For us readers, June is a chane to take stock of the books to read for Pride Month; whether to be a responsible ally, find yourself in its pages or try and understand the stories of the members of the LGBTQIA community. With this in mind, here is a list of a few books on the topic by Indian writers, both fiction and non-fiction, that are worth adding to your #tbr.
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Title: My Father’s Garden
Author: Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing
Blurb: Spanning half a life, My Father’s Garden tells the story of a young doctor as he negotiates love and sexuality, his need for companionship, and the burdens of memory and familial expectation. Divied into three sections, ‘Lover’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Father’.
Written with deep empathy and searing emotional intensity, and in the clear, unaffected prose that is the hallmark of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s style, My Father’s Garden marks a major talent of Indian fiction writing at the top of his form.” My Father’s Garden should definitely be on your list of books to read for pride month.
Price: Rs. 245 || Pages: 200
Blurb: Mohanaswamy has just lost his long-time partner, Karthik, to a woman. Even as he scrutinizes himself, the choices he’s made, the friends and lovers he’s gained and lost, Mohanaswamy dreams of living a simple, dignified life. A life that would allow him to leave, even forget, the humiliation and fears of adolescence, the slurs his mind still carries around – gandu sule, hennu huli – and the despair that made him crave to conform. A coming out of the closet for Vasudhendra himself, these stories of homosexual love and lives jolted Kannada readers out of their notions of the literary and the palatable. The gritty narratives, spread over 10 short stories, explore sexuality, urbanization and class with nuance and an unflinching honesty that will both unnerve and move readers in English, and serve as a fine introduction to one of the strongest voices in Kannada literature, and a must read book to read for pride month.
Price: Rs. 346 || Pages: 280
Title: Scent of God
Author: Saikat Majumdar
Publisher: Simon and Schuster India
Blurb: The Scent of God is the story of a young student, Anirvan, who is studying in a monastery and dreams of becoming a monk. Yet, he finds himself drawn to a fellow student, and they come together to form an intimate relationship. The boys sweat at cricket and football, crack science and mathematics in pursuit of golden careers, and meditate to the aroma of incense and flowers. A sceptical teacher mentors Anirvan and reveals his suspicion of this vigilant atmosphere.
Does the beating of the boys reveal urges that cannot be named? What is the meaning of monastic celibacy? What, indeed, holds the brotherhood together? Against himself, Anirvan gets sucked into a whirl of events outside the walls of the monastery, in the midst of prostitutes, scheming politicians and the impoverished Muslims of the villages surrounding the school. When the love of his life returns to him, the boys’ desire for each other push them towards a wild course of action. But will that give them a life together in a world that does not recognize their kind of love?
Price: Rs. 353 || Pages: 248
Blurb: ‘God is the reason why I am who I am. Nature is the reason why I am who I am. I don’t want to die because of who I am.’ As a fifteen-year-old, Sharif D Rangnekar could not fathom why he felt aroused watching men dance in a Jermaine Jackson music video. He soon found the ‘answer’ in a book that told him that this was just a phase and it would end once he got married. He almost did. Straight to Normal is the autobiography of a gay man who had to battle bouts of confusion, vulnerability, fear, dejection and depression and also unlearn the normative definition of lust, love and everything in between, in order to thwart the desire to kill himself and find a reason to live. Through the twists and turns of hate and affection, love and break-ups, violence and near peace, he finally finds the courage to speak for himself and others like him. Through this book, he hopes that anyone who feels pressure to appear ‘straight’ finds the strength to be who they are, and should be a book you read for pride month or otherwise.
Price: Rs. 262 || Pages: 232
Author: Amruta Patil
Blurb: 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 living. 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.
Price: Rs. 477 || Pages: 124
Blurb: A paying guest seems like a win-win proposition to the Joshi family. He’s ready with the rent, he’s willing to lend a hand when he can and he’s happy to listen to Mrs Joshi on the imminent collapse of our culture. But he’s also a man of mystery. He has no last name. He has no family, no friends, no history and no plans for the future. The siblings Tanay and Anuja are smitten by him. He overturns their lives and when he vanishes, he breaks their hearts. Elegantly wrought and exquisitely spare, Cobalt Blue is a tale of rapturous love and fierce heartbreak told with tenderness and unsparing clarity.
Price: Rs. 150 || Pages: 240
Title: The Boyfriend
Author: R. Raj. Rao
Publisher: Penguin India
Blurb: 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. 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. But mutual needs—Yudi’s for love and Milind’s for money—will keep bringing them together. The Boyfriend brings us a tragi-comic love story from the jumbled up heart of Mumbai and examines with unsparing irony the realities of caste, class, religion, masculinity, and being gay in India.
Price: Rs. 347 || Pages: 248
Title: Memory of Light
Author: Ruth Vanita
Publisher: Penguin India
Blurb: Preparations for King George the Third’s fiftieth birthday gala are in full swing in Lucknow. As poets and performers vie to be part of the show, Chapla Bai, a dazzling courtesan from Kashi, briefly enters this competitive world, and sweeps the poet Nafis Bai off her feet. An irresistible passion takes root, expanding and contracting like a wave of light. Over two summers, aided by Nafis’s friends, the poets Insha and Rangin, and Sharad, himself in love with a man, they exchange letters and verses, feeding each other the heady fruit of desire. When Chapla leaves for home, they part with the dream of building a life together. Can their relationship survive the distances?
Narrated in the voice of Nafis, Memory of Light weaves an exquisite web of conversations, songs, reminiscences around a life-changing love.
Price: Rs. 280 || Pages: 224
Title: A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi
Authors: Manobi Bandopadhyay, Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Blurb: When a boy was born in the Bandhopadhyay family, all rejoiced. Ason had been born after two girls and finally the conservative father could boast about having sired a son. However, it wasn’t long before the little boy began to feel inadequate in his own body and began questioning his own identity: Why did he constantly feel like he was a girl even when he had male parts? Why was he attracted to boys in a way that girls are? What could he do to stop feeling so incomplete?
It was clearly a cruel joke of destiny which the family refused to acknowledge. But unknown to them, the boy had already begun his journey to becoming Manobi—the quintessential female, as nature meant for her to be. With unflinching honesty and deep understanding, Manobi tells the moving story of her transformation from a man to a woman; about how she continued to pursue her academics despite the severe upheavals and went on to become the first transgender principal of a girls’ college. And in doing so, she did not just define her own identity, but also inspired her entire community. Put it high on your list of books to read for pride month.
Price: Rs. 332 || Pages: 256
Title: Talking of Muskaan
Author: Himanjali Sankar
Blurb: What would you do if you didn’t fit in? Muskaan is in hospital, fighting for her life. Three classmates—her former best friend Aaliya, the hottie Prateek, and the class topper Subhojoy—talk about Muskaan, and themselves. About school, home and the larger world, the school bus and the basketball court; about secrets that become burdens. And through their stories are revealed the twists and turns that drove Muskaan to try to kill herself. Funny and tragic by turns, Talking of Muskaan is a warm, moving novel about life and death and the young people caught in between.
Price: Rs. 212 || Pages: 160
Title: Lean Days
Author: Manish Gaekwad
Publisher: Harper Collins
Blurb: Fed up with his tedious desk job, a young man decides to quit on an impulse. He wants to write a novel, but doesn’t think he has a story to tell. So the would-be writer, who was raised in a kotha, sets out to travel, hoping to arrive somewhere: at a destination, at a story. But it’s not just about arriving. What about the journey? The joy and pain of trudging through the country without a plan, or a map? If his aim is to write, who will document his search for inspiration, and for love?Lean Days is the story of an artist’s voyage through the country, mixing history with imagination, and finding people and places whose stories he can tell along with his own. It is a book of journeys without an end in sight, about the yearning for romance and succumbing to the temptations of the flesh, and a book you must read for pride month.
Price: Rs. 282 || Pages: 179
Title: A thousand dreams within me softly burn
Author: Sahil Sood
Publisher: Woven Words Publishers
Blurb: Siddharth, a middle-aged school teacher, struggling with an unfinished manuscript, leads a solitary existence in a remote village in Shimla. Gautam, a twenty-two-year-old writer, burning with a desperate longing for romance, finds solace in Siddharth’s old essay on Thumri and spends years in search of him. Phil, a young Jewish traveller from Missouri, beset by a difficult alliance with his Christian girlfriend in the face of orthodoxy, travels around the world and meets Siddharth at a café in Manali. The answer to their longings resides in Siddharth’s letters and manuscript–the silent witnesses of the fate of two men and their love for each other. A Thousand Dreams Within Me Softly Burn explores the depths of love and the power of writing that helps the human soul triumph over loneliness, alienation, and shame.
Price: Rs. 194 || Pages: 126
Title: The Dead Camel and Other Stories of Love
Author: Parvati Sharma
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Blurb: In which an uncast ballot precipitates social embarrassment and recalls a past love, a young housewife finds her kitchen plagued by unabashed canoodling in the flat next door, an aspiring novelist tries to forget near-manslaughter, a schoolgirl discovers the travails of depilation, and, in a locked room, two medieval noblewomen recount the amorous avowals of a young soldier.
There’s also the small matter of a dead camel lying unattended on the streets of Delhi. These twelve stories explore the unsaid, the unfinished and the misunderstood, the shocks and nuances of love and sexuality, responsibility and ambition, and our tentative attempts to peel away the layers of stories that make up our lives.
Price: Rs. 295 || Pages: 220
Title: His Father’s Disease: Stories
Author: Aruni Kashyap
Blurb: At a conference in Delhi, Assamese writer Sanjib reimagines the enduring fable of Tejimola, the girl who sprouted leaves. But the English-language literati don’t understand why he doesn’t write about the insurgency.With the very first story in this unusual and unapologetic collection, Aruni Kashyap sets the tone for an intimate exploration of a terrain that is both familiar and alien. In the spirit of modern post-colonial storytellers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Daniyal Mueenuddin, his stories press the silences of the village and the nascent city to reveal their secrets. The result is a frank appraisal of our hypocrisies and desires, hopes and defeats—the stuff of the stuff we carry within us. Through tales that root up love, violence, motherhood and sex, Kashyap appears to ask: what are the stories about a place that are told, which ones are worth telling, what do we really want to say?
Price: Rs. 374 || Pages: 184
Title: Slightly Burnt
Author: Payal Dhar
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Blurb: “Sahil was going to say it, no matter what stunt I pulled and then things would be all weird between us, because, you know, I just didn’t feel that way about him.”
Sahil has been Komal’s very best friend since, well, forever. Which is why she doesn’t want to hear his confession. But there isn’t much she can do to stop him from saying what he has to say. When her brother gets unwittingly tangled in the whole mess that ensues, Komal finds that she is out of her depth and in desperate need of help. Slightly Burnt is a fresh take on coming of age in India.
Price: Rs. 250 || Pages: 192