The new issue of Granta features an essay called How To Be Gay and Indian by acclaimed novelist Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu [Kindle], longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner. After some well-drawn but semi-expected parental reactions (accepting yet nervous mother, father in denial), Manil describes returning to India with his American boyfriend:
"On our first morning together in India, Larry and I were awakened by a loud rattling at our door. Before we could react, Sheena burst in, followed by a servant bearing two mugs of tea on a tray. Oblivious to our scrambling to appear more presentable, my cousin went about drawing back the curtains in our room, scooping up our discarded shirts and underwear to be laundered, asking which of us was going to shower first. Clearly, the fact that I had never officially come out to Sheena was not going to be an issue. Also, in a country where the concept of privacy has always been hazy, the rules didn’t change if one were gay.
"We found this in hotels as well, whether five-star or Mumbai’s YWCA International. The staff barged in on us, grinned at us without any hint of innuendo, guilelessly made our bed and fluffed our side-by-side pillows. Touts and urchins treated me as Larry’s guardian – approaching me whenever they wanted to sell him something, just like they might a man accompanying his wife. Whether subconsciously or not, we were tagged as a couple wherever we went."
With his new third book, The City of Devi [Kindle], Manil has written his first gay novel. Thankfully in a literary novel, his gay protagonist isn't yet another sensitive, timid type. Jaz is hot, handsome, horny, and confident. Reviewing for the Washington Post, Ron Charles called it, "the best sex comedy of the year... Even amid the wondrous variety of contemporary Indian fiction, Suri’s work stands apart, mingling comedy and death, eroticism and politics, godhood and Bollywood like no one else."
Naturally, this week's queer lit essay by Sandip Roy, The Gay Novel: Passé in America, but Cool in India gets a quote from Manil, saying, "There was a golden age of gay fiction. That sort of has ended. It sort of petered out in the 1990s." The essay also features San Francisco's Kunal Mukherjee whose debut novel about growing up queer in Hyderabad, My Magical Palace, was rejected in America for being "too niche," but accepted, released, and reviewed, thanks to Harper India. Roy does mention Rahul Mehta's Quarantine but omits excellent work like Neel Mukherjee's A Life Apart and the success of Sri Lankan author Shyam Selvadurai with gay novels such as Funny Boy and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea [Kindle].