Love story with a twist
Reviewed by Aditi Garg

Hostel Room 131
By R. Raj Rao
Penguin Books.
Pages 228. Rs 250.

IT is said love is blind. It transcends barriers of age, religion, caste, colour and apparently, even sex. When love is chemistry and sex is a physical expression of the same, it can just as well happen between two consenting adults of the same gender. Matters of heart refuse to be bound by conventional rules. One stricken by it is impervious to all reason.

R. Raj Rao is the author of this coming-of-age book on gay sexuality in India. Hostel Room 131 has been preceded by BomGay and The Boyfriend, which are considered cult classics. He has also authored One Day I Locked my Flat in Soul City, Slide Show, The Wisest Fool on Earth and Other Plays, Nissim Ezekiel: The Authorized Biography, Ten Indian Writers in Interview, Image of India in the Indian Novel in English, Whistling in the Dark: Twenty-One Queer Interviews. He is a pioneering Indian academic who runs a course on queer literature in his department. He was born in Bombay and now lives in Pune, where he is professor in the Department of English, University of Pune.

Hostel Room 131 is the story of Siddharth and Su (Sudhir) who fall in love almost the instant they set eyes on each other. Theirs was a match made in heaven which could just as well have been granted parental approval had it not been for a small glitch; they were both men. The book has all the makings of a great love story, the grand pull of love, disapproving peers, parents who would stop at nothing to keep them apart and diehard friends who would lay their lives to see them together and even a happy ending (depends on your perception of happy, though).

Rao takes a tongue-in-cheek look at this unusual story, though he is not condescending in his tone. With a dash of humour and more than a handful of insightful observations, he makes it stand out. Siddharth compares himself to his lover and thinks of the glaring differences, in spite of which they were inseparable. He infers that you should not compare and judge people as they had not been born with the same privileges. It was not something they could chose, they were either born with or without them, making it morally incorrect to look down upon other human beings. He also has a lighter side to him. He goes on translating Bollywood songs into English and tweaks them to suit his cause. He even believes that most of the movies featuring two heroes, especially Sholay, are about homosexuals and that the women folk are just a kabab main haddi!

The book does not shy away from discussing the taboo and talks of the same in a tone that makes it sound commonplace and very normal. Apart from the homosexual angle, it also highlights the relationship between eunuchs and kotis. Rao talks about these associations with respect and puts companionship in a very important place in any relationship. Though it could really put off homophobics and it is not for the faint-hearted or those whose sensibilities are easily ruffled. It does tend to go overboard giving graphic descriptions of love scenes, which the discerning reader may not enjoy. On the whole the novel is good to read with its simple language and effortless essaying.