Book Name: So Now You Know: Growing up Gay in India
Author: Vivek Tejuja
Publisher: Harper Collins
Book Blurb: The year was 1991. Vivek was eight. He realized he was gay. Only he didn’t: he just figured that he wanted to be different. And that he was in love – for want of a better word – with Deepak, his best friend. Then Mast Kalandar released, with Anupam Kher playing Pinku, a stereotypical gay character. And Vivek realized he didn’t want to be Pinku. So he tried to walk differently, gesticulate differently, and speak in as gruff a voice as he could – all to avoid being Pinku. Funny, poignant, heartwarming and heart-breaking all at once, this is a memoir of growing up gay in India in the 1990s, with Bollywood, books, and the Bombay sea for company.
Review: I purchased this book with very high hopes because it is written by somebody who reads a lot. Good readers make great writers (there are a few exceptions).
However, the initial few pages bored me to death and I began to think that it was yet another book by one of those over-glorified twitter personalities who never seem to live up to their social media persona. It’s easy spinning a few characters in a tweet with no dangers of persecution for plagiarism but a full-length book is no easy feat. After the second chapter, I began to think if my hard-earned money would have been better utilized if I had bought a beer instead of this stupid book. Well, because I buy books to get lost in words and if the writing is weak, I’d rather drink- it would make me lose my consciousness temporarily but its a much better experience.
The beginning is a bit bland and this is perhaps a down-side of this book. Great works manage to hook a reader right from the very first page but considering this is Vivek’s debut book (I don’t really know if it is his first book but I am just guessing, the author’s bio does not mention anything), we can afford to be less critical. If I remember correctly, even the print is a bit crooked in the first few pages but that’s the publisher’s fault.
He recounts his experience right since childhood and the turning point is when he finally decides to realize that there is something different about him. The writing and the memoir really picks up after this phase. As is usually the case, the author becomes a target for bullies. Bullying is very common in school and more so for somebody who does not conform to strict gender identity.
“I desperately wanted to be like the other kids, and it was always a task.”
Life is all the more difficult because of the living situation- he lives with an extended family. Anybody who has lived with the countless chachas and mamas knows how difficult life can be. God save us from relatives who mean well!
He recounts his experience of a first kiss, his first sexual experience and all of this is done with brutal honesty. Very candid indeed! There have been very few Indian writers who have had the courage to pen down a memoir with such candidness. If there is an award for a memoir, he deserves one.
Heart-wrenching in its honesty, Vivek has told this rather sad story with a bit of humour and it is very much a normal story; an ordinary story. Is there anyone in this world whose first sexual experience was perfect? What this book does is that it shows how normal gay men are, their dates, desires and romantic experiences are very similar to that of straight people. So, in a way, it will help the cause of other LGBTQ members in India who are so misunderstood. The LGBTQ community have have received legal acceptance in India but India has had a history of being on the right side legally while also managing to lose the larger social battles.
The story is highly relatable too and even straight people will find the romantic incidences quite common. If you’re too sensitive, you should probably keep a supply of napkins or tissue paper at hand- the writing is so powerful that it can make you shed a tear.
“And all along, in my head, I was also struggling not to be gay. As though being gay was a curse, a bad thing.”
The memoir is written with a reference to Bollywood (serves as a nice background and contrast) and while working as an underground writer, I was told that acceptance comes easily if you become a celebrity. But I think Vivek has moved beyond that. This story starts with somebody who was unsure about his identity and ends with a confident man, who has finally decided to love himself.
All great books are tales of people who did not give up in the face of adversity and at its core, this is what ‘So Now You Know’ is about.
“We may live on the periphery, but we don’t have to be there too long.”
Well done, Mr. Tejuja.