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Two centuries of colonization brought in British binary and prudish concepts to the entire subcontinent. It changed the balance of permissiveness, or fluidity that Indian mythology, and communities were used to. In the AAPI heritage and mental health awareness month, we bring book recommendations on South-Asian books with queer themes that challenge contemporary colonial hangovers.

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5 South-Asian books with queer themes
  1. The Pregnant King, Devdutt Pattanaik – Mythologist and writer, Devdutt Pattanaik’s magnum opus uses a mythological frame to ask the most post-modern questions. What do you call a father who births you? Nuanced and spectacularly written, this book makes you think about gender fluidity by looking back into the subcontinent’s myths.
  2. The History of Desire in India, Madhavi Menon – The book goes through historical, anthropological, and cultural examples of desire in the subcontinent. From Sufis, to Khajuraho sculptures, mythology, and cultural/social histories, this book delves deep into how we can’t really confine the subcontinent’s voice in binary fields.
  3. The Impressionist, Hari Kunzru – British-Indian protagonist Pran Nath is mixed-race, and born with female and male genitalia. He comes back to the subcontinent, to explore his identity and sense of belonging meeting with the hijra community. Kunzru challenges readers to think critically about the ways in which gender is constructed and enforced in different cultures.
  4. Keya Das’s Second Act, Sopan Deb – An immigrant family trying to find ways to accept queerness, and self-compassion in their lives. A YA read that opens up questions around parenting, immigrant experiences, defying expectations, and finding the grace to forgive fatal missteps.
  5. The Blue Boy, Rakesh Satyal – Lambda finalist, this novel tells the story of a young Indian-American boy navigating his identity as a gay person of color in a conservative Ohio suburb. Lots of nuance with a prominent voice for underestimated identities.

What reads have moved you? This series is a part of our #onedesibook on Instagram (follow here). We interview desi authors as a part of our Kitabi Qisse series that you can find on the Journal too. If you have recommendations, send us a note!