Raja Rao, one of the biggest gems in the book world.. Read by very few, but those who do read his books, fall in insatiable trance with him..
Raj Rao’s novel The Boyfriend (2003) defiantly served as a new perspective to the queer world of 1990s India and simultaneously takes its readers through the illusory world of the novel to the unseen and complex realities of the Mumbai gay male subculture. There have been many fictional and nonfictional works in the past, dealing with the theoretical and the political aspects of queer literature but one of the most striking aspect that I personally liked about the novel is its focus on how issues of religion, caste and class are intricately linked to the queer world in postcolonial India. Rao brings it all into an order and makes it look like a typical love story rather than directly raising the issues of same- sex love.
The novel revolves around the protagonist, Yudi who is an upper class, a freelance journalist living in Mumbai. Yudi who is gay leads a bachelor life with his routine involving traveling in local trains and visits to public toilets and picking up boys, especially those belonging to working class to have casual sex. One such wander at the Churchgate loo makes him pick up Milind, a nineteen-year-old, Dalit boy who Yudi quickly sends away after having hurried sex at his flat, fearing him to be a hustler. While Yudi goes back to his strolls and sexual liaisons with strangers, the Babri Masjid riots of 1992-93, make him worry for Milind. Yudi then sets out to look for him with unsuccessful outcomes. Chance, however, make the two meet again when they spend a week at Yudi’s flat, go on a vacation and meet for a beer every Friday.
The author also draws attention toward the use of language. The terms, abuses, code words and labels which distinctly belong to the queer underbelly of India. In doing so, Rao succeeds in bringing to surface the hidden realities. Ranging from the linguistically ambiguous words like “chakka” to the working class slangs of queer people like “dhakka start” denoting a passive gay and “biryani khayega” signifying rimming, the novel attempts to utilize encoded language as a political strategy to prevent erasure from the normative nationalist discourses.
The author also masters to reflect the anxiety around the Hindu- Muslim relations. The communal turmoil corresponds with the upheaval in the relationship between Yudi and Milind, since it is the extensive killings which make Yudi realize his love for the poor Dalit boy alongside his observation on how the economic minorities in India bear most of the brunt of such feuds.
An overall good read for everyone, many of the readers will sympathise with Yudi for his unfortunate situation where he did not receive his love back the way he wants. The book serves as a perfect blend of everydayness and complex national issues.
If you have come across (or currently reading) any of Raja Rao’s amazing creation, feel free to share with us in the comments section! Happy reading 🙂