Have you read much Indian LGBT books? I haven’t. Save for a couple of stories in a collection titled Noir something, I haven’t even heard of many books that tackle these issues in India. Of course I run in the “let’s read a story about lord shiva” literature groups so maybe that’s not the right place to look. But nevertheless, I decided to put together a list of books from India/similar cultures, set in India/similar places, by Indian/Asian authors featuring awesome LGBTQ characters. Now, as I said before, I haven’t read these so if any of these are disrespectful please let me know so I can kick it out of this list.
1. THE MAN WHO WAS A WOMAN AND OTHER QUEER TALES FROM HINDU LORE – DEVDUTT PATTANAIK
The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore is a compilation of traditional Hindu stories with a common thread: sexual transformation and gender metamorphosis. In addition to the thought-provoking stories in The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore, you’ll also find: an examination of the universality of queer narratives with examples from Greek lore and Irish folklore a comparison of the Hindu paradigm to the biblical paradigm a look at how Hindu society and Hindu scripture responds to queer sexuality a discussion of the Hijras, popularly believed to be the “third gender” in India–their probable origin, and how they fit into Hindu societyWith the telling of each of these tales, you will also learn how the author came upon each of them and how they relate to the context of dominant Hindu attitudes toward sex, gender, pleasure, fertility, and celibacy.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an author known for making religious writing more accessible so he can definitely be considered an authority to some extent when it comes to the existence of LGBTQ norms in ancient Indian texts. Knowing this exists just made me immensely happy because it takes away the argument that “it isn’t our culture”.
2. BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE BY BINDHUMADHAV KHIRE
I spotted this in The Hindu the other day and I got so very excited for it! It was originally released in Marathi as Manachiye Gunti and was apparently a great hit. So much so that Queer Ink are releasing it in English now. Beautiful People features 11 stories, including essays by a Pune-based senior police inspector Bhanupratap Barge, who elaborates on the legal aspects involved with homosexuality; psychiatrist Bhooshan Shukla on mental health; and an introduction by Vivek Raj Anand, CEO, The Humsafar Trust, Mumbai. (quote from The Hindu). This seems perfect for those with parents trying to deal with your coming out. What with India being an uptight country that’s forgotten it’s own culture and all.
3. SWIMMING IN THE MONSOON SEA – SHYAM SELVADURAI
The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.
The author, Shyam Selvadurai, is Sri Lankan, not Indian, but the cultures and landscape are similar enough for it to feel close to home. I’m really eager to read this one anyway because this book’s cover just looks magnificent.
4. LOVE BI THE WAY – BHAAVNA ARORA
Rihana is a painter who is trying to find inspiration in love. Zara is a businesswoman trying to make a niche for her company in a male-dominated world. Rihana is fire, Zara is ice; Rihana is openly sensual, while Zara is more cautious with her heart—they are opposites that attract. They are different people bound together by their house—‘Cupid’—and their pet golden retriever, Tiger.
As both of them navigate their fulfilling careers and try to leave behind troubled pasts, they find solace in each other. But Tiger’s not the only male in their lives. Rihana finds herself a string of sexy men, while Zara emerges out of her shell and meets an actual prince who sweeps her off her feet. But can these relationships last? And what road will they take when love happens bi the way?
Can’t completely comment on this because it sounds more like a romcom and I’m not sure how it shows the lesbian relationships. If you’ve read this let me know what you thought of it.
5. KARI – AMRUTA PATIL
They were inseparable – until the day they jumped. Ruth, saved by safety nets, leaves the city. Kari, saved by a sewer, crawls back into the fray of the living. She writes ad copy for hair products and ill-fitting lingerie, falls for cats and roadside urchins, and the occasional adventuress in a restaurant. As Danger Chhori, her PVC-suit-clad alter ego, she unclogs sewers and observes the secret lives of people and fruit. And with Angel, Lazarus, and the girls of Crystal Palace forming the chorus to her song, she explores the dark heart of Smog City – loneliness, sewers, sleeper success, death – and the memory of her absentee Other. Sensuously illustrated and livened by wry commentaries on life and love, Kari gives a new voice to graphic fiction in India.
Blue is the warmest colour is the only LGBT book I’ve read and while it was great, I cried a little too much. I’m hoping this one has a happier ending? Does it? Someone tell me please.
6. THE BOYFRIEND – R.RAJ RAO
One Saturday morning in late 1992, Yudi, a forty something gay journalist, picks up a nineteen-year-old Dalit boy in the Churchgate loo. After hurried sex, he gets rid of the boy, afraid that he may be a hustler. There is nothing to set this brief encounter apart from numerous others, and Yudi returns to his bachelor’s flat and sex with strangers. Months pass. But when riots break out in Mumbai, Yudi finds himself worrying about the boy from Churchgate station. He is in love. Chance brings the two together again, and this time they spend a week as a married couple in Yudi’s flat, take a holiday, and meet for beer every Friday, till the boy, Milind Mahadik, disappears (he has been hired by a modelling-cum-call-boy agency owned by the Bollywood star Ajay Kapur, a closet bisexual). Desolate, Yudi finds solace in the company of the middle-aged painter Gauri, a highly-strung woman madly in love with him, whose advances he has consistently rejected. When Milind resurfaces, it is only to marry a girl chosen by his parents, for he has had it with Yudi and his kind. Yudi is heartbroken. But all is not lost: in straitened circumstances after marriage, Milind pays his gentleman friend a visit and stays the night. Henceforth, mutual need – Yudi’s for love and Milind’s for money – will keep bringing them together. In the final analysis, as Yudi tells Gauri – now the mistress of an ageing businessman – everything works out, and ‘life is beautiful’.
I hear he has also written a sequel to this titled Hotel Room 131 but I can’t find it on Penguin’s website so I’m not too sure about it. Have you read this one? Let me know how it is. Sounds heartbreaking.
I’ll be making another list in a while, hopefully I come across more beautiful books. If none of these appeal to you I suggest jumping over to Queer Ink’s website and browsing the list there. They are a publishing house dedicated solely to queer literature and have a massive number of books on their website.