Book Review: My Magical Palace

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A fast-moving story of love and yearning, loss and betrayal, Kunal’s My Magical Palace is a beautiful and easy narration that fashions the 1970’s Hyderabad’s dated era in its splendour and unpleasantness. One morning Andrew, Rahul’s live-in partner, leaves the flat after fighting over a relative’s visit to arrange Rahul’s meeting with a certain girl. 

Heated conversations unfold over Rahul’s “coming out”. Despite their love for each other, Andrew explicitly expresses that he will only return when Rahul honestly confronts his identity. The story carries readers to 1970’s Hyderabad as Rahul narrates truths unknown to Andrew.

Initially, Andrew tends to judge him harshly on his silence, but as Rahul’s past is revealed, he sympathises with him. Rahul’s “coming out” materialises in the end, although it is foreseen from the start. The entire story revolves around his closeted sexual identity. Growing up in the palace in Hyderabad, Rahul’s past reveals a long-gone enchanting era that is equally not devoid of taboos, pretence, patriarchy, hatred, and traditionalism that ails its then society.

The characters linked in the novel’s different narrative threads overcome traditions and strict values. Mallika and Bengali “babu” Sanjib’s arranged marriage fails due to her forbidden relationship with Salim, a modest Muslim boy, but finds redemption when they reunite in a city away from her people. Elsewhere, the loss of Rahul’s deceitful best friend Ranjan further complicates his brief, turbulent affair with the sophisticated but pretentious Shubho “dada”. He luckily gains friendship and mentorship from Colonel Uncle, probably a gay bachelor.

Progressively, the novel goes beyond the usual “gay” story by exploring the ties and snares of family, friendships, love. Notably, it is about self-discovery between tumultuous encounters and relationships, an observation rightfully makes

Besides the sad stories, the partly humorous and stern outlook on Bollywood and Rajesh Khanna brilliantly expressed by the child Rahul gives the readers depth to his character and comedy. A sentence such as, “My fascination with Rajesh Khanna would most certainly be my downfall. I had written a love letter to him, if the school found out, I could be expelled. How foolish I had been! …the boys would call me a ‘bloody homo’!” reveals Rahul’s identity and builds a humorous tone to the readers.

The novel reveals a contemptuous depiction of homosexuality, the state of educated Bengali women, family and the social structure of that era among the Bengali society of Hyderabad, whose cultural social codes are criticised. In the end, readers are left to judge Mr Ganguly’s traditional beliefs when Rahul openly comes out gay and apologises for meeting the girl for an arranged marriage business; he erupts, “Chee, Chee! How can you behave like this? You belong to a respectable family. We are not just Indians, we are Bengalis! We have a duty to maintain a parents’ god name in society. So this is what you have in America! To be perverted….” The novel is a criticism of an impolite and pretentious society.

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