Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat

From his first book that set a new vocabulary for Indian Writing in English, Chetan Bhagat has come a long way indeed. Published in 2014, the sixth novel by Chetan Bhagat delves into another of India’s obsession, after cricket, religion, romance, and fairness, of course- which is English! Millions of Indians snigger at those speak fluent English but in the heart of hearts, know the importance of knowing the global language. Another few millions have been left behind in careers and lives just because they couldn’t speak good English. Not that knowing English lays a red carpet for careers, but the mindset is such that it definitely plays in part.



Author : Chetan Bhagat
Originally Published : 2014
Publication : Rupa & Co 
Pages : 260
Genre(s) : Novel, Fiction, Indian Novels

In this book, Bhagat touches the raw nerve with a Bihari boy Madhav Jha from Bihar’s hinterland. Like his other books, this one also begins with Bhagat in first-person account, meeting Jha who hands him over a few journals belonging to his ‘half girlfriend’, who is supposed is dead. So this is the story of Madhav and Riya, his half girlfriend.

Madhav is in Delhi to gain admission at St. Stephen’s and faces embarrassing interviews because he can’t fluently converse with the interview panel in English. He has to give a sports trial and that’s where he meets Riya, the tall and stylish basketball player. Like him. And he manages an entry in the prestigious college from sports quota. Once in, his frequent encounters with Riya makes Madhav fall head over heels with this charming Delhi girl. Madhav finds solace in Riya’s company and also manages to improve his English and boldness quotient. Madhav wants to make Riya his girlfriend but she wants to remain just friends. Basketball friends, rather!

It’s Riya’s birthday and Madhav is invited. He meets Rohan who has come from London and finds him more polished. When Riya falls ill, Madhav helps her. His romantic advances and desire for intimacy are forthrightly rejected by Riya who also stops talking to him. Riya moves on in life and marries Rohan and settles in London. Rohan has promised her an adventurous life.

Madhav moves back to his native place in Bihar and decides to help his mother, Rani Sahiba to run her school that has around 1600 students. But the school lacks basic amenities even. With a paucity of funds, he turns to the local MLA for help but doesn’t get any. Instead, he comes to know that Bill Gates is visiting Bihar schools. Madhav decides to invite Gates to his school and do more than just whitewash the walls- the Gates Foundation’s Samantha tells him he has to make a speech in fluent English to impress Gates.

Madhav takes English classes in Patna and while at a coffee shop with Samantha, he spots Riya. She helps him prepare the speech. She’s divorced from Rohan by now and towards the end of her brief encounter, leaves a letter for Madhav in which she confesses her love for him and the disclosure that she has lung cancer with just three months left to survive. Everything in her life has happened in just three years- marriage, disease, and divorce. That’s when Madhav has approached Bhagat with her journals which she has left. Bhagat realizes that she’s alive. Madhav guesses she would be where she dreamt of being- singing in a small bar in New York. He hits New York in search and stays at a friend’s place. After scanning the city’s bars, at the fag end of his stay, he finally finds Riya. She has apparently faked her cancer thing to get away from Madhav’s life, one more time. They unite in New York finally. The epilogue has Madhav managing his school with grants from Gates and Riya raising her kids with him.

Key takeaways-

  1. The Bihar hinterland where education is the only way to a good life with no other opportunities
  2. The inferiority complex of students from vernacular medium about not speaking fluent English
  3. A fantastic take on love, life, and English, if you must say
  4. A tale that spans several cities and beyond borders to lose and find and lose love again only to be found for keeps
  5. Bhagat’s skillful presentation of characters

Why I recommend this book

Chetan Bhagat has an insider view of the nuances of what ails Bihar and uses it to some great effect. The only solace for aspirational Bihari youth is an education in big cities. The tale of Madhav shows you the impact of language on not just careers but also the lives of people from a wide linguistic divide. But love conquers all odds, doesn’t it?

Read this book to understand how life takes turns and leads you towards losing and finding yourself in your quest for your true love. You grow, in stature and in life, when you stay true to your heart’s passion.

Read also for the warm love story woven amidst the matrix of life.

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