Review of the Boyfriend by Raj Rao
“In The Boyfriend, Rao has managed to bring to the light the lives of gays living in metro cities and issues annoying their lives. In this novel the identity markers take center stage; they become visible in every chapter. Most neglected and overlooked aspects of homosexuality such as age, class, caste, and education play pivotal role in exposing the true face of India’s gay community. The Protagonist Yudhister alias Yudi is freelance journalist of English language and he writes in newspapers like The Statesman, The Times of India, The Indian Express and other. He is almost forty two years old and most of his age men have teenage children and quarreling and making love with their wives. Whereas Yudi had wrinkle free face and no tummy too. Most journalists he works with knew that he was gay still he was not out to his mother, he had plenty of sex since last twenty years but couldn’t find his true love. His mother lives in South Bombay and his doesn’t live with his ageing mother; rather lived in Nallasopara. He was a human directory for South Bombay’s cruising spots. One day, after a great deal of suspicion Yudi finds Kisore, a guy in his late teens. Kishore was thin and brown in complexion of working class. Yudi blindfolds him and takes him to his mother’s home during her absence with the intention of getting rid of him once the urge is satisfied. They parted after a brief talk.
Yudi finds Dnyaneshwar, a trainee policeman and brings him to his home to make love they booze and listen to music. Yudi picked guys form public loos likes to go disco and stare waiters with V-shaped bodies and tight butt, hang out with drag queens after getting assaulted by queens Dnyaneshwar leaves in humiliation. As Yudi grew old he felt the need for a partner now the casual sex wasn’t the need but he wanted a stable life with his soul-mate. As a man grows old needs for stability in life. He realizes that he is in love with Kishore later on finds out that Kishore’s real name was Milind Mahadik. Meanwhile Yudi meets Gauri, a painter and writes review on her exhibition which brings them close and Gauri falls in love with Yudi despite of knowing his sexual orientation. The constant interaction between two lovers – Yudi and Milind, parade the identity markers one after another.
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A man’s caste can act as source of social pride and self-esteem or self-disgust and hate. Milind considers himself very low because of being Dalit. In his very first interaction with Yudi, Milind refers his friend as my jaatwalas. While planning a trip. Milind suggests to go Bodhgaya; because it has Bodhi tree that inspired the Buddha, who successively inspired Ambedkar, the messiah of the Dalits. While enjoying beer at Café Volga, Milind gets into the argument that like heterosexuals, homosexual too have caste and religion and Yudi considers himself as Brahmin and must be practicing untouchability with others. Milind asks Yudi to eat his jhootha, so does he does. In response to Milind, and cool down the heating war of words Yudi says homos are no different from Bhangis. Both are Untouchables. So why should he will have a problem eating Milind’s jhootha (remnant)? Further clarifying Yudi states “No, I am a homosexual. Gay by caste. Gay by religion.”(Rao 81).Yudi believes that homosexuals are as outcast as the Dalit. The caste determined by birth does not allow for upward mobility in the society goes well with the thinking of Milind. It can be concluded that caste affects most of the Indian people and gays are no exception to this. Yudi abandons and moves away from stereotype but Milind sticks around. Their sexual urge brought them together but their temper splits.
People fall in love without caring about their age differences but the society holds stigma of immorality and guilt toward the lovers. Yudi is forty two years old man with lot of experience, gone through various relationships and encountered people of distinct nature. Whereas Milind is hardly twenty, Ninth grade pass from vernacular medium and belongs to working class. There is hardly any difference between filial and conjugal love when it comes to same person in question. Yudi fancies that he will love Milind like a son by day and lover by night. Though author has portrayed Yudi and Milind as lover from the beginning but it was one sided; only Yudi falls in love whereas Milind’s standpoint is questionable. Yudi has developed maturity with various life experiences and earns reasonable amount of money and lends monetary support to poor Milind. Hence he dominates the relationship though passive in bed.
The age and income gap between them less than passionate lovers. Yudi thinks of himself as Milind’s sugar daddy. Yudi will give money and gift to Milind for sex. While describing about Yudi to her son, Milind’s mother emphasizes his age and grey hair. How can a boy tell his parents that he is in love a man of double the age? The relationship among large age gap couple is complex and divides them. The age gap seems legal in mating with in the four walls but in the society it is discouraged and abused. After returning from A.K. Modelling, when Milind learns that Yudi had visited his place and prayed for him at Chaitya Bhoomi for his safe home arrival. Milind loose his control his worst fear will come true. What his mother and brother think about him? How the feminine man with grey hair is related to their Milind? Will they come to know about his dark side? Here the age acts as villain. If Yudi would have been of his own age, nobody would have doubted. Age- an identity marker provokes Milind to break off with Yudi. The blossoming number separates two lovers.
Milind’s wife Leela proposes him to reach out to Yudi for help. Author draws a parallel from Mahabharata, where poor and wretched Sudama lands into his old friend Krishna’s palace. Krishna accepts his friends humble gift of poha and wash his feet. At the end of the story, as Sudama returns, for his surprise the hut has become palace and his wife is dressed like queen all these happened due to mercy of Krishna. When Milind visits Yudi’s flat. Yudi welcomes him with open arms without holding any grudges for Milind. Yudi massage Milind’s chapped and weary feet. Again they have sex and Yudi offers pocket money to Milind.
Yudi’s irreprehensible behavior doesn’t show his good nature but his incompetence. He was too old for self-respect, the older a gay gets he has to compromise his self-esteem. Needy Leela thought her husband’s journalist friend will liberate them from their poverty-stricken lives, but she doesn’t know that her husband and the journalist were just more and much less than friends. Age does matter for relationship and marriage not for sex and money. Certain things can only be done within the four wall but not in open. In open he is a married man and has a wife and children. The heart doesn’t get what the heart wants.
Author quash the belief that gender roles are permanent in gay relationships, along with growing age a gay has to go through the role change in bed. A gay should assume the role of passive partner from active partner to seize new boys and men. Milind never objects to dance and booze with Yudi in hotels and pubs. The time spent with Yudi gives him new exposure and insight of hidden gay life of the city. He becomes more confident and evolves with time. Suddenly Milind disappears from Yudi’s life and joins A.K. Modelling for better future and lucrative money. Besides modeling for cheap products he has to satisfy gay clients of A.K. Modelling. Makes money though prostitution bring him dreamed life style but anguish too.
“See how the sight of Yudi amused his mother and brother! Look at the way his parents compared the chhakka to macho friends like Pramod and David, and found him wanting! See how they emphasized his age, his grey hair, his hi-fi English! They must have suspected there was something odd about the whole thing!” (Rao 207).
Another similar incident where transition in gender roles are highlighted by the author is when Milya poses a million dollar question to his client. Milind asks whether he was a passive koti or an active panthi. Without any hesitation and shame Sam admits that he is former, “You see, I used to be active when I was younger, but now I’m passive, because as a man grows older, his hardback penis becomes a paperback one” (Rao187). How the sex and gender are different is shown in chapter 9. When Milind meets his new client Derek, gets surprised because he has muscles of a wrestler, yet he was feminine.
Falling in love is easy and staying in love needs two soul mates with selfless love and commitment. As Yudi belongs to cultured and intellectual strata of society, he is more open and confident about his sexual preferences. His identity is not hidden from people around him. Bold columnist of leading newspapers falls for a boy with paradoxical nature. Milind is school drop-out and dwells in slums of suburban Mumbai. Works as an office boy at Medium Advertising. Yudi pays for his lover’s beer and food, because of him only Milind gets a new job at eco-feminist organization, where he gets familiar with perfumed upper-class women who spoke in English. While working for this NGO, Milind happens to distribute leaflets to every commuters of Churchgate and VT station. After few months, when the organization had an event at Hotel Taj, Milind gets posted outside the hall to give folders, notepads, and brochures to guests and participants. The speeches clearly goes over his head. Milind for the first time in his life is addressed as ‘sir’ by the waiters who serve juice and sandwiches. Few months back only Milind was ill-treated by Hotel staff when he was waiting for Yudi to return from his relative’s room. Today’s incident fulfils his vow of taking revenge.
Author conveys the education gap between the different strata of society which alienates each other. Indian English speakers can’t relate themselves with the language spoken in barber shop. Milind gets sick and tired of his A.K. Modelling clients and people around of him, one of the reason is their fluent English. By selling his body and not being spoken in active voice he earns money by thinks himself as a whore and prostitute. He becomes worried about getting infected and deceasing by AIDS, STD and HIV, these acronyms were freely used by his friends at A.K. Modelling; Milind too used them without know their meaning. The flower of love didn’t blossom because both of them were at different stages of lives due to their education. Education can win over the societal pressure. Milind falls under family pressure and weds Leela dumping Yudi.
Rao shows how society can be divided on the basis of linguistic identity. Language functions more than an instrument of communication. Yudi belongs to erudite section of society and Milind belongs to working class, hence both of them speak different language at their home. English and Marathi is spoken in their families respectively. Hindi serves as bridge between both of them. When Gauri’s father discovers that Yudi is Andhraite and gets nostalgic and reminds the time spent in Andhra Pradesh. During the conversation Yudi explains him that his mother is not Telugu and they speak English at home. His answer shows the linguistic identity of different characters. When Milind comes to Yudi’s home to for a week, he exclaims that you have English medium toilet! He was to western toilet. While narrating Yudi’s visit at their place, Milind’s mother emphasizes his hi-fi English and high society type. Language perfectly acts as identity marker which divides the lovers.
All the major religions have different opinions on homosexuals. Few of them forbids and other supports. Rao has not targeted religion in this novel. He rarely shows the role of religion as identity marker but doesn’t oversight the religious belief and sensibility of Indians through Yudi and Milind. Milind belongs to Dalit community and follower of Buddhism, who consider Ambedkar as their messiah. When Yudi ask about Milind to Dagdi Chawl boys they mistake him for Christian padre. Milind’s mother starts to weep and begs not to convert his son from Buddhism to Isaai dhharam (Christianity). Yudi clarifies and enquires about him to his friends. While going to Chaitya Bhoomi Yudi tries to halt a cab to reach there but Milind’s father stops him and says we are on a pilgrimage. True followers of Babasaheb will walk all the way to Chaitya Bhoomi and they don’t hire taxi or bus to go there. Similarly during garlanding Babasaheb Ambedkar’s idol Milind’s mother asks Yudi to make a wish and it will come true. Yudi feels foolish but he has no other option. Religious identity formed in different communities in India is seen explicitly and their attitude towards each other. Rao mentions about the communal riots broke out after the demolition of Babri Masjid and probable impact of it. Religion creates a rift between different sections of the society. Even homosexuals are not free from its ambit.”