Review: The Luminous Flight of Desire in ‘Mohanaswamy’

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Vasuhendra’s Mohanaswamy achieves the coveted status of truly pioneering work by merging his audience and critics’ expectations and surpassing them. Not only is it celebrated as one of the best writings in the gay literature genre, it is also one of the best reflections on the gratifications inhabiting the new Indian century.

The brilliance in its sentences carries one through the luminous flight of desire travelling from the rural setting to the urban world to mountain- peaks unfolding the weakness of a man’s desires.

The stories run through exhibits of emotions portrayed by Mohanaswamy the protagonist whose story begins in the midst of a break up. His lover agrees to marry him and the story unfolds deep emotions of passion, lust, rage, insomnia and self- contempt. Giving an account of middle- class gay men in the urban and semi- urban settings of India as the stories open up to childhood memories of his superstitious sister and mother.

Mohanaswamy looks reflects on the several ridiculous hopes of learning to ride a bicycle as a form ‘curing’ his queerness where he learns that even learning to fly an aeroplane will never ‘change him back’. An array of several other stories reveal the cruelties of a biased society even amongst the gay community. 

The protagonist’s childhood gives an account of societal ‘manly’ expectations from him through behavior and body- from posture to less talking, doing manful mathematics where he eventually fails to achieve and ends up costing him a relationship with his mother. As he excels academically, he forms intense relationships where in the long run he is portrayed as emotionally needy and subsequently takes cognizance that his desires are normal. There will always be a constant decline and rise of lust and extreme passion.

As the stories run through the epochs, each giving him depth, Mohanaswamy creates a link to all of them and his character exudes humor, solitude, patience, queer, desire, lust and so on. The stories’ constant continuity with changing and resurfacing characters and elements portray India’s contemporary living making inference to a two- bedroom unit with a hall and kitchen where space is nothing compared to the experiences of sexual desire.

The final story a-top Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania upon up Mohanaswamy’s thoughts as he feels as “a mere particle of the breath”- a moment of tranquility. The journey up the mountain gives him more awareness and comfort in his own his skin.

Mohanaswamy may be compared to various texts of its period in Kannada writing among them being Jayant Kaikini’s, Dots and Lines. Through its protagonist’s cultured persona opening up to forgiveness it reminds one of the Dalit write Siddalingaiah’s autobiography, A Word with You, World through it. The instances of melancholic gloom bring to mind Vivek Shanbagh’s Gachar Ghochar. The romanticism and utopian sexual transparency remind of Vikramajit Ram’s The Sun and Two Seas. It may also be linked to Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue for its dynamic, unpunctuated sexuality and Krishna Sobti’s Sunflowers in the Dark for its sexual openness. 

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