The Boyfriend, written in 2003 is R. Raj Rao’s first novel. Based in Mumbai, India, it discusses the city’s gay subculture against a backdrop of the 1992 riots and discusses caste, class and masculinities.
Yudi, a freelance Brahmin journalist in Nalla Sopara and an out gay man finds in his 40s that sex with strangers doesn’t fill his soul anymore, maybe it never did. The Boyfriend pictures a strict, chaotic, cruel and layered Mumbai full of cultural differences and class conflicts, where people barely pass through life, working really hard to earn bread and still manage to be at a place which isn’t as pleasant.
We see Milind Mahadik, a semi-literate office peon and Dalit boy half his age getting introduced, the author takes on an intimidating exercise of contemporary Indian issues – class, caste, religion and masculinity. He also happens to be his ex love interest. “Homos are no different from Bhangis. Both are untouchables,” says Yudi, “I am a homosexual, gay by caste. gay by religion. Outcastes can only expect to be friends with outcastes.”
The novel presents Yudi’s Americanised Brahminism as one of the inseperabale part of identity which coexist and overlap with his woke homosexual orientation. They say most people only want to fight their oppression when they are oppressors themselves to someone else. In addition to spotlighting the Brahmin/Dalit divide, Rao polarises Yudi as a radical gay and Milind as someone below the line of sexuality and caste. Even when the two men are sexually or romantically united, they are separated by the differences stiched in their class and caste.
Reading the novel is like looking at a personal family album where every picture, probably because of the angle that frames it, presents familiar strangers. The world that Yudi and Milind romance is like a rubbish pile on a Mumbai Municipal common where the refuse from many different flavours of politics, cinema, caste, class, religion and a city being submerged in riot, all converge unhealthily.
About the author: Raj Rao is a writer, poet, and teacher of literature and ‘one of India’s leading gay-rights activists’. The Boyfriend, is one of the first gay novels to come from India. Rao was one of the first recipients of the QuebecIndia awards. R. Raj Rao is the author of almost a dozen books of poetry, fiction, plays, biography, and criticism. His book, Whistling in the Dark: Twenty-one Queer Interviews, co-edited with Dibyajyoti Sarama, was published by SAGE in 2009. He is former Professor and Head of the Department of English at the Savitribai Phule Pune University.