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.