Vivek and I
by Mayur Patel
Review by Abhijit
Vivek and I
No of pages: 377 (co-incidence?)
Author: Mayur Patel
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: Rs. 299/-
Reviewing a piece of art or literature demands an unbiased view. However, if the reviewer starts to identify with the characters, their joys and sorrows, then the review starts to lose its objectivity. I have the same problem with the novel “Vivek and I” (V&I) by Mayur Patel, published by Penguin. The book left my eyes moist and heart heavy. And here lies the success of this debut author. For his first novel, he chose a subject which is still a taboo at large, and the emotions are mostly unfamiliar to him. The author deserves kudos for taking up this challenge and doing justice to it.
The story of “V&I” revolves around a strange relationship between a teacher, Kaushik, the narrator of this story and his student, Vivek. Kaushik after his heart-break with his friend Krishna, moves from the whirlpool of Baroda to a tranquil township called Valai. In the bounties of serene nature of Valai, Kaushik finds his next love interest in his student turned friend Vivek. The story slowly builds up with Kaushik’s growing emotions and feelings towards Vivek. While this story goes in a chronologically linear fashion, the turbulent past of Kaushik with Krishna is nicely interwoven. To add layers to this already complex emotional tug-of-war, Kaushik’s colleague Vidya falls in love with him helplessly. This interesting emotional turmoil keeps the readers glued with the novel till the end. Will Vivek reciprocate Kaushik’s love? Will Kaushik reveal the truth to Vidya? And most importantly, will be Kaushik ever able to come out of his first love and heart-break?
As I have already mentioned, the author deserves an ovation, just for bringing up these emotional questions which are so much part of the gay life. Probably many of us have gone through the phases when we loved someone “straight” and could not express the feelings fearing he won’t understand. Or, the depression and break-down when one’s partner decided to get married because of social pressure. And surely, the BIG question, when and to whom to come out. Another interesting point to note is that Mayur’s novel portrays a time when there was no mobile, no internet (read Planet Romeo) and not much sexuality consciousness. In fact, that is how I spent my teens when I never knew what homosexuality is but was always aware of my “strange” feelings towards men. Today’s youngsters, who are much more confident about their sexuality, may not connect with the uncertainty of Kaushik. However, as love and uncertainty associated with this strange emotion is eternal and timeless, it is foolish to classify as “gay love” or “straight love” and to draw the boundary of time.
The novel has a serious scientific problem. Kaushik thinks that sexual abuse at childhood can turn a person gay. This is a huge controversial area. Although a novel need not be scientifically correct and this is Kaushik’s own personal way of looking at his sexuality, a little extra caution to abstain from stereotypes may not harm, particularly when dealing with issues like sexuality. Other than that, the novel at times seems a bit slow and repetitive. One can find the repetition of exact phrases and sentences at different parts. However, considering this is the author’s first novel, these small short-comings can surely be ignored. To conclude the book touches the heart and leaves the reader with a longing for a warm and loving arm around.
The cover is apt and sensual but the page quality could have been better.
Interview with Mayur Patel, author of Vivek and I
Pink Pages: Does your hometown resemble Valai, the town in your novel? To put this question differently, when painting Valai, had Valsad any influence?
M: Not at all. Valsad is very different from anything like Valai. Even though Valsad is a small town, it’s not sleepy or laid-back. It’s crowded, a bit noisy and cool, unlike Valai. I love my town.
PP: We know that you are not yet a professional writer. What made you to pen a novel?
M: Even as a child, I was a good story teller. Kids of my age, and younger ones used to gather to listen to my tales. I read stories and presented them in an even more interesting way. I liked to scare them with my ghost stories. It was so much fun.
I used to narrate the whole story of Hindi movies scene by scene to my kith & kin, even to the older ones. I guess there had always been a writer in me that way.
PP: Why did you choose such a subject for your first novel? You know, from the market point of view, it may not be a safe option. Don’t you think a straight love story may have had a wider audience?
M: What does a straight love story have? Boy meets girl, they fight, fall in love, separate, meet again and live happily ever after. Most love stories have the same “pakau” kind of storyline.
I basically am a lover of thrillers. I love them. My next novel is having a zing of thrill. Before starting up with Vivek, I researched the internet to know what kind of novels sell the most and my search ended with the word ‘romance’. You wouldn’t believe but I’ve never ever read a romance novel. Not before Vivek, not after Vivek. Though I like drama, a romantic novel must be full of drama, I guess.
So when I decided to write a romance, I was very clear that I wasn’t going to write a typical love story. That left me with 2 choices, a gay theme or a lesbian one. Now when even God can’t fathom a woman’s heart, who am I to venture there, dear? (Laughs)
PP: And that too of two women…
M: Writing a lesbian story would have been the toughest thing. Because I don’t know what a lesbian woman thinks, what her sexual preferences would be, and what she’d desire from her partner, among other things.
So what I was left with was a gay theme. And being a man, I didn’t think male sexuality is very different, be it in a gay man or a straight one. After all, we all are dogs, aren’t we? All of us crave for sex, don’t we?
PP: How did you portray the emotions so nicely? Do you know anybody in person? Have you visited any pubs or met people in person to know their story?
M: Meeting gay men? Are you kidding? Gay men hide their sexuality in this part of the world. And there’s no pub around. But yes, I have visited gay websites to know certain things.
PP: Then I must say your novel has portrayed the feelings and uncertainties so efficiently.
M: I also feel so, but I had an apprehension whether it would be accepted, liked and praised, or not. But by God’s grace, it’s been praised and that I can say from all the fanmail I’ve been receiving.
PP: Any interesting fan mail yet? You were talking about fan mail from a Sanyasi.
M: Yes, that’s a big surprise. I received it yesterday and he mentioned that many things from the novel remind him of his past and present life: not the gay thing but, for example, a neem tree. Just the way Kaushik feels connected to a neem tree, he also had a strong love for a neem tree. However, he didn’t like a teacher-pupil gay relationship much.
Most fans, I would say all so far, had been gays, except for this sanyasi, I guess. I am still waiting for my 1st female fan. Most fans said they cried having read my book, that they felt connected with the book and surprisingly, 80 % of the fan mails came from Kolkata.
PP: That’s something interesting, any hate mail yet?
M: Not a single one.
PP: What was the reaction of your parents and friends? Any adverse reaction?
M: Whoever has come to know about this book, has not said a thing like ‘you chose a bad theme’ or things like that. All that matters to them is that I’ve done something unique. They want me to publish something in my mother tongue Guajarati.
PP: So, can we expect to see anything like V&I in Gujarati?
M: A gay book in my language is next to impossible. I don’t think any publisher here would risk a gay regional novel. And I also don’t want to repeat myself.
PP: What’s your next novel about?
M: Well, it’s a psychological thriller. I want to give my readers a tour of the deep, dark corners of the human mind in this novel. It’s got romance, pace and suspense. It’s a contemporary novel about a working woman from south Mumbai who lives life on her own terms.
PP: Now on a lighter mood, have you noticed the number of pages your book has? The book has exactly 377 pages.
M: Oh my god, I never knew it. It just never struck me or my publisher I must ask my agent if she consciously planned this “coincidence” or not. Thanks for bringing this to my notice, I’m really surprised.
PP: Can we foresee any Bollywood flicks out of this novel?
M: Hopefully. But do you think Bollywood is ready for a full-length gay love story? I doubt.
PP: We can hope, after movies like Honeymoon Travels, Dostana, Memories in March, I am, Fashion, Page 3, Dunno Y, homosexualty is no more a taboo.
M: But most of them very unfortunately portrayed gays in a funny way or in restrained, small parts. Most of the movies which shared serious gay issues flopped, didn’t they? They were good, appreciated but rarely scored at the box office.
PP: I would like to end this interview with a light question, which many of our readers may want to know: Who is the model on cover?
M: Do you find him hot?
PP: The cover is really well-designed and apt. And the cover as a whole is surely hot!
M: Well, that’s not the cover of my choice. It’s been designed by my publisher. I don’t really know who the model is.
PP: Thank you Mayur for your time, wish you all the best.
M: You’re welcome. I enjoyed the time talking to you. By the way, be ready to get some big news from me which I can’t disclose now.