Author – R. Raj Rao
One fine Sunday morning, Yudi (an ‘Americanized’ version of Yudhishtir) meets a boy Milind who is half his age while looking for a ‘bite’ around a public loo at a local train station. And from that day onwards Yudi’s life takes a rollercoaster ride of comic-tragic events.
The Boyfriend, is a novel by famous Indian LGBT writer, poet and activist R. Raj Rao, who in fact not an unfamiliar name among Indian subcontinent literary circles. He came up with his first novel and first gay novel of India. Already causing a stirring in the Indian media with his collection of poems narrating the short film BomGay in year 1999, this novel published in 2003 by Penguin India was acclaimed as one of year’s finest books.
The setting of the novel is the heart of Mumbai (then Bombay). The events that take place in the story happen ten years before the book was published. The omnipresent ‘invisible’ gay culture in Mumbai – whether it is the lookout of the public loo, or the weekend hangout in Testeostone – the only gay bar in the city; or greasing the palms of police; or the kissing in the Irani restaurant – this book somehow familiarizes the readers to the ‘closets’ and gays. The story can be treated as a love story with a happy tryst of two lovers to heart-wrenching parting with a pragmatically sentimental ending. However, the writer has managed to avoid every kind of hanky-panky and come up with a dry, satirical humor that makes this nove a fun read. Also the writer’s attempts to sketch the contemporary issues of Indian culture like caste, class, poverty, illiteracy, slums etc. in witty, irreverent humor are worthy of praise. R. Raj Rao compares untouchability with homosexuality, when one of his protagonists Yudi (who is Brahmin by caste) says to dalit boy Milind ” “Homos are no different from Bhangis. Both are Untouchables. I am a homosexual. Gay by caste. Gay by religion.” “Outcastes” he says, “can only expect to be friends with outcastes.” “
The storyline goes like this. Yudi or Yudhishthir who is in his 40s is a freelance journalist, lives in the suburbs of Nalla Sopara, Mumbai. He is gay who is used to picking up boys from public toilets or some parks or from local trains. One day he meets a 19 year old dalit boy Milind Mahadik. Some days after this meeting, Mumbai burns with the infamous communal riots of the year 1993. Though Yudi never felt sentiments about his previous ‘guys’, he worries about the safety of Milind. He even goes on a lookout for Milind but his efforts remain futile until one day, after some months, he meets him, working as a peon. After this more trysts take place and they get ‘married’. Meanwhile a neurotic woman named Gauri comes in the life of Yudi who falls in love with him and tries to ‘straighten’ him. Already ‘woman-phobic’, Yudi does everything to avoid her advances. Months later Milind again disappears and this makes Yudi’s life miserable. Milind appears again and then he gets married, knowing this Yudi, becomes all the more obsessive and longs for Milind. Through these hard times Gauri helps him to reduce his misery by becoming his friend with a sisterly affection.
The ending is quite pragmatic but surprising. The story may not strike a chord, still it leaves an indelible effect on the reader. All in all, it is fun and easy to read. And with this book the author has been successful to be in the league of the evolving genre of both Indian English writing and LGBT Indian Literature.