Rainbow bookshelf: The queer story, now in print (Feature)

December 1st, 2011 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 1 (IANS) Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. The end. But for queers, the story doesn’t end there. It merely kicks off the internal questions and turmoil before they secretly alter the gender of one of the characters in their mind to make sense of the staple hetro-romance. But not any more.

“Vivek and I”, “Hostel Room 131″, “Quarantine”, “The Boyfriend”, “The Pink Sheep”, you don’t have to read the fine print to know that gay literature has arrived in India. Here, the boy actually meets a boy, they fall in love and unlike in the movies — it’s not supposed to be funny.

No stereotyped characters, no cheap comic relief, no preaching, no shock value, these books tell same sex stories where the characters just happen to be gay.

While the late 1980s and the 90s were witness to the earliest of gay literature in India, it’s the last two years that have seen a lot of frenzied activity and changed the scene dramatically.

While earlier a rare side character in mainstream literature had homosexual tendencies, now the central character itself is gay, says Shobna S. Kumar of Queer Ink, an online queer bookstore.

This shifting of parameters has been attributed to many developments — the July 2, 2009, Delhi High Court judgement decriminalising homosexuality being the biggest of them.

“After the repealing of article 377, writers became more confident about articulating their views; they felt liberated. The publishers are also becoming aware that there’s an audience out there which identifies itself as queer,” Anita Roy of Zubaan publishing house told IANS.

While there has been a lot of non-fiction and what would broadly be defined as ‘academic books’ on the subject, it’s colourful fiction that is now slowly finding its way to bookstores, trying to create a tangible space in popular culture.

“When thinking of queer life, much of the Indian readership expects to face stories of sex, strife and titillation. I wanted my book to be a window for people to see a much fuller picture of gay life than the stereotypes,” Mahesh Natarajan, whose “The Pink Sheep” hit the stores last year, told IANS.

The book is a collection of short stories dealing with different aspects of gay life.

“I hoped the book would resonate with the experiences of queer readers, and I also hoped that it would help queer-friendly people have a window into their gay friends’ lives,” says Natarajan, who’s based in Bangalore.

However, in a hetronormative society like India, getting a book out is not a cakewalk for gay writers. And even when it’s out, the prejudice is at every corner.

“Getting the reader to consider reading queer literature as part of one’s regular reading is a tall task…Besides, closeted queer people would not want to be seen holding a gay book and the general public might not even have access to it,” says Natarajan.

Moreover, writers feel there’s a fear of their being reduced to the term gay writer.

“Queer literature is not propaganda. I don’t like the word gay writer like women wouldn’t like the term women writer. The term is too reductive,” says Pune University English professor R. Raj Rao, author of ooks like “Boyfriend” and “Hostel Room 131″.

Adds Roy of Zubaan, which has published many books on alternate sexuality, “Gay writers face similar problems that women writers used to feel. They are wary of qualifying themselves as gay writers as there’s a challenge about identifying your audience too narrowly and restricting your imagination or writing.”

But whatever be these small issues, the gay community is not the one complaining.

“More and more representation, more and more literature will only mainstream the issue. It was meant to happen,” says Mohnish Malhotra, a Delhi-based queer activist.

Adds 43-year-old Ajita Das: “We grew up in an environment where there was no space for alternate sexuality. But now, through books, films and media, the debate has come to the centrestage. At least there’s an admission that, yes, there are people who happen to like people of the same sex.”

According to Roy, the next 5 to 10 years will see better writers who happen to be gay writing all kinds of different stories.

Till then, the boy shall keep meeting the boy.

(Mohita Nagpal can be contacted at mohita.n@ians.in)

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