The first public debate on homosexuality in modern India occurred in the 1920s, in the thick of the movement for national independence. It was sparked off by a collection of Hindi short stories entitled Chocolate (1927), by Hindi nationalist writer Pandey Bechan Sharma, better known by his pen-name 'Ugra' (extreme). The stories created such an uproar that almost every major public figure, from Premchand to Gandhi, joined in the debate.
This first-ever English translation of Ugra's work raises issues as salient today as eight decades ago: the interpretation of text, the role of fiction in relation to society, and the morality of same-sex erotic relationships, Ugra's writings provide a window on nationalist constructions of Indian identity, especially in relation to ideas of India's past; of gender, masculinity, and sexuality; and of Hindu-Muslim and Indian-foreign relations. Many of the prejudices and ideas bandied about in the 1920s still hold centre stage, and resurface in debates about sexuality, obscenity, censorship, and the civil rights of gay people.
In her introduction, Ruth Vanita, who has extensively studied the pre-modern and modern history of same-sex relationships in India, discusses the book's ambivalent portrayal of homosexuality and the debate it sparked off among Hindi litterateurs and nationalists.
General readers interested in the history of same-sex relations in India, modern Indian fiction, and early twentieth-century India, as well as teachers and scholars of English literature, translation studies, gender studies, Indian history, and sociology will find this volume engaging.
Pandey Bechan Sharma 'Ugra' claimed that his stones would help rid the nation of 'vice', but his critics argued otherwise, This collection of short stories and novel extracts, translated into English for the first time, highlight Ugra's unique position on homoerotic love.
About the Author:
Pandey Bechan Sharma 'Ugra' (1901-67) was a nationalist writer, jailed twice by the British. He edited and wrote for a number of newspapers, authored several novels and short story collections, and was dubbed the founder of the ghaslet (inflammatory) genre of literature. He lived in Banaras, Kolkata, Mumbai (where he wrote film scripts), and Delhi.
Ruth Vanita is Professor of Liberal Studies and Women's Studies at the University of Montana, USA, and has taught for twenty years at Delhi University. A renowned translator, her most recent book is love's rite: Same-sex Marriage in India and the West.
Excerpts from Review:
'A resplendent translation of an underground classic on a subject-homosexual desire-that still remains largely confined to the closet in India. Ruth Vanita has done an admirable service to Indian literature by giving this important work of Hindi fiction another life through her translation, and a luminous introduction that brings out the ambiguities of the text and the ambivalences of its path-breaking author. A rare book that will delight and enlighten the common as well as the scholarly reader.'
-Krishna Baldev Vaid, acclaimed Hindinovelist and short story writer
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