With gay literature firmly making its way out of the closet in India as explained in an essay by Urmi Chanda-Vaz, openly gay individuals from the community are also slowly turning to mediums like literature as a form of self-expression. Lives that were once shunned by our own culture are now not only somewhat timidly progressing into the norm but also becoming stories that were once left untold.
“All the stories from my book have some shades of my life. Some stories are extremely autobiographical and others either are small excerpts from the lives of my friends or the multiple different things many of us queer people have gone through.”, explains Mahesh Natarajan who has authored the soon to be released short stories, My Gay Life.
A former IT and Management consultant from Bangalore who is now a counsellor and psychotherapist, Mahesh began writing these stories sitting in a cubicle with no expectations of publishing them one day. He explains, “I started writing these stories in 2007 when I was doing my consulting job. The reason why I started writing was because I was a little underemploymed and hence, I thought I’d try writing in my office. But as years progressed, my friends told me I should take this forward and get published.”
From stories of romance and unforgettable one night encounters, these tales also highlight the bittersweet shades of being gay in India by talking about the inevitable fears every gay man has pre-installed in his heart while growing up in an extremely heteronormative society. Although as Natarajan agrees, these stories are urban and upbeat rather than depressing or modifying, he makes it clear that his motivation for writing these stories was not to politically and socially change the state we currently are in, but pen down the experiences of a queer man living in the country in the lightest possible format - making them accessible to every individual, regular readers or not.
Being easily readable, the author explained to us that he also hopes that it reaches out to people beyond the queer community. With the range of dynamic characters that organically weave their way through these stories, it does seem that his hopes might just become a reality. These stories may be the face of an everyday queer man living in India, but no queer man lives within the range of his own community and that is precisely what Natarajan’s work reinforces as well. His stories do not merely overlook the relationships between two men but also between families and friends and thus gives a rich taste of the dynamics that guard our social conventions.
Natarajan further explains, “I cannot pick on quality that stands out in our community. The Indian LGBTQ community is diverse because India in its essence is diverse. Therefore the community cannot be looked at from one perspective and hence we need to understand it with the other spectrums of our country like language, caste, religion, gender and community.” Stating this, the author explains that the stories expand themselves implicitly into a dialogue on the complexities of our own culture. As a recurring theme in many works of contemporary Indian literature, this piece of fiction also unintentionally looks at the common complain of ‘dying traditions and values’ in India due to the continuous hybridity we are welcoming into our lives. Therefore the stories end up offering unintended treats such as this one, with sexuality being a recurring undertone to each story.
Natarajan’s aspirations for these stories remain the same. He hopes that they are read by anyone and everyone but he stresses upon on the wish that the stories are read by families in our country since his greatest joy remains when his father decided to read these stories that subtly represent the words he could never express to him wholeheartedly.
An exclusive excerpt from one of Natarajan’s stories, ‘Dolling Up’
My grandparents died in quick succession. I was in my final year then, and missed their funerals.
‘You don’t need to come,’ said my father. ‘It seems we have been mourning for a very long time anyway.’
Their deaths did nothing to revive our family’s festive spirit.
Mother continued to mark occasions in the sombre way she had become used to and Father got more deeply involved with our family temple. During Navarathri, he would stay there for weeks together.
Mother accompanied him in the first few years after my grandparents died but she could not connect with the goddess the way my father did. It did not mean much to her any longer. Rather than accompany him without any feeling of devotion, they decided it would be better if Mother stayed with us while Father was in the village for the festivals.
It was a satisfactory arrangement except that Mother never really gave up on me.
A few years back, after my brother got married, my parents started talking to me seriously about marriage. I skirted around the topic for months till they finally lost patience. One day, when we were in a car driving down to the family temple, they cornered me and demanded to know why I was so resistant to marriage.
‘You should know,’ I protested. ‘I don’t have to spell out everything! You have seen how I live; you know my friends. You know I live with Vijay. You can’t not know. You are not blind.’
A stunned silence later Father said, ‘I didn’t want to ask.’
Mother said nothing at all.
I did not force conversation. I was happy for them to take their time to process what I had said. I was also relieved that they had not immediately started asking embarrassing questions about my sex life, wondering what had made me gay, and talking about ‘cures’ and such.
I returned to Bangalore and lay low.
A week or so later, Father called. He was planning a special fundraising project to construct a community hall close to our family temple. We spoke about how much our family should contribute and he asked if I could spread the word and ask Vijay for a contribution too.
‘I will, Pa,’ I said and added tentatively, ‘You remember what we spoke about in the car...’
Father dismissed what I said. ‘Just let it be. We will get used to it. I know our ambal has our best interests in mind. We have always trusted her. If this is what ambal has decided for you, who am I to question it? It is all in her hands.’
Mother took much longer to come around but, eventually she relented.
‘It is not as if you have changed overnight. If this is the case, then we won’t talk to you about marriage again.’
When they met Vijay for the first time after that, it was awkward. They were ill at ease. We tried hard to make it easier. We slept on different beds, did not hold hands or show any signs of affection when around them.
Over time my parents and I regained some sense of normalcy in our interactions though Mother remained distant.
Of course, they never quite lost their hope that one day I would turn straight, get married and produce grandkids like the rest of their children. They never said it but it would come out in unexpected ways.
For instance, this year, when Father was off to our temple for Navarathri and Mother was to come and stay with me, she said, ‘If you get married, your wife would most likely want to make a gollu for Navarathri. That would be nice, I think – to have a gollu at home and invite young girls and families in the neighbourhood to sing, listen to stories, eat sundal, and give away bangles and other things. So much of our culture is disappearing.’
She seemed most heartbroken.