The past couple of decades have seen a staggering proliferation of modern queer writing, cutting across genres—memoirs, novels, essays, poetry, ethnographies, short stories and graphic narratives.  To celebrate pride month and make sure that the stories of the queer community are heard, we have compiled 5 LGBTQIA+ books that will help you understand, relate to or empathise with ‘queer’ life in India, and they range from fiction to autobiographies.

To celebrate pride month and make sure that the stories of the queer community are heard, we have compiled 5 LGBTQIA+ books that will help you understand, relate to or empathise with ‘queer’ life in India, and they range from fiction to autobiographies.

  1. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

Born in Colombo to a Sinhalese mother and a Tamil father, Shyam Selvadurai and his family were forced to leave Sri Lanka and migrate to Canada in the aftermath of the ethnic riots of 1983. In 1994, the writer published his debut novel, Funny Boy, partly based on his memories of growing up as a young gay man in a time of conflict. Arjie Chelvaratnam, the novel’s eponymous “funny boy”, is part of a wealthy family in Colombo, is attracted to boys and does not conform to the rigid codes of masculinity that are expected of him. Told through six stories, we witness Arjie’s recognition of his sexual identity, the first flushes of love and the eccentricities of his extended family as tensions simmer and the characters hurtle towards inevitable tragedy.

A deeply sensitive and intimate coming-of-age story, a novel about the peculiar vagaries, joys and sorrows of a childhood that deviates from the norm turns into a vividly realized portrayal of a land torn apart by violence in Selvadurai’s deft hands.

Told through six stories, we witness Arjie’s recognition of his sexual identity, the first flushes of love and the eccentricities of his extended family as tensions simmer and the characters hurtle towards inevitable tragedy.

2. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

How can one go wrong with Arundhati Roy? And when she writes about an Intersex character coming to terms with their own sexuality, you know it’s going to be a beautiful read. In The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, Aftab, born a male, transitions to Anjum, an intersex Muslim woman who strives to protect her community after witnessing communal riots. Not only is this book a commentary on current day India, but it also tackles the complex subject of gender identification. 

Not only is this book a commentary on current day India, but it also tackles the complex subject of gender identification. 

3. Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar, Translated by Jerry Pinto

An enigmatic paying guest becomes the object of affection for siblings Tanay and Anjuna in director and screenwriter Sachin Kundalkar’s evocative novel about love, desire and heartbreak. Translated from Marathi, Cobalt Blue is told in two halves, from the perspective of both siblings, who are consumed by their adoration of the mysterious man their parents have taken on a boarder. Tender and spare, Cobalt Blue is a quietly devastating meditation on the transformative power of love, regardless of sexuality.

Tender and spare, Cobalt Blue is a quietly devastating meditation on the transformative power of love, regardless of sexuality.

4. My Father’s Garden by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Sex, love, betrayal, nostalgia and identity are all mashed up in Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s compelling novel set in Jharkhand. Told in three parts, the unnamed protagonist in My Father’s Garden is a young Santhali doctor navigating his sexuality, his Adivasi identity, a desire for companionship, and his father’s legacy – the confounding, arduous journey of a young person trying to figure out their place in the world. Gritty and vulnerable, the novel is at its most powerful in the first section, “Lover”, which vividly exemplifies how most male sexual relationships in India fall outside the neat boundaries of defined identities. “A kiss is for someone special,” our protagonist is told by his lover, Samir, whose relentless appetite for sex with the young doctor stops short when it comes to this final threshold of tenderness and acceptance. Shekhar’s searing novel, finally, is an interrogation, not of sexuality, but of masculinity itself.

Shekhar’s searing novel, finally, is an interrogation, not of sexuality, but of masculinity itself.

5. A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee

Neel Mukherjee’s Man Booker Prize Shortlisting and Crossword Award-winning work is a lot more than just a ‘queer story’. It is layered, complex, and transverses across sections of societies as well as of time. A young Ritwik goes to Oxford to study, but spends more time ‘cruising’ in public men’s toilets, Mrs. Gilby lives in an India that is transitioning from Colonial rule to independence and Mrs. Cameron deals with the death of her gay son. Combining multiple storylines into one stunning novel, A Life Apart, deals with issues of Colonial India, the violence faced by homosexuals as well as the problems of gay sex work in current times, amongst other topics.

A Life Apart, deals with issues of Colonial India, the violence faced by homosexuals as well as the problems of gay sex work in current times, amongst other topics.

6. The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A Revathi, Translated by V. Geetha

Revathi is an immediately recognisable face in LGBTQ circles in India. The Tamil activist and writer has worked relentlessly for the rights of sexual and gender minorities, is a theatre actor, and also played a role in the Tamil film, Thenavattu. But Bengaluru-based Revathi remains best known for a striking autobiographical account of her life as a transgender woman.

The Tamil activist and writer has worked relentlessly for the rights of sexual and gender minorities, is a theatre actor, and also played a role in the Tamil film, Thenavattu.

7. Trying to Grow by Firdaus Kanga

Published nearly two decades ago, Firdaus Kanga’s novel tells the story of Brit (short for “brittle”) Kotwal, born with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that leaves him with bones and teeth as fragile as glass. Brit grows up in the heart of Bombay in a music-loving Parsi family that learns early on to stop attempting to “fix” his condition but instead let him experience the best life possible, one imbued with literature, music, love and sex.

Brit grows up in the heart of Bombay in a music-loving Parsi family that learns early on to stop attempting to “fix” his condition but instead let him experience the best life possible, one imbued with literature, music, love and sex.

8. Yaraana: Gay Writing from South Asia, edited by Hoshang Merchant

Edited by the iconic poet Hoshang Merchant, Yaraana, published in 1999, takes pride of place as the first South Asian anthology of writing about male homosexual desire. “Literature has no sex,” Hoshang Merchant writes in the introduction to the book, “There is only good writing and bad writing. India’s homosexuals have produced a lot of good writing, over the centuries a veritable feast.”

These writings take the form of poems, autobiographical accounts, short stories and excerpts from novels, with contributors ranging from Vikram Seth and Bhupen Kakkar to Mahesh Dattani and R. Raja Rao.

“Literature has no sex,”

9. The Fabulous Feminist by Suniti Namjoshi

Suniti Namjoshi is a writer who needs to be read more widely. The wildly imaginative author has been writing deliciously clever, subversive spins on fables for decades. Bringing together the best of her stories, The Fabulous Feminist is a delight—funny, dark, moving, occasionally shocking and bursting with originality. In the queer feminist writer’s world, Beast is not a nobleman but a woman (“that’s why her love for Beauty was so monstrous”), gender is based on the role that an individual wants to play and the moralising of classical fables is substituted for a complexity of lives and identities that rejects easy answers.

The Fabulous Feminist is a delight—funny, dark, moving, occasionally shocking and bursting with originality.

10. So Now You Know by Vivek Tejuja

Vivek Tejuja’s memoir about growing up gay in India, So Now You Know, was published to coincide with the first anniversary of the striking down of the draconian Section 377 of the IPC. In this slender volume, Tejuja, a prominent figure in the English language books reading community online, reflects on his experiences as a child and a young man discovering his sexuality and then exercising it. Funny, poignant, heartwarming and heart-breaking all at once, this is a memoir of growing up gay in India in the 1990s, with Bollywood, books, and the Bombay sea for company. 

Funny, poignant, heartwarming and heart-breaking all at once, this is a memoir of growing up gay in India in the 1990s, with Bollywood, books, and the Bombay sea for company.