Saturday, April 07, 2012

Q&A With Himadri Roy

Following is a draft interview I did with Himadri Roy about his debut novel, ‘Travails of Entrapment’ which came out last month. I’m supposed to do another version of the interview for… okay, I’m not allowed to talk about it.

About ‘Travails of Entrapment: “Rohan De is a single child born in a class-conscious, academic family of Nainital. Growing up in an atmosphere of arguments and quarrels between the parents, he nurtured in the ideologies of his governess, Meena. He became a recluse child suffering innate traumas and disturbances emotionally. Ragging and physical abuses of the seniors became a part of his everyday life. Later, he comes close to one of his seniors, Nikhil, with whom his realisation of a bondage of friendship proliferates. Despite his parents’ disagreement, he moves to Delhi for his higher studies in the University of Delhi. Soon he befriends two of his class mates, Monisha and Paras. With passage of glorious time of his new friends and friends of Nikhil, he falls in love with Paras exploring his real self. Struggling between friendship and love, time favours his love over his friendship. Rohan’s life encompasses both pains, agonies, tears, bruises, and smiles, happiness, bliss.”

About Himadri Roy: Dr. Himadri Roy was born in a small town, Siliguri, in West Bengal. He currently resides in New Delhi. He is an Associate Professor in the School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. He teaches Queer theories, liberation and movements, Literature and Arts and Media to the Post-graduate students of MA in Women’s and Gender Studies. Travails of Entrapment is Himadri’s first novel.

Q1. During the launch of your book, ‘Travails of Entrapment’ in Mumbai recently, you have emphatically categorised the book being a ‘gay novel’. How do you define a gay novel?
A1: I know this genre might sound a bit odd as we do not easily come across this genre in literature. I feel that gay novel is a new form of marginal literature, whereas many may believe that it would keep the novel away from mainstream. I don’t think so. If a genre can be created within the taxonomy of Indian literature, what’s harm in it? Rather, it will deal with gay issues of the country very explicitly and overtly. Why not create a genre of such a kind?

Q2. The first thing that struck me about ‘Travails of Entrapment’ is how, despite so many things happenings, the book moves inwards than outwards. As first novel, I am sure the book contains autobiographical elements. But, how do you turn life into art. How did you distinguish your own experiences from Rohan’s experiences?
A2: Yes it definitely does move inwards. What I feel as a writer is that the psychological frameworks of the mind need to be portrayed the way it is. Outward projection would probably restrict the development of the character, as in my novel most of the time the protagonist, Rohan, confronts the heteronormativity of his immediate surroundings. Rohan’s psychological mapping was necessary to help the novel proliferate in a particular direction – that is portrayal of stigmatization.

Yes, you are right. I wouldn’t deny the fact that being my first novel it doesn’t have any autobiographical traces. It does have, but not in entirety. It is an amalgamation of my life with my close friend’s lives and their confrontations with life in general. Giving the colour of artistic hue to it is extremely a tough task. But, one has to keep in mind that it doesn’t by-pass the frames of creative writing at any point. My experiences with Rohan’s are very different, for example the process of coming out for me and Rohan are two different frames. Rohan’s parenthood and family has no semblance with mine. Yes, the similarities could be that Rohan and I both have faced social humiliation because we belong to a different sexual orientation, and yes, both of us are product of the Humanities, although the career graphs are different.

Q3. The book has received its fair share of media coverage. Do you think India is ready for the full-fledged genre of gay writing as they have in the West?
A3: No, not yet, but it needs to come out with great focus. According to me, only the generation X of India is open for any forms of debates and issues to be discussed. They are far advanced in information than our generation was. Today, they take conscious effort to understand the roots and the deeper meaning of things. They support everything from global climate change to saving animals, from planting trees to fighting against corruption. That is because the media keeps on focusing these issues of life. There is no doubt that from news media to cinematic media, India has seen drastic changes concerning the lives of LGBTQI community since the turn of the century. Now is the right time that only the generation X of India is ready for accepting gay writings. I am not very comfortable comparing any country’s literature with another one. It sounds absurd to me. Say, for instance, Argentinean gay writing would never be the same as British gay writing, or Japanese gay writing can never be on the same platform with Indian. The reason is simple. Every country has its own legal and social system. The psychology of families is also varied. If you see my novel, Rohan’s family is poles apart from that of Paras’s family, though both come from the same state. Similarly, Nikhil’s family and Monisha’s family are also two different varieties.

Q4. Without spoiling anything for the readers, we can say that the novel ends in a happy ending, despite the travails. It’s almost a victory when most gay-themed stories end in tragedy. And, it is more optimistic in a way than the compromised happy endings we see elsewhere, like in R Raj Rao’s ‘Hostel Room 131’. Was it a conscious decision? How do you explain it?
A4: I would consider myself lucky that as a reader you are comparing me with the pioneer gay novelist of the country. I don’t think I could be of the same mark. R. Raj Rao is far above comparison. Anyway, coming back to the question, yes, undoubtedly, I wanted to give the novel a happy ending. The lives of gays in this country are traumatic and terrorizing. They are always being subjugated because of the orthodox norms and staunch traditions. The lives of gays I have come across are full of agonies and pains. It makes me feel sad to see that they cannot see any ray of hope anywhere. They just dream of better and secured future. Whether closeted or open, they face plethora of humiliations which they subdue keeping their mouths shut. I thought why not show the gay world of my country the silver lining of being considered as a part of society. They also have emotions, desires and dreams as any free citizen of this country. This was a conscious decision.

Q5. Fiction borrows from life. Do you think the recent developments in gay rights movement in India, the 2009 Delhi HC verdict and the ongoing decriminalisation case going on in SC, has affected the way personal stories of the LGBTQI community in India are told?
A5: As I had mentioned earlier, today’s younger generation is much aware of these facts. They know their rights very well; it is not that they belong to a different class. Even the lower-income class people are aware of their basic rights. Yes they do not have strong voices to put forward their opinions. No doubt, fiction is a modification of reality of the contemporary society. Literature might be fictionalised, but it is the mirror of the society. The lives of the sexual minority community have undergone changes, but not that much. It would be unjustified to generalise this viewpoint, to some extent, yes, as the learned, economically sustainable class today can think of gay bars and gay parties, but still cruising is important. In this post-judgment era, cruising has shifted from public parks and loos to cyberspace, dating has shifted to pubs, bars and posh coffee houses. Gay spas, gyms, massage parlours are becoming common today. So, I presume the personal stories of sexual minority community in India are progressing with the recent economic developments for a better tomorrow.

Q6. Talking about the entrapment in the title, do you think being gay in middle/upper middle class India itself is an entrapment?
A6: I believe that entrapment in sexuality has no class, whether middle/upper middle or the elite. Gays of the low class also have the same pains. The sexual orientation sometimes makes a person hate oneself, as a gay man might consider that he has tarnished the respect and dignity of his family of belonging to such a sexual minority. Yes, for the middle and upper middle class, the situation is very different as expectations are always enveloped with better performance in life. There is an incessant pressure of rising upwards; the mobility of social status affects their lives faster than any other class. Take for example, a gay rickshaw-puller is more concerned of his everyday bread and butter, where as a BPO gay employee is worried about his hike in the salary, and an elite gay man is bothered about the tenders and business dealings favouring him. So I think pains of entrapment are same for all gays, varying are their degrees.

Q7. Is there anything else you want to add?
A7: Yes, I would like to add a point here. To some readers the story might be very melodramatic/ Every now and then, Rohan and other male protagonists are shown crying in the novel. This is done on purpose. I wanted to break the prejudice that ‘boys don’t cry’, by making most of male characters soft, sentimental and emotionally vulnerable. About the narrative being melodramatic, yes I think most of us, do behave very melodramatically sometimes. I don’t think anyone can stand up and claim that he has never been melodramatic. But, more than that, my novel wants to offer an inspiration to all the gay people that the utopia of having a perfect partner and the quest for it will one day definitely come true. Have faith and trust yourself, your dream will become reality. 

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