January 2007




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L - R: Chetan Bhagat…Back-to-back bestsellers; Tushar Raheja…Love tale on the E-mail

Chetan Bhagat and Tushar Raheja may not elicit instant recall in literary circles but the two students of Indian Institute of Technology have written runaway bestsellers about life and times at India’s premiere engineering establishments

As engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the country’s premier engineering establishment they are pursued by global firms with blank cheque offers. Or so you’d think. But some of them dare to tread a different path. They want more out of life than just a bricks-and-mortar career. Chetan Bhagat is a shining example. The 1995 IIT graduate who went on to do his management from IIM Ahemdabad may be holding a dream job with an investment firm in Hong Kong but he’d rather be known as a writer.

Bhagat’s first book Five Point Someone, a story about three friends in IIT was a runaway bestseller. And his second book, One Night @ The Call Center about the lives of six call centre employees has been an even bigger success.

Chetan Bhagat is not a flash in the pan. He has inspired another student into writing. Tushar Raheja’s debut novel Anything For You, Ma’am: An IITans Love Story (Shrishti Publications) gives a vivid glimpse of life and times at IIT. The book is inspired by romance, fuelled by ingenuity and sustained by wit and humour.

Bhagat says what motivated him to write was the "IIT hostel life…which touched me like nothing else in life. Maybe it was just the age, but it was very special. There is a conscious effort to change the stereotype of an IITians who are thought to be full of numbers, geeky and nerdy. We are fun people too."

In Bhagat’s book Five Point Someone the reader is given glimpses of some pretty serious ragging at the IIT and also the fun times as the three main characters Hari, Alok and Ryan share assignments, lab experiments and vodka costs. The book also voices concern at the IITs becoming pathways to big-ticket jobs overseas.

Tushar Raheja says he too feels strongly about the commercialization of IITs. "Some students do take to research and I respect them but most are just going through the motions of education to get hold of high paying jobs abroad. There is no passion, no pride at being in the premiere institute of the country," he says.

Brain Drain

Raheja adds that IITs were built for a different reason—to attract the best brains that can take up key assignments in the future. "But they are succumbing to the megabuck offers they get from overseas companies resulting in a major brain-drain," he says.

"But the system won’t improve until students are assured good life and pay. Look around you and almost everything in India needs major engineering changes--roads, traffic, water, power and agriculture. IITians can work on fascinating projects; do so much to better these things. Yet most prefer to become IT coolies in the West. The Indian government should create top job opportunities to check this brain drain."

Curiously Raheja’s book Anything For You, Ma’am does not reflect this concern. It is the story of Tejas, a third year student of IIT Delhi who follows his heart and lives life on the edge. He would do anything for his love Shreya who lives in Chennai but is too scared of her dad.

The two of them eke out a classic romance with the distance between Delhi and Chennai making the heart and hormones work overtime. The author explores the nuances of love being a marriage of two minds and one that admits no impediments via E-mail.

Raheja’s exploration of the narrative form is interesting, going back and forth in time to enmesh the highs and lows of college life. "I prefer a non linear structure. It keeps the reader guessing. Going back and forth helped me weave plots and integrate the love story within which is the basic theme of the book."

Now in his fourth year, he looks forward to being a cricket or sports journalist and continue with fiction. He also confesses to a passion for music and mathematics. "I am obsessed about everything that helps create something new," says Tushar whose book keeps the reader glued with his engaging style of storytelling and fluent writing.

Bhagat lives in Hong Kong where he works for an investment bank. His second book, One Night @ The Call Center too is an absorbing work on the ethos of a night shift work culture that attracts an ever-growing and fascinating cross-section of society, caught between the tensions of demands by day and the pressures of work by night.

So, what is it that has inspired the two young engineers to put pen to paper? Says Bhagat, " It’s the atmosphere at the IIT. The sheer joy of being an IITan that transforms your personality completely…. as if you have had genetic mutations. Ask any IITian and he’ll tell you that despite the broken rubber chappals and roadside chais, those days are some of the happiest times of their lives. That’s what inspired me to write about the experiences of three IITans in my first book."

If Bhagat and Raheja have drawn from experience of their days at one of India’s best institutes of higher learning, then credit must go to Delhi’s IIT for providing gist for such fecund works of semi fiction.




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