Coming out and acceptance are two harsh realities, which are part of every queer person’s life. On one hand there is the mountain of guilt and foreboding that wears one down, for hiding their true self. On the other, the fear of losing their loved ones if they come out. Lucky are those who find love and acceptance once they do take the plunge. For a vast majority, coming out opens a floodgate of torture – both physical and mental.
So, it is not surprising that Connor Major’s religious mother shunned her son when he came out to her. His phone and laptop was confiscated. He was grounded. He is enrolled into the ‘Meals on Wheels’ programme run by the local church, and is under constant surveillance. But all hell breaks loose when Connor’s mother has him kidnapped and sent away to Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that “changes” queer children back to “normal”.
And Connor is not alone. There are many other young queer children, who are fighting with the odd and cruel realities of life at the ‘conversion’ camp. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide, from the campers to the supervisors, and even the director. Connor is resolute – he must escape from this place, along with the other kidnapped children, but first he must expose the secrets.
Without any shred of doubt, this book is as dark as it can get. Conversion therapy and persecution of queer people is not an easy subject to write on. But there is hope in the form of Connor – the protagonist. He is a complex personality, whose character arc evolves as the story progresses. He is brave, strong, resolute, and full of hope. He also helps other campers in need, and wants to rescue them.
And not just Connor, we have been provided a background for several other campers – their back stories and experiences at the camp. Their time at the camp have shaped them, and continue to dictate their life choices. More importantly, for a hard and dark narrative as this one, the pace makes it a worthwhile read, without getting boring. The element of thrill and suspense makes it more endearing.
Most importantly, ‘Surrender Your Sons’ initiates a conversation about conversion therapy, which parents the world over must engage with. We all need to let people be themselves – and not force them to fit in the mould of the society. Love is love. And no one must be persecuted for who they choose to love.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights
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.