These strange books will force you to re-examine your definition of love. They will pull the rug out from under your feet. They will hold up a mirror and wink at you.
Whether you love Valentine’s Day or are disgusted at the very idea of this celebration, now is a good time to curl up with some weird love stories.
Here are six queer fiction books, all published in India and written in English. They will make you laugh and cry. They will force you to re-examine your definition of love. They will pull the rug out from under your feet. They will hold up a mirror and wink at you.
Reva and Prisha
Written by Shals Mahajan and illustrated by Lavanya Karthik, this is a beautiful book about a queer interfaith couple in India raising adorable twin daughters. Runu is a Muslim woman and Pritam is a Hindu woman. Their daughters, Reva and Prisha, attend a school open to queer love. They have a cat named Sikander.
Published by Scholastic India, this book would be particularly exciting for people who have never seen a gay home and are curious about what childcare might look like when there are two mothers. One of them is called Amma; the other is mom.
Mahajan writes, “Mom and Amma were lounging around reading books and newspapers. Their feet were on the table, between plates of cookies and peanuts and cups of coffee. Runu is a college professor while Pritam is a fiction writer. They like to make dinner a special time for the whole family to sit together, eat and chat. Their daughters have the freedom to ask or talk about anything that arouses their curiosity.
One day, Rohit – a new student who joins Reva and Prisha’s school – asks them: “Are you Hindu or Muslim? They tell him that they are both Hindus and Muslims. This boy is completely confused because his father insists that a person can be Hindu or Muslim, not both at the same time. This book delights in breaking down those stereotypes about love, sex, family, religion, parenthood, and living together.
The other man
Written by Farhad J Dadyburjor, it is a novel about love, sex and deception in Mumbai. It revolves around Ved, the scion of a wealthy business family who is caught between his desire for the perfect man and his desire to please his parents. He wants to tell them he’s gay but is petrified to disappoint them. They want him to be happy, code to marry a suitable woman with a dazzling heritage.
Ved is tormented by memories of his relationship with a man named Akshay, which ended when Akshay married a woman his parents chose for him. After crying too long, Ved is back in the dating pool. He meets Carlos, an American on a business trip to India. The sex is great but they are looking for more than a series of encounters. They are deeply in love with each other.
Carlos does not know that Ved is engaged to a woman called Disha. Ved’s parents don’t know their son is gay. Disha doesn’t know that the person she is about to marry lied saying she was busy at work. Ved is unaware that Disha has rekindled his broken relationship with Hemant. Read this book to find out how the truth is finally revealed and how Ved finds his forever happiness with Carlos.
Published by Westland, this book is entertaining and moving. Ved’s emotional landscape is a mess. He doesn’t want his parents to become a laughing stock. He really cares about Disha as a friend and Carlos as a lover. He hates himself for hurting them, but the instinct for self-preservation is hard to let go. This novel works because it paints a nuanced picture of the strange choices queer people have to make.
Let’s talk about Muskaan
This novel might be a little disturbing compared to the other books mentioned in this article. It tells the story of Muskaan, an Indian girl who tries to hurt herself when things pile up and become too overwhelming for her. She likes another girl, Aaliya, who also happens to be a best friend. Aaliya loves physical intimacy with Muskaan but she can’t bring herself to be Muskaan’s girlfriend. Aaliya is unsure and scared.
Written by Himanjali Sankar, this book explores multiple perspectives on the tragic event that occurred. Through chapters told by different characters, the author provides insight into the nature of their relationship with Muskaan. One of them is Aliya. She doesn’t like to think of herself as lesbian or bisexual, but she knows that her kiss with Muskaan in the tree house has upset her and made the rest of the world disappear. She struggles to make sense of this attraction to her friend.
This novel was published by Duckbill Books. It depicts an experience that is all too common for queer people – the mistake of falling in love with someone who identifies as straight or pretends attraction doesn’t exist. Muskaan feels comfortable with his sexual orientation. It is Aaliya’s cruelty that is hard for Muskaan to accept. To add to this, there is peer bullying at school.
Why is Aaliya reluctant to accept her feelings about Muskaan? What does she have to gain from being perceived as heterosexual? How does she become the antithesis of what a friend is supposed to be? Does she change her attitude towards Muskaan after Muskaan tries to end her life? Read this sensitively written book to find out.
Ritu marries Chandni
It is a joyful and heartwarming picture book about Ritu and Chandni – two young women in love – who have decided to marry with the blessing of their parents. Ameya Narvankar did a fantastic job with the writing and illustrations, presenting a celebration of same-sex marriage, which is not legally recognized in India. Published by Puffin, this book will sow thoughts of change in closed minds.
Ritu is decked out in a bright red and gold saree. Her house is decorated with garlands of fresh marigold flowers. Many relatives have declined the invitation to attend this queer wedding. Unfazed by this rejection, Ritu leaves to marry his girlfriend. The festive wedding procession – barat — is at the heart of this book told by a resourceful child named Ayesha, who is Ritu’s younger cousin.
Narvankar writes: “The procession slowly made its way through the neighborhood. People peeked out of their homes. They had never seen a bride lead a baraat before. This unusual spectacle unleashes their fury. Some people slam their windows. Others offer swear words instead of wedding gifts. Ayesha is shocked. A second baratled by Chandni, is heading towards them from the opposite direction.
If you like stories where love triumphs over hate, don’t miss this one. Some disbelievers try to spoil the atmosphere. Ice water rains down on the brides, their hair soaked and their clothes soaked. Ayesha can’t stand to see the two brides upset on their wedding day, so she twirls her around lehenga and start dancing. One by one, all baraatis join it, and possibly the pheras take place.
Written by Nawaaz Ahmed, this compelling novel about complex human relationships draws on extensive research on queer South Asian communities in the United States. Seema, the protagonist, is an immigrant who has made a successful life in the United States after being exiled from her family in India. Her coming out as a lesbian woman severed her relationship with her father, mother and sister.
Seema worked as a campaign consultant for Attorney General Kamala Harris in San Francisco during the Obama era. She meets Leigh, a half-Chinese, half-Irish woman, at a product launch party for a software company. Leigh is a reporter for a nonprofit news organization that serves ethnic communities in the Bay Area. Leigh happens to be 15 years younger than Leigh. Seema is currently four months pregnant.
Leigh has had a crush on Seema since her college days. As part of a paper Leigh wrote for her minor in Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley, she had to watch a video of Seema interviewing filmmaker Deepa Mehta who directed the film. Fire . This film explores the intimacy between two married women. Leigh starts out as a fangirl but ends up romantically involved with Seema.
Who is the father of the baby Seema is pregnant with? He is a black American man named Bill. Leigh and Seema never talk about Bill, but Leigh insists on being present during the delivery. Seema doesn’t feel ready to say yes or no because her mother and sister are planning to be there for the delivery. Read this book, published by Westland, to find out how Seema negotiates the ups and downs of this journey.
Writer-artist Amruta Patil’s work is not for the faint-hearted. If you have a stomach for wry humor and a love story that balks at the conventions of romance, read this iconic graphic novel. Kari works as a copywriter in an advertising agency. She likes to read Jeanette Winterson’s novel Cherry sexing . When a colleague asks, “Are you, like, a real lesbian?” she finds the word “totally inappropriate”.
Published by HarperCollins India, this book explores themes of sexual awakening and genderlessness. To the viewer, Ruth might look like an imaginary lover. For Kari, Ruth is real. Is the suicide attempt in the novel a metaphor or a real event? Patil refuses to spoon feed but she mentions that they live apart when rescued. Ruth leaves town in pursuit of a new life. Kari descends into a sewer.
While this book is often read as a love story between Kari and Ruth, there is another significant woman in Kari’s life. Her name is Angel. She’s a dying brand manager. Kari’s first meeting with her takes place at the agency. “I’m madly drawn to his death,” Kari says, and she visits him at home with a bouquet of flowers. Angel said, “I don’t know why you’re here, but you should know two things.” First, I’m bald because I’m sick, not because I’m a guy. And two, everything I own will soon be gone in hospital bills.
Patil writes: “For some people, a mating is all their heart can hold… Others mate with each other just as well. While this may be anathema to those who cherish monogamy, it is a reality for many queer people. Whether it’s a choice, a compulsion, or a compulsive choice can be debated, but it may not be helpful.
The intimacy between women is played out in various ways in this astonishing novel. Kari has an anonymous sexual encounter with a woman in a public restroom. She is also the target of flirtatious remarks from her roommates Delna and Billo. These women flirt with Kari in the absence of their boyfriends. As Patil boldly proclaims, “Make no mistake – there are no straight women.”
Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist and book reviewer.