Celebrated author slams party’s views on homosexuality
By Charmy Harikrishnan
Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl and Section 377 have crossed paths in the most unexpected of ways.
The very day the Delhi High Court struck down the law criminalising same-sex relationships in July 2009, Penguin announced that it would be publishing Seth’s new novel in 2013, but it did not happen. Now when the Supreme Court has reversed the HC judgment, Seth’s Girl has gone back to his old publishers who brought out A Suitable Boy – Orion in the UK and David Davidar’s Aleph in India.
“It is a homecoming of sorts. It happened not in the most pleasant way initially, but the result has been wonderful. I am really happy to be back with David,” says Seth. Last time, Davidar wooed Seth with a sonnet to give rights to A Suitable Boy to Penguin India which he then headed. “This time I came to David when the business with Penguin fell apart. Penguin UK frankly thinks that books are like machine parts.”
While the book is home with a suitable publisher, Seth lashes out at BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s statement that “we have a culture and tradition and this (homosexuality) goes against it. One cannot allow a new culture of this kind.”
“It shows the depth of BJP’s ignorance,” says Seth, “and I am not surprised. This ignorance is endemic to BJP. Its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi did not even know the name of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. It is like a Christian priest saying his religion is founded by James Christo rather than Jesus Christ. The bullying of minorities – sexual minorities and religious minorities – is endemic to a certain kind of mindset. Finding enemies and scapegoats so that you can get your cadres excited is endemic to BJP. This intolerance is poisonous. All decent voices in BJP – and there are some – are astoundingly silent. One has to assume, unless they speak out, that they acquiesce in this medieval witch-hunting and intolerance.”
“Homosexuality has always existed in India as in other cultures. The tolerance of homosexuality too has existed. There is an entire section in Kamasutra about men making love with men. It is laughable that BJP is saying that homosexuality is against our culture. It is BJP’s intolerance that is un-Indian and entirely against our culture. They should know that it was not homosexuality but homophobia that came from outside, that it was the 1860s law criminalising homosexuals that came from outside. And suddenly BJP is cuddling both homophobia and this foreign law to its heart simply to attack gays.”
Seth accepts that even as homosexuality was accepted in India earlier, there is a danger in looking for sanction in an amorphous past for the laws of the present. “Beyond our traditions, humane logic and constitutional morality should trump any reference to Manu Smriti, the Koran, or sections of the Bible. Why should we agree to treat women as chattels or pour lead into the ears of a Dalit who wants to learn the shastras?”
Seth says it is time that Modi came out with a statement on Section 377. “It is shameful that Modi is shrinking away from the issue and letting other people do his dirty work in order to appear a modernist.” About the much-bandied Modi wave after the assembly elections and the possibility of Modi coming to power in 2014, Seth says, “Any one who says that another Indian is not deserving of all his rights – either because of the person he loves or because of the god he prays to – is no Indian leader.”
All this make an appearance in his new book. “How can it not? This is all around us. Many of us have been diminished by it. I won’t write a tract. But there will be characters who will be affected by it. In A Suitable Boy I left Lata when she was 20 years old. Rather than just take off from there, I want to set the sequel in the present.” But he won’t go more into the novel or how far he has written it. “Lata is still shy,” he says with a laugh. “The more you talk about the book, the more constraints you place on yourself. If the steam is let out of the pressure cooker, the subzi won’t cook.”
But he is writing – in his bed — on the same blue duvet on which he wrote A Suitable Boy — sometimes in long hand, sometimes on his laptop, sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night to do so. “There’s no given time or day or month to write. I am not a disciplined writer or a determined writer,” says Seth, who incidentally has never set his eyes on an e-reader.