Once upon a time, there was a Bihari boy called Madhav. He fell in love with a girl from Delhi called Riya. Madhav didn’t speak English well. Riya did. Madhav wanted a relationship. Riya didn’t. Riya just wanted friendship. Madhav didn’t. Riya suggested a compromise. She agreed to be his half girlfriend.
Half Girlfriend is an Indian English coming of age, young adult romance novel by Indian author Chetan Bhagat. The novel, set in rural Bihar, New Delhi, Patna, and New York, is the story of a Bihari boy in quest of winning over the girl he loves. This is Bhagat’s sixth novel which was released on 1 October 2014 by Rupa Publications. The novel has also been published in Hindi and Gujarati versions as well. A Hindi film adaptation is scheduled to release on 19 May 2017.
Dedicated to “non English-types”, as Chetan Bhagat wrote, the book divulges the sentiments and linguistic struggles of a backward rural Bhojpuri-laced Hindi-speaking boy from Bihar as he enrolls himself at the prestigious English-medium St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, and falls in love with a “high class English-speaking rich Delhi girl” schooled at Modern School, New Delhi. The girl does not admit the relationship but agrees to be his “half girlfriend”. Chetan Bhagat commented, “Half-Girlfriend, to me, is a unique Indian phenomenon, where boys and girls are not clear about their relationship status with each other. A boy may think he is more than friends with the girl, but the girl is still not his girlfriend. Hence, I thought we needed a term like ‘Half girlfriend’. Because, in India, that is what most men get.”
The story begins with Madhav Jha, a rural boy from Dumraon, a village in Buxar, Bihar, as he comes to meet the author Chetan Bhagat and leaves behind a few journals from his half-girlfriend who he believes has died. Chetan Bhagat calls him up the next morning to hear his story. He starts by describing his trouble entering St. Stephens, as his English was quite bad. Being a good basketball player, Madhav gets admission through his sports quota.
The rich and beautiful Riya Somani is a girl from Delhi, and is also selected through the sports quota. Madhav and Riya become close friends due to their association with basketball. Madhav wants to make her his girlfriend, but she refuses. He demands that they get physical. Offended by his obscene ultimatum (Deti hai to de, warna katle), Riya parts company with him and tells him not to talk to her anymore.
A year later, Riya marries her childhood friend Rohan and settles in London, where Rohan has a big business. Finding Delhi unbearable on grounds of losing Riya, Madhav settles in his hometown and helps his mother, Rani Sahiba, who runs her school. Seeing the condition of the school – no proper classes or toilets – Madhav decides to meet local MLA Ojha for financial help, but the MLA refuses to help. An opportunity comes when Ojha informs Madhav about Bill Gates’ visit to some schools in Bihar. Madhav tries his best to convince Gates to fund his school, but to do so he has to prepare a speech, preferably in English.
In the course of his struggle, he comes across Riya, who is a divorcee. Riya helps him prepare the speech. The two are successful in their fundraising, but, after the speech, Riya leaves a letter for him which states that she has lung cancer. Riya’s letter confesses her love for Madhav but states she has three months to live. When Madhav attempts to track her down, he finds that she has cut all ties in India and has disappeared.
After three years, it is revealed from Riya’s journals that she is alive and that she had faked her cancer. Madhav goes in search of her in New York. After three months of extensively searching, he finds her at a jazz event and the two reconcile.
The book ends with the author visiting the rural school in Dumraon, three and a half years later, and seeing that both Madhav and Riya are successfully running the school, and have a son, Shyam.