I do not like to read every new gay novel or short-story collection, unless it is highly recommended by someone I know. That’s how I like to pick my gay literature and to most extent I have been proved right. I was also of the belief that when gay writers write, they tend to over-exaggerate the sex scenes and play them to the hilt. I also think that it is somehow the “gay writer thing” to have to depict sexuality in the forefront, as though that is the only thing that matters – the fact that we sleep with other men.
Quarantine thankfully does not do that at all and this book was not recommended to me by anyone. It was sent by the publishers as a review copy and I am elated to review it. Not because Mr. Mehta is gay or not because this book is centred around gay men, but because there is honesty that rings true in this book, that everyone – irrespective of being gay or straight can relate to and that’s what matters.
There are nine short stories in the book and they shuttle between being based in the States and India. The characters are faulty – they are not perfect people, they are young and gay and only try to realize their dream. Rahul Mehta’s voice may not be unique, you may have read these stories set in different time periods with different characters, and yet there is this freshness that exudes itself from the stories. There are gay cliches and that was expected to a certain extent, but they go beyond that. They take the reader to the hearts of the characters.
For instance, in “Yours” we meet the unknown narrator who is trying to come to terms with his boyfriend Don’s liaison with an older African-American Man and the feelings he harbours for him at the same time. While another story is about lovers who end up going to a night club with the agenda of cheating on each other. There are subtexts to every story which takes it beyond the queer realm – there are parents and siblings who are trying to get on with their lives, there are best friends who feel left out and alone and then there are relatives who with a simple smile and a shoulder to cry on make life seem simpler and easier to live. And yes at the end of it all, these are ordinary people trying to live their lives in a quarantine of emotions, love and sometimes hatred.
All I can say at the end is that this is a book one must not miss reading this Summer.
Book: Quarantine by Rahul Mehta; Random House India; ISBN: 9788184001358; PP: 248; Price: 399