Book extract: Mohanaswamy, a collection of stories of homosexual love and lives

When he published Mohanaswamy, a collection of short stories in Kannada, the Kannada author Vasudhendra was also announcing to the world his own coming out.

This collection of stories of homosexual love and lives jolted the Kannada readers out of their notions of the literary and the palatable. Mohanaswamy’s narratives explore sexuality with an honesty that is bound to move and unnerve readers in English even as they served as an introduction to the idea of homosexuality in Kannada literature. Vasudhendra graduated top of his Engineering class at National Institute of Technology, Karnataka and went on to complete his Master’s degree from the haloed Indian Institute of Science.

After working as a software professional for 20 years and serving as the Vice President at Genisys Software, Vasudhendra now prefers to spend his time reading, writing and traveling. He also came out as gay in recent interviews. Mohanaswamy has been translated from Kannada into English by Rashmi Terdal, a journalist with The Times of India, Bengaluru. Quite like Vasudhendra, Terdal is also the winner of the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award.

Mohanaswamy is a collection of short stories that explore the dilemmas of the eponymous character, a gay man, as he tries to come to terms with the choices he has made even as he aspires to live a dignified and simple life. But is it even possible for someone such as him to do that? Will he stand out and fight or will Mohanaswamy give up and conform? Vasudhendra takes us into the life of this young man, who, really, could be anyone and everyone. 

With the kind permission of Harper Collins India, we bring you this excerpt from Mohanaswamy, in which the young man is facing the prospect of being abandoned by his lover for a woman.

Today, after briefly explaining the chatnipudi recipe over the phone, Mohanaswamy got into a casual conversation.

‘So, how’s life, Aunty? What’s happening?’ he asked.

‘Everything’s fine, Mohana. As you know, we all have to pack and be ready for our Mumbai trip next week,’ she said effusively.

Mohanaswamy was bewildered. She had mentioned ‘we all’ and that confused him. He wasn’t sure whether he was included in this.

‘To Mumbai? Why, Aunty?’ he asked hesitantly.

‘You are asking me? Why, did your friend Karthik not tell you? Next week he is getting engaged! The ceremony is in Mumbai! How come you didn’t know about it?’ she said in a surprised tone. Mohanaswamy’s world came crashing down. Was Karthik really getting engaged?

‘I don’t know, Aunty, Karthi did not tell me,’ he spoke with a choked voice, trying hard to compose himself.

‘Oh… he didn’t tell you? Perhaps he wanted to give you a surprise. He saw the girl four weeks ago and agreed to marry her. He has seen quite a few girls before, but
hadn’t liked any of them. But this girl, she is so pretty, he said “yes” to her in the blink of an eye. She is very beautiful, has big wide eyes. And stylish too, becoming of a Mumbai girl. They speak Kannada at home. Her father is from Dharwad. But our Karthi – born and brought up in a village – has seen city life only recently. He is completely besotted with her. I worry that once they get married, she may twist him around her little finger. Anyway, they say that marriages are made in heaven, so we don’t really know who’s made for whom,’ she said with a sigh, finally ending her long speech. 

Mohanaswamy feared he would end up weeping if he spoke further. He disconnected the phone immediately and texted her: ‘Aunty, signal is weak’. He switched off the mobile, threw it in a corner and then sat in front of the Krishna idol, shivering and crying. It slowly began to dawn upon him why Karthik had become so secretive of late. He would stealthily step out of the house to make calls. He would even take his cellphone to the bathroom sometimes. When he came home late, he gave lame excuses about being caught up with work. Mohanaswamy had not suspected anything out of the ordinary. Now, as the truth behind his strange behaviour flashed across Mohanaswamy’s mind, he sat in utter disbelief. The tender ladies’ fingers that he had brought for Karthik lay forgotten on the floor in a corner.

The doorbell rang at 8.30 p.m. and Mohanaswamy felt somewhat relieved. It must be Karthik. ‘I know you will never deceive me, I know,’ he whispered into Krishna’s ears as he took the idol in his hand and kissed it passionately. Karthik rang the bell incessantly. Though he had a set of keys with him, he never carried them to office. Unlike Mohanaswamy, he didn’t believe in discipline. Real happiness lay in acting as per the need of the hour. But Mohanaswamy’s disposition was quite different. He would lose his peace of mind for the whole day if he put a little extra salt in the curry by mistake. For him, everything in the house should be in order. The bed should always be clean, without a single crease on the sheet. The bathroom should be spick and span, else he would lose a night’s sleep over it. Trousers, shirts and
other clothes shouldn’t be seen hanging here and there. He promptly washed his and Karthik’s clothes, ironed them neatly and kept them in their place. As the doorbell continued to ring, Mohanaswamy switched on the lights and opened the door.

The sight of Karthik at the door was somewhat reassuring. I am unnecessarily worried. Nothing of that sort has happened, Mohanaswamy thought fi rmly. As was their
routine, he took the helmet from Karthik’s hands and kept it in a corner. ‘Why are you so late, Karthi?’ he asked him affectionately.

‘So much work in the offi ce, Mohana…’ Karthik mumbled, sitting on a chair and removing his shoes.

‘Don’t lie,’ Mohanaswamy said as he went near Karthik and pulled his head close to his chest, running fingers through his thick hair.

Karthik did not know what to say and rubbed his nose against Mohanaswamy’s chest, pulling him even closer. Caressing his cheeks, ears and back, Mohanaswamy said, ‘Shobha aunty had called. Tell me, is it true?’ Karthik continued rubbing his nose. ‘Tell me, Karthi, please. I won’t feel bad,’ he insisted.

Excerpted from Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra with kind permission of publishers Harper Collins India.

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