Fiction, as the word holds, is an alternative reality that goes beyond the boundaries of truth. Literature has always been the common ground where fact and fiction intermingle to create a body of work that not only entertains but mirrors the society one lives in. There are various aspects of literature that remain unexplored or deemed “taboo”. It takes extraordinary courage to explore and venture into forbidden territory.
More so when the territory challenges the heteronormative ideas of hill society as is known. In the baby steps that the people living in hilly areas are taking, often people trip on strict ideas of gender and sexuality. To break it and speak about it is seen as a bold move, something that might change lives forever.
Salim Rai, a 25-year-old author from Kalimpong speaks through his books about the nuances of life. “Let’s Call a B/S For What It Is” is a tale with a rough narrative. As for the meaning of B/S, if one does a quick Internet search, Urban Dictionary can shed light on it with suggestive examples. Salim Rai is unapologetic in his approach in calling out b/s for what it is.
This is his first book from Xpress Publishing, Notion Press and his first venture towards self-publishing. The book documents a rant, a different approach to a traditional narrative than the rest; it talks about the early life of the narrator, being bullied by classmates and teachers alike. When asked about the degree of fiction in his book, Salim breaks into a smile and says, “It is pure fiction.”
Earlier, he debuted with ‘But It’s Him I Love’, a short novel based on homosexuality and with erotic overtones. Although the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018, the LGBTQ+ community still faces stigma in our society.
India consists of 35% of youth, millions of whom are millennials divided between pro-LGBTQ and the homophobic/transphobic crowd. Queer fiction remains largely an uncharted subject. As for the hills, an integral part of the country that has always been diverse embraces alternative sexualities and pride culture to quite an extent.
Salim says that he was inspired by the book ‘Call Me by Your Name’ a 2007 novel by American writer André Aciman that revolves around a curious 17-year-old American-Italian Jewish boy Elio Perlman and a 24-year-old American Jewish scholar Oliver in 1980s Italy.
The story in his “It’s Him I Love” does not give a geographical location of the lovers and though Salim as an author has tried to move past the lust-love equation, the genre is still under the veil.
In Sikkim, the need for authors who break barriers in term of the lives they portray is essential for public growth and understanding. Through books, a reader can empathize and glance at the alternative lifestyles and how viewing it as ‘abnormal’ or ‘unnatural’ seems outdated and suppressive.
“The world is filled with all kinds of people: tall, short, fat, thin, ugly, beautiful and sorts. But one thing that holds to them all is that men and women fall in love with each other. Adam and Eve taught us that. Society taught us that. The very key to our existence and continuity depends on reproduction which is possible only when a male and female mate. So if the rules are decided, why does someone go against this fundamental law of nature?”, asks Salim.
“What should a person who loves a man despite being a man himself consider himself? Society has a lot of derogatory words to throw along his way. None kind! Is it because society has been indoctrinated to believe that only one form of love could exist or is it because this tendency in itself is fundamentally wrong and he is a sinner who was not supposed to be born? It is a difficult question and probably the answer would be ambiguous too. No one can tell.
“One cannot blame society because they are not familiar with the emotions of someone who isn’t a heterosexual. They wouldn’t understand the confusion, the anguish and the guilt they feel. They wouldn’t understand that they do not choose who they fall in love with. They wouldn’t know the dilemma that tears their very soul because they have been tormented by thoughts of discrimination and shame that would inevitably be hurled their way should they reveal their truth. After all, it is hard to empathise with emotions that are unknown to one. That’s just human nature.”
In his book, Salim has left the narrator nameless to make the reader empathise with the character. It is indeed a new and unexplored genre for the writer and the reader. He is aware of the precedent notion of the lives in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“The narrator does not have a name because I wanted him to be a generic character if that makes sense! So that any Tom Dick or Harry who could potentially have been in a similar situation could relate to the narrative without the hurdle of some random name posing a sense of unfamiliarity!”, says Rai.
The readers, in general, are much more inclined to the young adult books with romantic quotations by their favourite authors. Romance as the young readers of this new decade must understand, is not one dimensional. Love transcends all genders and souls. The literature of this era has a wide range of genres to explore and through these words, as the reader reads, awareness is created; it develops a sense of empathy, an important trait found in most of the readers.
An avid reader himself, Salim Rai has always been a Potterhead; he loves the writings of J.K. Rowling and Enid Blyton. Currently residing in a small town of Kalimpong, he completed his Hotel Management course from Kolkata. An introvert and lover of the fictional world, he also pens poetry which he believes is too dark and has now outgrown this habit.
It must be noted the story might be simple for a critic or a reader to judge, but only the creators know the struggle behind it. To write, there is no reward but this – that it brings satisfaction to one’s soul, expressing oneself to the world without interruption.