Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Homoeroticism in South Asian Writing

Via QPASAD, I came across this article on gay and lesbian references in South Asian fiction. It's a pretty comprehensive article; the author is given as Emmanuel Nelson. While I was impressed with it (I found out about the painter Bhupen Khakhar, as well as writers Prafulla Mohanti and Andrew Harvey from the site), I do have one slightly major quibble.

More controversial is Shobha De's Strange Obsession (1993), a rambunctious novel about lesbian love published by the prestigious Penguin Books of India. Though Shobha De--the wife of a very wealthy Bombay businessman and mother of six children--has been dismissed by the literary establishment as a mere purveyor of filth, her novel has become a national bestseller.

Her commercial success certainly indicates widespread interest among Indian readers in works that explicitly deal with nontraditional sexualities; however, the interest, to some extent, may simply be prurient curiosity.

Nelson takes Shobha De's Strange Obsession very seriously, but he shouldn't.

Kamala Das's My Story? Yes, worth reading. Ismat Chughtai's "The Quilt"? Also yes. (Chughtai is a real modernist; I would highly recommend the story from an aesthetic/literary point of view)

But Shobha De's novel is of the long and very un-hallowed tradition of pulpy homicidal lesbian thrillers. It does what virtually every story or film in the genre does, which is 1) titillate and scandalize, and 2) make sure the homicidal lesbian dies or goes to prison at the end of the story. It's not gay-friendly, and it demeans the others on the list. Nelson's second paragraph on Shobha De does acknowledge the novel's prurient/titillating/homophobic qualities, but in a rather neutral, equivocal way.

So here's my unequivocal, non-flip flopping, I-wanna-be-Dale Peck response:
My Story and "The Quilt" are works of literature. Strange Obsession is toilet paper.

Also see (or rather, don't see) the Hindi film called Girlfriend.

No comments: