Holding up a mirror to society on same­-sex desire

Edited by Ruth Vanita, On the Edge shows us the persistent biases that still affect the lives of homosexual couples.

Published : Dec 14, 2023 11:00 IST - 3 MINS READ

This collection is needed more today than ever, when biases have grown deeper with the passage of time. 

This collection is needed more today than ever, when biases have grown deeper with the passage of time.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStock

Ruth Vanita’s books are always a joy to read. The way she writes about same-sex desire is not only refreshing but also revelatory for the many who are not on the spectrum.

On the Edge: 100 Years of Hindi Fiction on Same-Sex Desire
Edited and translated from Hindi by Ruth Vanita
India Viking
Pages: 272
Price: Rs.599

Her approach is not in the manner of educating but matter-of-fact, showing homosexuality as it exists in society, how society reacts to it, and sharing her thoughts on how it should react, thus breaking the shackles of taboo and stigma.

Also Read | Strange and unsatisfying: A review of ‘Homeless’ by K. Vaishali

Different insights

Her latest work as an editor is On the Edge: 100 Years of Hindi Fiction on Same-Sex Desire. As always, she is spot on with the choice of short stories and extracts from novels that make up this collection of joy, celebration, wonder, loneliness, angst, and love. The 16 selected stories, published between 1927 and 2022, include works by Munshi Premchand, Rajendra Yadav, Vijaydan Detha, Sara Rai, Geetanjali Shree, and many more. Each piece gives us a different insight into same-sex desire through the way it is presented by the respective authors.

Cover of On the Edge

Cover of On the Edge | Photo Credit: By special arrangement

For instance, “Discussing Chocolate” by Pandey Bechan Sharma “Ugra” speaks of it almost as a sin, a desire that must not be named. And yet, reading about it seems liberating, given the fact that the story was published in 1924. Vanita takes us through a gamut of emotions and timelines, showing how the depiction of the LGBTQIA+ community in literature has changed with shifting sensibilities over the decades.

“Ekakani” by Asha Sahay was called the “first Hindi novel on lesbianism” by Kuldeep Kumar. When I read the excerpt featured here, I initially thought there was nothing sexual about it. And yet there is so much going on in the novel in terms of the language and imageries that I was quite overwhelmed by the madness of it all.

Invisible ones

Vanita’s selections bring to the fore the invisible ones, the ones whose stories are not told enough. As a gay man, I know how true this is of so many members of the community. For instance, “Shadow” by Shubham Negi juxtaposes the decriminalisation of the anti-sodomy law in 2018 with the persistent fear of being discovered with another man haunting the protagonist’s mind. We are seen with all the insecurities, apprehensions, and helplessness that dog us most of the time.

Also Read | Half a love: Review of ‘The Sufi’s Nightingale’ by Sarbpreet Singh

The fact that these stories come from India—the heartland, and otherwise—adds an edge. We tend to grow up with the Western idea of same-sex love and desire. This collection goes beyond to hold up a mirror to ourselves, showing us who we are and how we are in our country.

On the Edge is needed more today than ever, when biases have grown deeper with the passage of time. Yes, there is awareness and understanding, but there is also much hatred directed against the community. Books such as these can help people comprehend and empathise, if not completely accept.

Vivek Tejuja has worked with books at Flipkart, at Verve magazine, and now writes regularly on books and the experience of reading, notably on his blog, The Hungry Reader.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment