The book cover of ‘Mohanaswamy‘, gave a glimpse of what was inside. This was my first attempt to read a queer literature. What made me borrow it was the fact that, a Kannada short story collection was translated into English. Also, the original version had won the Kannada Sahitya Academy Book Prize. Although there is no dearth for exceptional literary works in each of our local languages, I am limited by the lack of reading fluency in these languages. So I primarily stick to English. And when a prize-winning book presents itself on the shelf of the library with an exceptional review. How would one miss it?
In the words of Sudha Murthy who reviewed the book as “Mohanaswamy touched my heart. I was unaware of his world, his fears and his dreams. A book of its own kind”. These words kept echoing in my head, for I too felt the same when I read, it succinctly encapsulates the essence of the book from an outsider view.
The author of this book Vasudhendra says in the PS that ‘Mohanaswamy was his rebirth’.This book is a fictional story, but it probably reflects the author’s experiences in an exaggerated manner.
To the book now: Mohanaswamy is a collection of short-stories of a gay man – Mohanaswamy. An understanding of his world through episodes of his life. Episodes of pain and angst, rejection, betrayal and helplessness, fear of ostracization, figuring out oneself without having anyone or anything to guide him. To wallow in self-pity and berate himself of the various spur of the moment actions, unable to control his instincts for physical intimacy.
A few stories of other gay men and transgenders spoke of complete intolerance bordering on cruelty. Of parents who although understood their gay son, but couldn’t bring themselves to love them as they would if he were straight. Unable to provide support and security to their own children. The uncouth ways of the rural people and lack of respect for humanity took me completely by surprise.
Many gay men in India end up marrying women unable to withstand the pressures of family and society. The gay men or women are not only living a lie themselves but also ruin a chance of happiness and to a good life of another. An admirable trait of Mohanaswamy was that he didn’t do so, even when offered a platonic marriage.
To quote the book, “Kilimanjaro is so lonely! It conceals the blazing fire in its womb while masquerading as a cold, icy mountain”. It is from the last chapter, of a trek to Kilimanjaro and Mohanaswamy draws from it a metaphor for his own life. It was an appropriate end.
Now to go beyond the book.
In India, IPC section 377 makes it a crime to be involved in consensual homosexual activities in private. If this law were to be repealed, the LGBTQ community would have a sense of belonging to our society and not stand apart to face the stigma of the society. Another point, I do not know if it is gay to be sexually prolific, but I do know, that even if gay or not, men/ women should have the decency to be monogamous in whatever relationship they have with their partners. Maybe, if it were to be legalized and gay people were allowed to marry and have children from surrogacy, it could bring about monogamy in the LGBTQ community, just a thought.
Also, on a human level. Why is so difficult for us to accept someone gay? why is it that they need to hide who they are when they did no wrong but being born so. Contrary to popular belief, being gay isn’t a choice, its not a lifestyle one chooses. If it were a choice, am sure many would give it up. Coz the life of a gay person isn’t easy. It’s never easy to always have a facade, to lead a secret life. Moreover, how does one’s sexual orientation a marker of a good character or personality? There are many heterosexual monsters parading as decent citizens of society.
Let them be, show some inclusion. For every human craves for love, understanding, and acceptance of one as they are.