Meet Ketan Bhagat. Bestselling author Chetan Bhagat's kid brother who is not part of the big, fat "CB Family" that drools over every word Chetan writes, who told his brother 10 years ago that the smashing hit One Night @ the Call Centre would not work, who was bullied by his big brother when he was growing up, and who now describes his relationship with his brother as "cordial".
Two books down, Ketan is a bestselling author himself - whatever the word bestselling translates into. At 39, he has seen a lot of life. From cleaning bathrooms in a 5-star hotel, to a stint in Singapore's IT sector, to his current trips to the family court to seek permission to meet his six-year old.
But there's something about this Bhagat - he is down-to-earth and affable, and when he flip-flops, you know he is doing it for the sake of Big Brother.
LH: Have you read One Indian Girl - Chetan's latest?
KB: I have read Chetan's initial books. I haven't read One Indian Girl. How is it?
LH: You say your stories begin where Chetan's end. Please elaborate.
KB: Most stories that Chetan writes -- Five Point Someone, One Night @ The Call Centre -- are stories about young people who are faced with a dilemma -- a career of their choice or a partner of their choice. Or his stories are about college students.
My protagonists are people who already have a career and a partner -- my stories are about what happens to them after that.
In my first book Complete/Convenient the guy marries the girl of his choice within the first 50 pages of the book and he gets his dream posting too. That is the ending for most Chetan Bhagat books.
LH: What do you read?
KB: For the last few years I have only been reading the Geeta. I don't get my stories from there, but I understand life from there. What is wisdom? What is the meaning of life?
LH: Chetan's books read like Bollywood scripts...
KB: (Laughs) I don't know that.
LH: You've seen a lot of life. Been a waiter too. Is that true?
KB: Yes. Even now life is a struggle. I have just come out of a family court, I am struggling to meet my only child. Life has been tough. Now I am separated from my wife.
LH: Did you have to really clean bathrooms?
KB: I was not good at studies. I studied hotel management and that is a part of the course. Oh I can clean utensils very well, cut vegetables very nicely (laughs)... for one week my job was to remove seeds from raisins because the chef was making a raisin cake.
LH: What is your relationship with Chetan?
KB: We are two brothers. We are both very attached to our mother. Our father lives in Delhi and our mother keeps shuttling between Delhi and Mumbai. We live pretty separate lives.
LH: Who is the family favourite?
KB: Our father was in the army, my mother was a government servant in Delhi. She was an agriculture scientist. My father was not around in our growing up years. We would visit him only during our holidays. When he retired he came to Delhi. I think he was strict with Chetan, I have been very lucky, I got a lot of love from everyone.
I was spoilt, so I became a waiter. Chetan was a born genius. He was a school topper.
LH: Why do you say he was a 'born genius'?
KB: He always performed very well. Very rarely we come across children who are creative and also analytical. Chetan was that rare combination.
LH: But that doesn't reflect in his books...
KB: That I don't know. I am not saying that my brother is a genius. I am not trying to prove anything to you. I am just saying during childhood he would stand out because he was good in studies and also showed a creative streak. He was part of the school orchestra and would throw parties that were very creative. He was a topper at school, but not one of those boring studious types.
LH: Chetan was a prankster and he convinced you that he picked you up from a dustbin...
KB: Yes (laughs).
LH: Did he ever beat you up?
KB: Yes, lots of times.
LH: Was he a bully?
KB: Yes. He was a bully. If I went for his parties he would get embarrassed. Typical sibling rivalry.
LH: Did he ever help you with homework?
KB: I never did homework (laughs).
LH: How would you describe your relationship with Chetan now? Are you in awe of him?
KB: Not at all.
LH: Are you scared of him?
KB: Not at all.
LH: Does he bully you even now?
KB: No. We hardly meet. We have a cordial relationship. We are at a stage where he leads a very busy life, I have a very busy life. We hardly get time to interact.
LH: Do you enjoy his writings?
KB: When he wrote One Night @ The Call Centre he narrated the story to me, we were in Singapore then. He said his first book was a hit and he was writing a second book. I told him - what is this story? How will people like this?
But it was a hit.
For that matter, when he was at Goldman Sachs he was doing very well there and he quit to become a writer. We told him - why is he doing this? But he proved us all wrong.
So I don't think I should say anything, he would prove us wrong again. It is better to keep quiet. (laughs)
LH: His critics say he has dumbed down literature. Do you agree?
KB: I don't think he ever attempted to write literature. He attempted a readership and he has succeeded in getting it. Everywhere I go people tell me they have started reading books because of Chetan Bhagat.
I have never seen him claiming that he has written literature. He is the Salman Khan of writing.
LH: But Salman is a good actor...
KB: Chetan is very good at what he is doing. Every month I see wannabe Chetan Bhagats writing a similar story. But they have not succeeded. He has been around for more than a decade. People are hooked to his books.
He is very good at what he does, it's just that it appears effortless, so we don't give him credit for that. He never said he writes literature.
LH: Is he a better writer or a better strategist?
KB: I don't know about his writing. I don't read his books now. He is one of the best marketing writers in this world. I don't think I have seen any writer marketing a book as well. The way he has grown his brand.
Today Chetan Bhagat as a writer has judged reality shows, judged dance competitions, he is a political analyst (laughs) -- can you think of any other author who has achieved this with his writing? Give him credit for that at least, if not writing.
LH: You seem to be in awe of him and his writing...
KB: No, I am not really in awe of him. If I was in awe of him I would attempt to be like him. What he is good at, he is good at. We can't take it away from him
LH: Does this constant comparison with him irk you?
KB: This is life. Chetan himself told me that everyone will compare you to me and it will be an unfair comparison because I am already successful. Thankfully, when my first book was out I was 35 and I could take the criticism.
LH: There seems to be a little friction in your relationship with Chetan?
KB: We don't have a Salman Khan-Sohail Khan type (close) relationship. We lead independent lives. We meet once in a while, we have a cordial relationship.
LH: Cordial is a strange word to describe a brotherly relationship...
KB: That's how our relationship has been always, so this doesn't sound odd to me.