In small-town In­dia, book helps gay men come out of the closet

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Writ­ing about the ev­ery­day life of his gay pro­tag­o­nist Mo­hanaswamy, In­dian au­thor Va­sud­hen­dra was acutely aware of the fact that he him­self had not yet found the courage to come out of the closet. For four years he wrote short sto­ries in­spired by his own life, his strug­gle to be open about his sex­u­al­ity, his de­spair and frus­tra­tion that nearly drove him to sui­cide - qui­etly breath­ing life into Mo­hanaswamy, the hero of his sto­ries.

Just days be­fore his book was first pub­lished in 2013, un­der a pseu­do­nym in Kan­nada, the re­gional lan­guage of the south­ern state of Kar­nataka, he plucked up the courage to tell his sis­ter that he was gay. “And with me and Mo­hanaswamy, many of my read­ers em­braced their truth,” the award win­ning Kan­nada writer said, adding that when he fi­nally did re­veal his iden­tity, gay men from across Kar­nataka started call­ing him, sharing sto­ries with him, cry­ing, laugh­ing and talk­ing.

“Many read­ers, who called me, from vil­lages and small towns, do not read English and for them the Mo­hanaswamy se­ries was a way to re­dis­cover them­selves and find so­lace in the fact that they were not alone,” he said. The ac­claimed se­ries, which was re­cently trans­lated in English, will also be pub­lished in other In­dian lan­guages, in­clud­ing Tel­ugu and Malay­alam in the com­ing months.

“Gay men don’t only live in an ur­ban set­ting. Thou­sands are grow­ing up in vil­lages and towns, with no way to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion on sex­u­al­ity, most of which is avail­able only in English,” Va­sud­hen­dra, who goes by just one name, said. “More has to be writ­ten and it has to be writ­ten in the lan­guage peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with.” Since the sto­ries were pub­lished gay women have ap­proached him to write about their lives, frus­trated that they can­not even find mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles that re­flect their sit­u­a­tion.

“For women it is so much tougher be­cause say­ing ‘no’ to a mar­riage is never an op­tion,” he said. “What they go through is some­thing I can­not imag­ine be­cause at least I got away by re­fus­ing to marry.” There is no of­fi­cial data on the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der (LGBT) pop­u­la­tion in In­dia, but the govern­ment in the past has sub­mit­ted in the Supreme Court that there are an es­ti­mated 2.5 mil­lion gay peo­ple in the coun­try. Those num­bers re­flect only those who have self de­clared to the Health Min­istry and will be far higher as many in­di­vid­u­als con­ceal their iden­tity fearing dis­crim­i­na­tion, cam­paign­ers say.

Heal­ing process

“In Kan­nada literature, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity has been por­trayed in a very neg­a­tive way, push­ing it to the mar­gins,” said Va­sud­hen­dra, who came out in his early 40s. “It took me a long time be­cause I also feared dis­crim­i­na­tion and lacked courage. Many go through their life keep­ing their sex­u­al­ity a se­cret.” The soft­ware en­gi­neer turned au­thor vividly re­calls a tele­phone call from an el­derly man af­ter the Mo­hanaswamy sto­ries were pub­lished. “The man said he had re­gret­ted his mar­riage ev­ery sin­gle day,” said Va­sud­hen­dra, 48.

“And when he read my book he re­lived his own strug­gle with his sex­u­al­ity and the lie his life had been. I re­al­ized then that my story had res­onated with peo­ple who live in small towns and vil­lages, just like the one I grew up in.” The se­ries of 11 sto­ries of ho­mo­sex­ual love and lives ex­plore sex­u­al­ity, ur­ban­iza­tion and class. Mo­hanaswamy talks about los­ing his part­ner to a wo­man, men­tions an imag­i­nary girl­friend to a fel­low pas­sen­ger on a plane while pic­tur­ing the man he is in love with, los­ing friends, be­ing shown around a flat by a real-es­tate agent who as­sumes he has a wife and chil­dren. “Mo­hanaswamy dreams of liv­ing a sim­ple, dig­ni­fied life that would al­low him to leave, even for­get, the hu­mil­i­a­tion and fears of ado­les­cence, the slurs his mind still car­ries and the de­spair that made him crave to con­form,” is how the sto­ries are de­scribed on the book jacket. While city read­ers have told the au­thor these are “once upon a time in In­dia” sto­ries, ru­ral read­ers say they are ahead of their time.

“Be­ing gay is not easy, es­pe­cially in small com­mu­ni­ties, where talk­ing about it is taboo. It gives you many sleep­less nights, there is con­stant pres­sure to get mar­ried and many friend­ships get ru­ined,” said Va­sud­hen­dra. “Writ­ing the sto­ries was a heal­ing process for me and for many of my read­ers, it was a book they un­der­stood.”—Reuters

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