LGBT YA books by Indian authors

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Dutee Chand coming out as India’s first gay athlete inspired this post. And June is Pride Month after all. What is it about homosexuality that makes other people so uncomfortable, other than the obvious? Love is love, isn’t? But these barriers have been there since eternity in our society where any kind of difference from what is considered normal, is well, considered abnormal. Ask Oscar Wilde who penned the incrediblly moving De Profundis when in jail.  He dared to be himself (and loved the wrong man), and in stifling Victorian society that is an unforgivable sin.

Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, with conflicting emotions about the changes that are taking place in their bodies, and the formation of one’s identity yet craving to be accepted by peers. They could do without society breathing down their necks telling them they have to fit in or or hide who they are which is damaging to their psyche. It is essential to live your life on your terms and be who you are. Life is too short to go about feeling inadequate. If there was ever a time to be defiant this is the time, with the government deciding everything. Things are changing, I agree, but not fast enough, at least in the Indian context.

I have a soft spot for well written young adult literature (perhaps because growing up YA as a genre didnt really exist) and YA books written by Indian authors are still precious. Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt and Himanjali Sankar’s Talking of Muskaan are rare books in Indian YA pantheon which deal with the taboo subject of homosexuality in their own way. These books were written when Article 377 hadn’t been lifted. It makes them all the more important because they took a stand when taking a stand mattered.

These books are well written and engaging though very different in tone, texture and style. We have three narrators in Talking of Muskaan and it is comparitively darker compared to Slightly Burnt. The latter embraces homosexuality in a lighthearted way because of the themes it deals with no serious repercussions.  In both the books the worlds the authors have built for their characters feels real.

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Book review – The Other Guy by Aakash Mehrotra

Note – Thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy.

In Aakash Mehrotra’s debut novel The Other Guy, Nikhil and Anuj meet and fall in love. How they come out to people who are close to them, and navigate their lives forms the rest of the story.

The book is not set in an engineering college (thank God for that!) but media studies in Delhi and we get a sneak peek into the college life they lead. The Delhi the book evokes, the sights, sounds and smells would be familiar to anyone who has ever lived or spent time there.

Romantic relationships are tricky as it is but the figuring out part is even trickier for people who are not heterosexual. You never know who will reciprocate, who is in the closet or who is interested but can’t reciprocate. This is shown well in the book – the indecision and the risks involved of putting oneself out there. Not telling people and keeping their relationships or sexual identity a secret is familiar in the Indian context where repression is the norm but Article 377 makes it a criminal offence which adds to the tension. The book makes me wonder how many people are forced to live such dual lives to escape an archaic law.

(Edit – Article 377 has been done away with. Though we have a long way to go, one hopes the story would end differently now.)

The writing for the most part felt laborious to me, too many similies and ornamental language made for clunky prose. The difference between love and lust ought to have been evident; I felt it was leaning more towards the latter in most places. The book would have packed a punch if was shorter.

The author perhaps thought he was keeping it real but the cop out ending undermined the basic premise of writing the book, as far as I was concerned. I applaud the author for choosing to write on such a contentious topic but its treatment is conventional which takes away from the book.

One doesn’t have to be gay or have an alternate sexual orientation to understand the core of the book but if you have never loved anyone, you won’t be able to be feel the pulse of the book. Having said that, if you have ever felt out of place or not been accepted for who you are, The Other Guy will resonate with you.