Men of the World
Two new novels by award-winning author Jerry Pinto and US-based Rahul Mehta investigate what it means to be gay and Indian at home and in America
A brief 232 pages, it is the kind of book where you read five sentences, stop, re-read them because you think you’ve missed something, and then mic-test one of the lines. Then this mic-testing nonsense just takes over your life. Pinto has a superb ear for variation, and social anxiety, and the ways in which people shuffle between what they are thinking and what they want to say.
Once upon a time, Dom Moraes complained that the characters in Indian crime novels spoke too much like copywriters in New York. Pinto’s solution to this problem is a fairly ingenious device. His Peter Fernandes speaks English, reads poetry, has forgotten large tracts of his Konkani even while dreaming of returning to Moira. He can hold his own with the city’s patois, and like a good city journalist, is constantly translating and making notes in his head. The reader tends to fall in with him, and trudge the city with him and stop when he does, and shake a mystified head at more or less the same moments. At the beginning of Jerry Pinto’s tightly written crime novel,
Murder in Mahim, a ‘physical trainer’ is found dead, with a gash in his side and minus a kidney, in a public toilet in Matunga—a locale for clandestine gay sex.
As more bodies turn up, a retired journalist named Peter Fernandes teams up with Inspector Jende (shades of the legendary Madhukar Zende here) to track down the killer. Naturally, it’s the journalist who must walk down the mean galis where Jende cannot or will not go. In the midst of all this poking around in the gayer corners of the city, Peter must also figure out what to make of a newspaper caption that describes his perennially absent son as ‘gay activist Sunil Fernandes’.