Book Review: ‘So Now You Know – A Memoir of Growing Up Gay in India’ by Vivek Tejuja

“So when did you realise you are gay?”

“Who plays the role of woman when you do it?”

“Hi. You from? Your pic please. Do you have place?”

Aren’t we all tired of these same old clichéd questions, that keep coming our way, whether we like them or not? Don’t we all have those moments when we just want to simply scream ‘STFU’ from the rooftop and move on with life? Haven’t we all been through times when all we wanted was to hookup badly, and felt a deep sense of void grip us during the act?

If your answers to all those questions have been ‘yes’ – Congratulations. You are gay, and you know it.

Reading through ‘So Now You Know – A Memoir of Growing Up Gay in India’ by Vivek Tejuja, one could not help wondering how similar, yet different, our lives have been. Growing up in a joint family, being bullied in school, hetero-normative relatives who took it upon themselves to scare effeminism out of you, finding solace in books, the random hook-ups while longing for that one true love to come in your life, the penchant for opening up to those you love, the dejection when your friends become distant when they discover you are different – we have all been through life.

Vivek’s book took me back in time – having a crush on Dino Morea or Milind Soman and not having anyone to share it with, the straight friend in school whose company you found solace in, but he never reciprocated the feelings, trying to convince myself I can have feelings for girls – and lying about having a crush on a classmate to friends, the online chatrooms where strangers became acquaintances, blind dates, awkward hook-ups, insatiable urge to get into the pants of a hot ‘straight’ guy at the pub, falling for the guy who would ultimately let you down – been there done that.

His writing is so conversational that I almost felt like we were actually sitting by the sea at some coffee shop and discussing our lives. Vivek’s book is cathartic to an extent, too. It makes you look back in time and admit to the mistakes you could have rectified, or the sweet nothings you could cling on to.

Vivek came out to his family. I haven’t (well, my friends, colleagues and some of my cousins know). I never understood the deal with ‘coming out’. But then again, to not be able to share your ‘self’ with the people who matter makes life elusive and intangible. One cannot empathise enough with him, for not being able to share his ‘truth’ with his father – man to man.

Identities and stereotypes don’t define who we are. But they exist, may be for a reason. Sexuality is hardly the identity to label someone by. But in this world it sticks to your existence. It is our choice whether we want to live by it. In this endless search for life and love, we must first come to terms with ourselves. And Vivek surely has lived his life on his own terms.

‘So Now You Know’ connects with you on a personal level; the honesty behind the words give meaning to the feelings left unsaid. With so little ‘queer literature’ in India, I am sure this book will inspire many to come forward and share their stories. May be then we would truly be emancipated and inclusive.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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Five Indian LGBT-themed Novels You Must Not Miss

A year has passed since the historic verdict of Supreme Court of India decriminalising Section 377 of Indian Penal Code. Millions of Indians, like me, who were forced to live like a criminal in their own country, were hitherto liberated. Freedom to love is no longer a taboo, at least in the eyes of the law.

While the battle was won one year ago, the war still remains. Eradicating social prejudice, fighting religious morality, and guaranteeing the right of civil union still remain a distant dream. Even worrying are surveys in several media, indicating a large number of young Indians are growing up to be bigoted and homophobes.

However, amidst the gloom, is the glimmer of hope – of a better tomorrow, of living life on our own terms, of a progressive ‘heaven of freedom’ that the Bard imagined India would be.

 

 

To commemorate the momentous first anniversary of ‘Azaadi’ here’s sharing five LGBT-themed Indian books you must not miss:

The Scent of God – Saikat Majumder

Set in a boarding school run by a sect of monks in West Bengal, this novel is a ‘coming of age’ story of two boys. Anirban and Kajol are at the cusp of adolescence, and their stay at the boarding school lead to self-discovery, and a deep bond of love between them. The novel is also a socio-political commentary of the times it is set in, which make it more relatable. The narrative wins you over as the lines between spiritualism and physical love blur, sending across the message the divine resides in love.

The Carpet Weaver – Nemat Sadat

The book, a first by Nemat Sadat, deals with love between two men, set in the backdrop of religious intolerance and political conflicts in Afghanistan. Kanishka Nurzada, the son of a prominent carpet seller, falls in love with his friend, Maihan. Their love blossoms, hidden from the world, as times worsen – politically as well as for their relationship. Kanishka is forced to leave the country with his mother and sisters, even as he yearns for his love. Sadat’s writing is impactful, which makes this a compelling read. But he is no Khaled Hossaini, and the empathy one feels for an immigrant, forced out of his country, is left void. It is also a celebration of life and the innate human instinct of survival against all odds.

No One Else A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex – Siddharth Dube

This autobiography by Siddharth Dube is not just a narrative of growing up gay in India in the 1980s, it is a socio-political commentary on the society, and the world at large. From the apathy towards sex workers, the AIDS epidemic or the bias against trans-people, or the rise of right-wing agenda, ‘No One Else’ gives you a glimpse of India, a country which is still a work in progress. It is also a celebration of the indomitable spirit of fighting on, against the society’s biases, and dealing with prejudices surrounding homophobia.

Holde Golaap (Yellow Rose) – Swapnamoy Chakraborty

Who says all roses have to be red? They can be yellow too. Even a yellow rose is beautiful in its own right. And that rose does not need the sanction of society or the courts of law to prove it is natural. Similarly, my body is mine – I decide who I want to share it with, who I want to love and what identity I want to adorn. Swapnamoy Chakraborty’s epic novel challenges many taboos and explores human sexuality like never before.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

To classify Arundhati Roy’s ‘comeback fiction’ as mere queer lit would be a disservice to the tale saga of brilliance that this book really is. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a story of people living on the fringes of our society. It is an ode to those who struggle, day in and day out, to survive in this world. It is a saga of resilience, of strife-torn relationships and the hope for a better tomorrow that keeps us going.

 

Here, I must mention Vivek Tejuja’s first book “So Now You Know: Growing up Gay in India” is out now, and I am really looking forward to reading it soon. I am sure, it would be an honourable mention to this list.

 

Have you read these books? Do you have any other titles in mind? Share them in the comments section.

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