Hostel Room 131
R Raj Rao Penguin
R250 pp 240
Imagine Enid Blyton fornicating with any author from the ‘Mills and Boons’ stable and ending up with a gay son who aspires to follow in his parents’ footsteps. Scary? But this is roughly what Raj Rao’s Hostel Room 131
It constantly reminded me how gay men don’t seem to grow up; they are lost in the juvenile whirl of going to parties, discos and bars and building up their networks in either cyber cafes or local chai ka addas. Of course, like our hero Siddharth — an academic — a gay man can cry like a schoolgirl for his lover in the middle of a street.
It’s amazing how a brilliant academic like Raj Rao, one of the few openly gay Indian professors I have known — who started India’s first gay and lesbian studies faculty in Pune University — can write such a book. To write about a love affair between a college lecturer, who bursts into tears at being separated from his lover Sudhir — a local “vernac” and an engineering student in Pune — is quite engaging. But to make it a la-di-dah book in the Mills and Boon tradition is a bit thick.
The plot is slightly more robust than a famine victim’s account. A footloose professor lands up with his friend in a hostel room in Pune’s Engineering College. He meets a rural bumpkin and they have some rather tepid sex, followed by more steamy sex. They end up in a filmy-style relationship where Mr Country Bumpkin is tutored in English. The lessons are essentially Bollywood songs translated into English.
Mercifully the book ends, but with more bizarre things like a crazy scene in a police station that sent shivers down my spine (I’ve been in so many by now that I hate being reminded of them).
What I’d love to analyse aren’t the characters in this silly book, but why Rao is caught in a time warp. Why is the gay movement slowly becoming a bourgeois ‘backseat-driving’ one after the Delhi High Court judgement of July 2009? Sorry for the psychobabble, but is this what it’s all about: perpetually seeking love — even in the era of HIV/Aids? By the way, there is no mention of the disease that is the biggest killer of homosexuals in India today.
Pardon me for asking Raj Rao why we faggots get so driven by ‘love’ when the rest of the world falls in (and out of) it and carries on like it’s just another hearty breakfast? Why does Siddharth have to lodge a complaint of his adult lovers’ parents actually abducting him? It’s a bit irritating to not find a single instance of violence against gay men, which is a routine for them in hellholes like police stations.
It’s suffice to surmise that this book won’t be burnt by the Shiv Sena or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or even the Jamiat-e-Islami. It might actually become an essential reading for a nerd in Jawaharlal Nehru University to write a dissertation on ‘The Transgressions of Class and Caste in Gay India after the Delhi High Court Judgement’.
It can’t get more futile than this, can it? The next time I meet Raj Rao I will hit him with the book. Thank god it’s a paperback; a hardbound would have done too much damage to his scholastic skull.
Ashok Row Kavi is the founding Executive Editor of Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine