A home is a space that is meant to signify love, warmth, comfort, and inclusivity. In spite of our tendency to involve ourselves in social spaces and function as social beings, the idea of a home offers a sense of safety, a space to go back to when the outside world becomes too much to handle. Along with the physical space of a home, also comes the intimacy of sharing our lives with a group of people, whom we refer to as a family. Growing up, hardly anything can be hidden in such an intimate space. The ugly, the mundane, all the little joys and the angry lashes- everything is out in the open.
How, then, does one navigate through their queer identity when the home- a microcosm of the outside world – eventually becomes a space to escape from? Are our private affairs exclusive to our homes and the people living in them, or do societal traditions and norms, invade and intrude upon the intimacies of our everyday life, especially in a country like India where one’s cultural identity is so intricately woven with other multiple identities?
These questions have been explored more than a decade ago in Sachin Kundalkar’s debut novel, Cobalt Blue, which is set in the backdrop of a traditional Marathi household that sees the love, loss, and growth of a brother, Tanay, and sister, Anuja, who fall in love with the same man. Translated in English by Jerry Pinto, Kundalkar’s novel begins as a long monologue from the point of view of Tanay and, eventually shifts to a diary entry written by Anuja. What is groundbreaking in Kundalkar’s novel is that having written in Marathi, in 2006 for a regional audience, Cobalt Blue not only begins with the narrative of a queer person but also explores his sexuality without any hesitation. Kundalkar doesn’t hold back when he describes Tanay’s sexual desires and experiences. He describes the intimacy shared between Tanay and the unnamed tenant that the former falls in love with, with a delicacy and the excitement that comes with the experience of first love.
But what shapes Cobalt Blue into this cathartic experience of purging through loss, is the way Kundalkar has weaved the stories of two individuals into a shared but dual experience of pain and the processing of such pain, while existing, surviving, and functioning from the same space of their household and family. In falling in love with the same person, a mysterious, elusive, and unnamed tenant of their house, Anuja and Tanay together experience the excitement of first love. They go through the insecurities, the vulnerabilities, and the feeling of holding, and wanting to be held by, the person they love. They also share the heartbreak that strikes them when he suddenly vanishes from their life, first from Tanay’s and then Anuja’s, without any warning, without even a hint of his intention to leave. Finally, the siblings also experience the process of moving on, not only from this heartbreak but also from the lack of closure that the two undergo.
While both of them go through similar experiences, there is a stark difference in how the two get to deal with them and how their family and society responds to them. Anuja, the outspoken and the bold one, doesn’t escape societal scrutiny. She is judged for having run away with their tenant and when she returns, there is a lot of hostility with which she is met from her family. But Anuja does get to talk about what went down with her. Not only is her family aware of it, but her aunt also gets involved. She is sent away to the latter’s house, for a change of scene, and is also sent to a psychiatrist to heal from this painful experience. So Anuja’s life is out in the open. It is available for the outside world to intrude upon, even for us readers. Her diary, a written word, makes her narrative and the proclamation of her lost love, a public one.
Tanay’s narrative, on the other hand, works as an internal monologue. Before the family took on the lodger, Tanay could explore his sexuality only by stepping out of his house. His sexual and even intimately emotional experiences with the same sex happened with strangers, whom he picked up on his bike and spent time within a hotel during the night. His sexual experiences, then, are also lonely ones, hidden from those who know him very well, away from the comfort and familiarity of a home. It is only when the lodger moves in that Tanay experiences sexual love within his own house. However, the physical expression of their love is only possible within the four walls of a room within his house. So, even within the space of his house, Tanay and his partner had to find a space to escape to. Unlike Anuja, Tanay has to process his grief in secrecy. When Anuja runs away with the lodger, his grief finds social acceptance only because he expresses it as grief for a lost sister, and not a lost lover. Tanay’s love, pain, and grief, then, is unfound and lost in the space of his house while Anuja’s fills the house with anxiety and chaos.
Cobalt Blue offers a nostalgic view of the love and loss of two individuals who have to process their pain while simultaneously navigating through the space of their home, family, and society. The delicacy with which Kundalkar narrates the story of Tanay and Anuja and the vulnerabilities that he presents to us is almost comforting. The comfort, perhaps, is in the knowledge that this pain of lost love is a universal one; that experiences of love, desire, grief, and joy are shared ones, in spite of our different identities.