Book Review: Quarantine

Entry no. #2 – Debut Indian Writers Month: October 2012

Part of Debut Indian Writers Challenge and South Asian Challenge 2012

Title: Quarantine
Author: Rahul Mehta
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-135-8
Pages: 248
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3 of 5
Reviewed for: Random House India

As a reading policy I never prefer picking up books with homosexuality as their theme, purely because of the sex scenes and sexual subtext and most of the books in the genre emphasize so much on these that you would think that is all there is to a gay or lesbian relationship. It is like verbal porn! When I received a list of books to be reviewed from the publisher, Quarantine by Rahul Mehta was right up there, on top of the list, I would surely have skipped it owing to the genre but for the cover. A cover in baby pink and identical pictures of a man photographed at his waist adorning the top as well as the bottom half of the book cover with the title and author’s name in the centre diving the two pictures. Pink and a man – that intrigued me. An everyday guy’s waist except for a subtle open shirt button right where the denims started. They say a book jacket should say it all, this one did.

Quarantine is a collection of nine short stories with a recurring theme of Indian men in America or with an American citizenship and an American way of life who find themselves in what would be conventionally called queer sexuality choice especially by the first generation Indians there in Amerika, though it is interesting to note that none of the Indian families in the book show any aversion to the idea of homosexuality. It touches upon various issues affecting the second generation Indian Americans – while in the namesake short story a young boy who is on a visit home with his boyfriend refuses to go on with the traditions he no more believes in, another one tells the reader about an Indian American gay couple’s tourist visit to an Indian city, their wariness of the locals accepting their sexual orientation and how trust follows a queer path. There are stories about fidelity issues between a new couple and the grandmother accepting the ‘touch’ of the American boyfriend over her Indian grandson, about a guy accepting and to an extent depending emotionally on a man who could have had a relationship with his boyfriend and about a young second generation American boy helping his Indian grandmother relentlessly to clear her citizenship examination. My favorite amongst all the nine is ‘A Better Life’ – a story of failed friendship, of silent paternal pressures, of un-worded communications, of living a lie and of un-communicated truths.

Mehta has a very subtle and mature debut here with every story getting better from the last narrated. The stories are fast paced, strong, compact and well edited – a hands up to Chiki Sarkar here. There is a quiet intelligence hidden within the shells in the short stories like an instance where a beautiful comparison in drawn between a boyfriend who had a fling for want to be touched and a self restraining, supposedly lusting ‘demon’ Ravana from Ramayana. Quoting from the book – “He restrained himself despite his desires.” The book discusses the intimacies and fine lines in homosexual relationships and just like the conventional ‘natural and normal’ relationships, you realize – these are human relationships with humane hearts and emotions involved not just the much popularized sexual ones. You realize that though on the surface a boy-boy relationship, it is at the core still an emotional bond between two people, very much like the conventional boy-girl relationships.

The subtleness and intelligence on exhibition in the book is a rarity in the genre and a must read for that very reason. Pick it up before the next Valentine’s Day; you will understand love better, beyond the glitz and glamour.

Happy reading.

Author Speak – Rahul Mehta speaks about the book:

Read sample chapters from Quarantine

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