Kunal Mukherjee: Hyderabad’s Magical Writer
The Magical Palace, Kunal Mukherjee’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story of a gay boy, Rahul, born and brought up in Hyderabad. It’s about his struggles, the many hurdles he has to face to find and heal himself, it is about the human experience of growing up different, regardless of the background, race or nationality.
Kunal Mukherjee is a San-Francisco based Indian origin poet and writer. His work has found its place in India Currents and Hot Flashes: sexy little stories and poems. His first novel may soon be a remade into a film. Kunal is working on his second novel- about a motley bunch of characters settled in Delhi. Kunal talks to Ratnesh about his book and what he thinks about the future of Indian gay literature.
Do tell us that the story is true. If not completely, we believe most part of it. The Mint House? Colonel uncle and Claudio?
Thank you. It is immensely gratifying to know that readers believe most of My Magical Palace to be a true story.
The novel is indeed a work of fiction which started as an assignment given to us as part of a writing class I took a few years ago. We were asked to write an essay about the universal experience of loss and about a place that we could never go back to. So I wrote about Mint House, an old Nizam palace in Hyderabad that I grew up in, that I can never ever go back to. And when my teacher urged me to write a novel based on that essay, I balked at the idea. So the time and place characterized by Mint House, Hyderabad, Rajesh Khanna are all real. The characters and situations are fictional and the life of the protagonist Rahul Chatterjee is just my projection of a particular character’s situation and experiences.
Colonel Uncle’s character is based on a family friend who was a “confirmed bachelor” that everyone felt sorry for since he had no wife or children, but who was incredibly interesting and always travelling to new places and doing fascinating things. He never visited with a family in tow, and was eternally youthful and vibrant. The presence of Colonel Uncle as a role model for Rahul is what gives him the biggest breakthrough in accepting and loving himself, as an adult, years after they bid each other goodbye.
Having said that, all the characters and situations were created with the purpose that the reader can relate to the dilemmas and challenges we all face as humans. And ultimately if readers can say “I know what that feels like”, I will have accomplished my goal, which is to bring relatedness which transcends our differences of gender, sexuality, or religion.
We know Rajesh Khanna never looked fine as he did in ‘Anand’. Which are your favorite songs in his movies?
Yes, I do think that Rajesh Khanna in Anand was hauntingly handsome and his character and songs were mesmerizing. The heartbreaking end stays with me still. My favourite songs are “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” by Manna Dey and “Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye” by Mukesh.
What were your last farewell words for him?
Thank you for being the brilliant and charismatic actor who coloured my dreams and heightened my self-awareness growing up. Even though I never met you, you were personal and real to me. I would not have it any other way. RIP.
When Rajesh Khanna died, it was devastating. The death of my child hood hero and object of adoration marked the ending of my childhood, as an adult. I know this might sound strange, but that is how I experienced it.
Who are your favourite gay writers?
Among writers from earlier centuries I love Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster. Among contemporary writers I admire Hoshang Merchant of course, and Vikram Seth, Rita Mae Brown, David Sedaris and Alice Walker whose books are rich beyond measure.
How do you see gay literature evolving in India in the coming years?
In the past few years there has been a notable increase in visibility of gay and lesbian writing in India. The platform for publishing gay lesbian related writing has evolved and mainstream publishers are now publishing books on gay, lesbian and transgender related themes. Harper Collins (India) published My Magical Palace for instance and other major publishers are doing the same.
The US Consulate in Mumbai and Queer Ink held a reading and discussion of My Magical Palace in October of 2012. This is an indication of the level of interest and recognition of gay literature in India today and there will be more.
Tell us something about your second novel..
My second book is actually based in Bollywood and San Francisco. It has an unlikely bunch of motley characters thrown together and their lives get entwined inexorably, creating unimaginable crises, resulting in unexpected danger and drama.
I am also working on a screenplay for a film adaptation of My Magical Palace which when made, will be historic in its depiction of the themes, situations and characters.