Shakuntala Devi, the Indian mathematician, writer, and mental calculator, had another side that was rarely spoken about. The side of her that wrote “The World of Homosexuals” It was in 1977 that she wrote this book about homosexuality, and back then it was the very first study of homosexuality in India.
As an ally, in a 2001 documentary, “For Straights Only,” she talked about her marriage and claimed that it fell apart because Banerji was gay. She set out to learn more about the challenges faced by queer individuals, which resulted in “The World of Homosexuals,” which essentially was her research findings. These findings included interviews with same-sex couples in India and abroad.
In the introduction of The World of Homosexuals, the world-renowned mathematician made it clear that the book was written to cater to “the work of a layperson for laypeople.” Furthermore, she adds, “My only qualification for writing this book is that I am a human being. And I wish to write about a group, a minority group, of my fellow human beings who have been very little understood and have been forced to live in “half-hiding” throughout their lives by a society that is merciless towards everything that differs from the statistical norm.
In the foreword, she wrote, “Homosexuality is basically as old as humanity, but what is comparatively new, and urgent, is the need for contemporary society to come to terms in its thinking and its law-making, both with psychological knowledge and human behaviour.”
The book, which is the very first study of homosexuality in India, features interviews with two Indian homosexual men in Canada who were seeking legal marriage. Then there is a conversation with a temple priest, Srinivasa Raghavachariar, head-priest of the Srirangam temple in Tiruchirapally district, who explains his views on homosexuality. He says that same-sex lovers must have been opposite-sex lovers in a previous birth. There is also a review of the existing literature that talks about homosexuality.
A lengthy interview with someone called “Venkata Subramaniam,” an alias name, where he talks about his various same-sex encounters with, and his ability to live a double life. He is married to a woman and talks about having many affairs, including ones with rickshaw drivers. The conversations showcase the clear class divide between “Venkata Subramaniam” and those he has affairs with.
She is a vocal champion of queer rights, and the book at the end calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality and “full and complete acceptance—not tolerance and sympathy.” Other case studies in “The World of Homosexuals” include “What is Homosexuality,” “The Law,” and “Homosexuality in Prisons,” chapter titled “Law,” she says that same-sex relations between consenting adults should not be considered a criminal offense.