Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi: Grace is unaware that she has an elder sister. It’s only at her mother’s funeral that she learns of Lucia, who lives in a residential facility due to Down’s Syndrome. She’s surprised at the secrets that tumble out in her mother’s letter. There’s the pink house by an isolated beach in Paramankeni. All those Thursdays when her mother would leave early morning and not say a word, to meet Lucy. Her father who still doesn’t want to do anything with her sister. Lucy, who will never know the strain her being put on their relationship. Then there’s her own life that’s come unwoven. She can’t help but remember the loneliness of being the only child as her parents had one of their fights.
Her decision to live in the house with Lucy is fraught with emotion. There are days when laughter fills the air, others when she is at her wits ends with her demands and ways. There are attempts, missteps, failures, small accomplishments as a tentative bond is built. In the middle of it all, there are hours spent examining her past, her failed marriage, the carefree days of youth, her childhood. The answers taking her to Italy and Kodaikanal, Chennai and Paramankeni, America and Venice – in the present and past. To add to it all is the dread of living alone on a secluded beach in India. There are days when these thoughts don’t let her out of bed. There are some when being a caregiver is too overwhelming. Such days, spent in Chennai with friends is her attempt to find some semblance of a normal life. But it is when things go awry. Now she has to lay claim to her sister again, start over and grow into the life she has chosen. It’s the vulnerability and resolve of Grace as she navigates her new life that makes this a decent read. Still, it’s not enough to rope you in completely. Lucy’s character, for one, could have used some depth. You are always watching from afar, sympathetic, but unmoved by this tale of two sisters.
Shikhandi and other queer tales they don‘t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik: Even after progressive judgements in several countries decriminalising homosexuality, it is looked down or viewed with mistrust by several communities and individuals. In this book, the author pulls up references to queerness in Hindu mythology. You have tales of men turning into women, giving birth, women turning into men, cross dressing, transgenders and more. Gender, in these stories, is fluid. The gods indulge in a lot of queer behaviour and sex isn’t a taboo. In fact, the tales recount rituals based on such avatars of the gods, the temples built for them as well as some of the folklore.
“The discomfort with sexual conduct in general, and homosexuality in particular, can be traced to valorisation of celibacy and rise of monastic orders in all cultures,” says the author. In the introduction, he briefly recounts some queer stories in different mythologies from around the world. Sadly, the main stories also seem to have been pulled up, scanned and jotted down. There is very little effort at story telling. The book reads more like a compendium of data with author’s comments at the end. It offers little solace for the queer folks in my opinion, other than maybe giving them a sense that they have been part of the Indian mythology for ages. And the knowledge that the gods indulged in the very behaviour that they are denigrated for.