Once in a book club meetup we discussed what constitutes literature. It’s an extremely polarizing discussion, and, of course, to establish his “intellectual” inkling, one person declared: Chetan Bhagat writes shit. I inquired if the person has read anything by Bhagat, he said he hasn’t but he “knows what he [Bhagat] writes.” It’s true what he said. But I found that preposterous to assume without having read his, or anyone’s, book(s)/work(s). Literature’s major function is to advance the discourse in a society, and this one inhibits it.
I have read three books by Bhagat, and I know for a fact, like many other reviewers and critics, that his work doesn’t count as literature; however, his books are widely read. Because there are all kinds of people, and to each their own. And all books deserve a place in a free society even if they’re bad.
I always wished there could be as many books by queer authors or books on subjects concerning queer lives, but after reading The Other Guy (Leadstart Publishing, 2017) by Aakash Mehrotra I don’t know if this book, and its likes, help us achieve the function of literature. We deserve better storytelling. Books that feature us as “themes” need to be better at their game. Though the author claims of having “researched” this book is far from addressing the concerns that the writer deftly portrays in its “End Note.” This book is problematic because it taps onto clichés of desire and respectability instead of staging what constitutes the core of our fight for our rights to be accepted and be as valid as any heterosexual relationship.
A Cheeky Plot With Unconvincing Characters
The book, of course, is quite readable; however, like Bhagat’s books, it also has quite a few editorial misses. The plot of the book is this: there are two lovers Anuj and Nikhil — the former is a fresher in a mass communication course and the latter is his senior — who fall in love with each other, but they fear “coming out” to their parents. They are pondering how to be in a “fulfilling relationship without disturbing the order of the society.”
So far so good till Anuj proposes this plan: Nikhil to marry a lesbian and continue having a consummate relationship with Anuj. Isn’t it a brilliant plot?
The book has a lot more to disappoint you. It is marred by too many things to name; however, here are a few:
A. Unconvincing characters. There are multiple instances where you feel the characters are unimpressionable, often animated and contrary to their natural character growth throughout the story. For example, Nikhil appears wise and well-meaning all throughout the book but he gives in when Anuj suggests him to marry a lesbian. Nikhil’s wisdom vanishes into thin air upon hearing this proposal. Saying this “Do you really think it’s wise?” he still visits Rati and Niharika — the lesbian couple — to discuss this plan. Rati being the lawyer is the perfect person to help them understand if there are any legal issues in the matter.
All this happens in a jiffy in this book. Compared with the steamy encounters and unwarranted dialogues spamming the story, this happens as if it’s premeditated thing between the two parties. Probably there was less research work available on this for the author to leverage.
B. Armchair philosophical connections. Martin Luther King deserves a special mention in the Acknowledgment section of this book. This has been quoted twice in this book: “The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.”Which is to say for the liberation and acceptance of gay couples we need lesbian couples. I’ve given away the spoiler earlier, so I don’t think that needs further discussion.
One of the confirmed myths that the author must have “found” during his “research” is worth being mentioned: “Behind every gay is the great desire to be with an awesomely straight man. It’s like the Holy Grail, a sweet escape from the reality we hide in our hearts. It is something desired and yearned for. It validates our sexuality, making us seem versatile. Acting straight is easy. It is also an aversion to being termed femme, and a simple route to acceptance.” The author has all “simple route to acceptance” in this novel. Act straight, and marry a lesbian, and you’re sorted!
If that’s not enough then consider this: “Di… I am bottom. I am the yin in our act. I am attuned to that role. I cannot be with a girl; I will end up destroying her life.” It’s great being friends with your siblings, but who discusses what roles they perform in bedrooms with their siblings? Second: Even if a “top” marries a woman, then how does that help avoid “destroy” her life? Will that relationship work out? What sort of similarity is the author hinting between a woman and a bottom? This is ridiculous to say the least.
C. To hell with centuries of activism. The author expresses his concern over the compulsory advocacy angle in many queer fictions, and after reading this book it’s clear to me that he wasn’t attempting anything on that line. Which is fine, however, it’s surprising that he’s undoing centuries of activism that has helped our society advance and table queer rights in the mainstream. Or even negotiate it and bring it during the everyday discussions.
For example: Aarya’s girlfriend Dhriti has after make-out doubts to which Anuj thinks: “The same old lady’s question! I wanted to bang the table and ask, ‘Why did you go to his room, taking all that risk, if you were not prepared?’” Any such doubts are not allowed. And why should you engage in such an act if you’re not sure? Isn’t it?
Again when Dhriti says that perspectives matter for defining freedom, this is what Anuj thinks: “Hers was a typical feminist voice — loud, clear, wanting to prove the relevance of the point raised.”
The author seems to be convinced of the plot. There are enough evidences left for a reader to trace this. Consider this statement from the book: “Perhaps it is a luxury of gay love that convention masks loves as friendship.” Isn’t it the most tragic thing? If our love has to be masqueraded as friendship, then what does it do to us? Is it even worth celebrating such relation? What does it tell about us if we call this act a “luxury?”
And this: “It’s sane. You not only save us, you save her and her partner as well. She would be faced with an almost impossible dilemma — far worse than your own. You can support each other, and most importantly our relationship remains, her relationship remains, and we all get to live our lives. If your mother never knows the truth, which is entirely possible, she remains happy too. And what happens in the bedroom remains in the bedroom.” As long as you dance to the tunes of the society and secretly fuck in hotel rooms on weekends, all is well.
Even if we admire that this book is well-written, the philosophizing of a compromised living instead of claiming complete rights of expression this book missed an opportunity to charter the real concerns queer relationships bring with them.
Also, if Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Dutta and Chetan Bhagat’s books gave birth to a book with homosexuality as its theme, it’d be The Other Guy.