dutt.

J&K yet again offered a burning platform, but the discussion ended at two "writers" debating each other's content.

No wonder the status quo prevails in Kashmir.

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