These queer books will compel you to reexamine your definition of love. They will pull the rug from under your feet. They will hold up a mirror and wink at you.
Whether you enjoy Valentine’s Day or are repulsed by the very thought of this celebration, it is a good time to curl up with some queer love stories.
Here are six books of queer fiction, all published in India and written in English. They will make you laugh and cry. They will compel you to reexamine your definition of love. They will pull the rug 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 an interfaith queer couple in India raising adorable twin daughters. Runu is a Muslim woman, and Pritam is a Hindu woman. Their daughters, Reva and Prisha, go to a school that is open-minded about queer love. They have a cat named Sikander.
Published by Scholastic India, this book would be particularly exciting for people who have not seen a queer household, and are curious about what childcare might look like when there are two mothers. One of them is called Amma; the other is Momma.
Mahajan writes, “Momma and Amma were lounging around reading books and papers. Their feet were on the table, in between plates of cookies and peanuts, and mugs 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 sparks 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 Hindu and Muslim. This boy is utterly confused because his father insists that a person can be either Hindu or Muslim, not both at the same time. This book delights in smashing such stereotypes about love, gender, family, religion, parenthood, and living together.
The Other Man
Written by Farhad J Dadyburjor, this is a novel about love, sex, and deceit in Mumbai. It revolves around Ved, the scion of a rich business family who is caught between his longing for the perfect man and a desire to please his parents from him. He wants to tell them that he is gay but he is petrified of disappointing them. They want him to be happy, code for getting married to a suitable woman with a dazzling inheritance.
Ved is tormented by the memories of his relationship with a man named Akshay, which ended when Akshay got married to a woman that his parents chose for him. After mourning for too long, Ved is back in the dating pool. He meets Carlos, an American visiting India on a business trip. The sex is great but they are looking for more than a series of hook-ups. They are deeply in love with each other.
Carlos does not know that Ved is engaged to a woman called Disha. Ved’s parents do not know that their son is gay. Disha does not know that the person she is about to marry has been lying about being busy at work. Ved does not know that Disha has rekindled her broken relationship with Hemant. Read this book to find out how the truth is eventually revealed, and how Ved finds his happily-ever-after with Carlos.
Published by Westland, this book is entertaining and moving. Ved’s emotional landscape is a mess. He does not want his parents to become a laughing stock. He truly cares about Disha as a friend, and Carlos as a lover. He hates himself for hurting them but self-preservation is difficult to let go of. This novel works because it portrays in a nuanced manner the strange choices that queer people have to make.
Talking of Muskaan
This novel could be a bit disturbing as compared to the other books mentioned in this article. It tells the story of Muskaan, an Indian girl who tries to harm herself when things pile up and become too overwhelming for her. She loves another girl, Aaliya, who also happens to be her best friend. Aaliya enjoys physical intimacy with Muskaan but she cannot bring herself to be Muskaan’s girlfriend. Aaliya is unsure and afraid.
Written by Himanjali Sankar, this book explores multiple perspectives on the tragic event that has happened. Through chapters narrated by different characters, the author provides insights about the nature of their relationship with Muskaan. One of them is Aaliya. She does not like to think of herself as lesbian or bisexual but she knows that her kiss de ella with Muskaan in the tree house blew her mind, and made the rest of the world disappear. She struggles to make sense of this attraction to her friend of her.
This novel has been 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 either identifies as straight, or pretends that the attraction does not exist. Muskaan feels comfortable about her sexual orientation. It is Aaliya’s cruelty that is tough for Muskaan to come to terms with. To add to this, there is bullying from peers at school.
Why is Aaliya hesitant to accept her feelings about Muskaan? What does she stand 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 from her? Read this sensitively written book to find out.
Ritu Weds Chandni
This is a happy, heartwarming picture book about Ritu and Chandni – two young women in love – who have decided to get married with the blessings of their parents. Ameya Narvankar has done 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 seed thoughts of change in closed minds.
Ritu is decked up in a bright red and gold sari. Her house de ella is decorated with garlands of fresh marigold flowers. Many relatives have turned down the invitation to be present at this queer wedding. Unfazed by this rejection, Ritu sets off to marry her girlfriend. The festive marriage procession barat – is at the heart of this book narrated by a resourceful child named Ayesha, who is Ritu’s young cousin.
Narvankar writes, “The procession slowly wound its way through the neighbourhood. People peeked out of their homes. They had never seen a bride lead a baraat before.” This unusual sight unleashes their fury. Some people bang their windows. Others offer cuss words instead of wedding gifts. Ayesha is shocked. a second baratled by Chandni, makes its way towards them from the opposite direction.
If you enjoy stories where love triumphs over hate, do not miss out on this one. Some miscreants try to spoil the atmosphere. Ice-cold water rains down on the brides, their hair is soaked, and their clothes get drenched. Ayesha cannot bear to see the two brides upset on their wedding day, so she twirls her lehenga and starts to dance. One by one, all the baraatis join her, and eventually the pheras take place.
Written by Nawaaz Ahmed, this fascinating novel about complicated human relationships is informed by a lot of research on South Asian queer communities in the US. Seema, the protagonist, is an immigrant who has built a successful life in the US after being exiled from her family in India. Her de ella coming out de ella as a lesbian woman has ruptured her relationship de ella with her father, mother, and sister.
Seema works as a consultant for Kamala Harris’s attorney general campaign in Obama-era San Francisco. She meets Leigh, a half-Chinese, half-Irish woman, at a product release party for a software company. Leigh is a journalist with a non-profit news organization that serves ethnic communities in the Bay Area. Leigh happens to be 15 years younger than Leigh. Seema is four months pregnant at this time.
Leigh has had a crush on Seema since her college days. As part of a paper that Leigh wrote for her gender and women’s studies minor at the University of Berkeley, she had to watch a video of Seema interviewing filmmaker Deepa Mehta who made the film Fire . This film explores the intimacy between two married women. Leigh starts off as a fangirl but ends up being in a romantic relationship with Seema.
Who is the father of the baby that Seema is pregnant with? He is a Black American man named Bill. Leigh and Seema never talk about Bill but Leigh is keen to be present at the delivery. Seema feels unprepared to say either yes or no because her mother and sister de ella plan 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.
Author-artist Amruta Patil’s work is not for the faint-hearted. If you have a stomach for wry humour, and a love story that balks at conventions of romance, read this iconic graphic novel. Kari works as a copywriter at an advertising agency. She likes to read Jeanette Winterson’s novel Sexing the Cherry . When a colleague asks, “Are you, like, a proper lesbian?”, she finds the word “totally inappropriate.”
Published by HarperCollins India, this book explores themes of sexual awakening and genderless-ness. To the onlooker, Ruth might seem like an imaginary lover. To Kari, Ruth is real. Is the suicide attempt in the novel a metaphor or an actual event? Patil refuses to spoon-feed but she does mention that they live apart when they are saved. Ruth leaves the city 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 of her is Angel. She is a dying brand manager. Kari’s first meeting with her is at the agency. “I am madly drawn to her dying from her,” says Kari, and visits her at home with a bouquet of flowers. Angel says, “Don’t know why you are here, but you should know two things. One, I am bald because I am sick, not because I am butch. And two, all that I own will soon be gone on hospital bills.”
Patil writes, “For some people, one coupling is all their hearts can hold… Others mate as beautifully with one as with another.” While this might be anathema to those who cherish monogamy, it is a reality for many queer people. Whether it is a choice, a compulsion, or a compulsive choice can be debated but that may not be useful.
Intimacy between women plays out in a variety of ways in this stunner of a novel. Kari has an anonymous sexual encounter with a woman in a public toilet. She is also at the receiving end 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 is no such thing as a straight woman.”
Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist, and book reviewer.