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.
How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
By slowly becoming everything.
Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was perhaps the first novel by a modern Indian author that I had read. It was the first book I ever bought from College Street and always remained special. The wait for her second fiction was thus a long one. Having been a regular reader of her essays and columns, one can proudly say, you might disagree with her views, but you certainly cannot stop marveling at the manner in which she puts them forth.
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.
Arundhati Roy has the knack of writing the most mundane things in the most picturesque and sensuous way. There is not a moment in this book when you would feel let down. As she herself says, “the air was full of thoughts and things to say. But at times like these, only small things are said. Big things lurk unsaid.” The words, weaved with a magical charm, leave you craving for more. Anjum, Tilottama, Mussa, Miss Jeeben and others become your companion for the time.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of Kashmir. It is the story of Dandakaranya. It is the story of Jantar Mantar. It is the story of love. It is the story of longing. It is the story of acceptance. It is a story of lament. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the story of fulfillment.
Of course, Arundhati touches upon contemporary politics of India. From 1984 (in her own words, “how can one not remember 1984) to Gujarat ke Lalla, the Anna andolan to the mass graves and torture camps in Kashmir, she lets her angst flow in words. No, the references are not opinionated like her essays but they do strike a chord. The pain of the father writing a letter to his dead daughter at 4 AM in the morning cannot leave you unhinged. The near-death experience of Anjum in the 2002 riots would certainly leave you rattled.
Conflict is the perfect space for art. Art for the sake of it is meaningless. Arundhati Roy’s writing masters the art of conflict. That is why the unrequited love of Biplab Dasgupta garners a sigh while the love-making of Mussa and Tilottama aboard HS Shaheen transcends into a lament. “In battle, enemies can’t break your spirits. Only friends can” – only Arundhati Roy can inculcate such a profound thought in a dialogue between two lovers after sex.
Roy has the ability to turn even random constructs into deep, melancholic pronouncements. Who else could have defined a relationship as “He knew that she knew that he knew that she knew. That’s how it was between them”. Who else can have the conviction to say, “In Kashmir, the dead will live for ever; and the living are only dead people, pretending.” In fact, I am sure anyone reading this books would go over the portions of ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of English Grammar and Comprehension for Very Young Children’ again and again just so the words sink in!
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is thus an experience you wish never ended. For a society that chooses to gloss over those who do not fit in, this book is cathartic.
My Rating: 5/5 stars