A Gay Gong

A novel both subtle and arresting, a rare book about the new India that manages to be deeply curious without ever slipping into hyperbole.
A Gay Gong
The Temple-Goers
By Aatish Taseer
Picador India | 304 pages | Rs 495

In his first novel, Aatish Taseer tells the story of Aatish Taseer, a young Western-educated Indian with an absent Pakistani father, a famous journalist for a mother, and a deep hunger to be a writer. Taseer inhabits a world of privilege whose compass points include the laburnum-lined crescent of Amrita Shergill Marg, the marbled depths of the Oberoi, and lamplit dinner parties that feature “politicians, journalists, broken-down royals and perhaps an old Etonian lying fatly on a deep sofa”. Taseer’s friends know London by its trendy restaurants; their childhoods are collectively marked by the pastry shop Chocolate Wheel in Jor Bagh.

Advertisement opens in new window

Into this milieu, Taseer introduces a representative of that protean, heaving, endlessly explorable but impossible to pin down world: the new India. Aakash Sharma lives in a drab satellite city of Delhi called Sectorpur and works as a trainer at Junglee gym in the heart of town. He wears red and black religious threads around his neck and a diamante band on his wrist. To Taseer, Sharma’s beautifully shaped body “seemed somehow to imply a knowledge of the world: of the internet and TV serials; of protein milkshakes and supplements; of Shakira and Beyonce; of drinking perhaps and sex before marriage.”

Though Taseer has a girlfriend—affectionate and supportive if somewhat infantilised in a rich girl way—the real romance at the heart of this novel is between the would-be author and his trainer. Sex with the girlfriend is a desultory affair, at times “vaguely disgusting”. But even the most casual interaction with Aakash is charged with pent-up passion, with the promise of bathtub intimacy and the homo-erotic bliss of sharing a fat Nepali whore in a tiger-print slip.

To his credit, Taseer controls his material deftly. Aakash may be an object of desire, but he is also much more. He opens a world to a serious and sensitive man craving cultural wholeness. With his delight in Western brands—Marlboro and Dunhill, Nike and Reebok—and his casual, Brahminical ease with religious rituals, Aakash is Taseer’s passport to his own country. All along, the reader has the premonition that the outcome of this unlikely passage won’t be pleasant.

Advertisement opens in new window

Taseer is clearly influenced by Naipaul. The book’s homo-erotic charge, love for Urdu poetry saves him from charges of mimicry.

Throughout the novel, the not-so-subtle influence of V.S. Naipaul on Taseer is clearly visible. Not only does the Nobel laureate appear in the book—felt-hatted, wielding a shooting stick and a scowl—as “the writer,” but the prose and its preoccupations both carry a distinctly Naipaulean cast. There’s the careful yet distanced style of observation, the division of the world into the settled and the unsettled, the idea of the half-made man, the contempt for the English-speaking class’s shallow understanding of Islam’s largely unpleasant collision with India. Taseer is too honest and earnest a writer to attempt to disguise his debt to the older man. Nonetheless, only the book’s homo-erotic charge and the author’s regard for Urdu poetry save The Temple-Goers from the (Naipaulean) charge of mimicry.

In the end, though, a first novel can do much worse than bear the imprint of one of the great writers of our time. Taseer has produced a novel both subtle and arresting, a rare book about the new India that manages to be deeply curious without ever slipping into hyperbole. It deserves to be read widely.

Next Story : And Then There Was Ma
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
  • Daily Mail
High amidst the Karakoram, the Hunza Valley evolved its unique way of life, with crafts deeply embedded within. Their pricelessness is shown herein.
MAGAZINE August 17, 2017
Book Excerpt
K.G. Satyamurthy, author Sujatha Gidla's uncle, was a young rebel in the '46-51 Telangana uprising. In this excerpt, Satya plunges right into the struggle.
MAGAZINE August 17, 2017
In today’s maelstrom of unregulated content, propaganda finds a natural disguise. Stanley’s important research looks at its well-oiled inner workings.
MAGAZINE August 03, 2017
The first Dalit novel in Oriya is also a clash of generational views—education and radical action as an armature and counter to prejudice
MAGAZINE August 03, 2017
There is a new surge in the blood-soaked period we call Partition. A new novel plays to stereotypes, but captures the confused terror and panic well.
MAGAZINE July 27, 2017


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

or just type initial letters