Disruptive desire and the Indian male | Review of ‘The Remains of the Body’ by Saikat Majumdar

In setting out to capture the relationship between cishet men, Saikat Majumdar exposes their inability to convey their innermost feelings

Updated - June 28, 2024 10:57 am IST

Published - June 28, 2024 09:30 am IST

Youngsters at a beach in Goa.

Youngsters at a beach in Goa. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Having grown up queer in the 90s, I’ve looked on with envy at the ease between heterosexual men. As usual, we’ve got an ugly word — bromance — to name the texture of these male friendships. As queer, we will always be the juju in every room that viscerally reminds everyone of sexual desire and deviance. They might not be entirely wrong; having been — like lionesses in the Serengeti — stealthy and secretive, it’s hard for us to turn it off. They’re right that we are always watching but wrong that it is always sexual. But, every outward expression of ours goes through a process fraught with smoothing away the edges; a handshake, a hug, any humanity with another body is tense.

In Saikat Majumdar’s latest novel, The Remains of the Body, this is the kind of tension he sets out to capture. From the first sentence, we are swimming (and seeing) the world through the protagonist Kaustav’s inner monologue. We see the apple of his eye, Avik, floating in a pool at his home in La Jolla, a neighbourhood in San Diego. Like Kaustav, I — the reader — too was startled by Sunetra’s voice, a few lines into the first page. Quite quickly, the book reveals itself to be about the trio. Avik and Sunetra are married to each other. Avik and Kaustav are chaddi buddies. (Strangely, later, this affectionate phrase, a testament to male friendships born in childhood, is used literally, when Kaustav wonders if Sunetra cares about Avik and him having “shared underwear as teenagers”) Kaustav and Sunetra are friends because of their common enemy, or is it lover — what’s the difference, really?

In an authorial twist, Majumdar seems to side-step the obvious; and therefore, Kaustav is straight. Instead, the novel positions us to see his desire towards Avik as the kind I’ve always assumed straight men feel for each other. Within the novel, their time spent together isn’t ever enough for Kaustav. It is framed as the potential to be something more if their physical intimacy was unlocked.

Author Saikat Majumdar

Author Saikat Majumdar | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

View from the outside

Other observations make their cameos into this landscape of homo (social or sexual?) desire between Avik and Kaustav. There’s Avik and Sunetra’s “quiet dance of marriage”, Sunetra and Kaustav’s relationship, North American academia and Bengalis in America. The intention is to expose the realness of these situations but it doesn’t always land. When Majumdar does sharpen the sabre, he pricks at the truth. Like the cutting words of Kwesi, a fellow academic, who “make[s] fun of everything in his thick Ghanaian accent”, who calls “Whiteboy Marxists” a cult because “they dance around him, do voodoo, totally irrational exotic stuff. We’ve got to civilise them”.

Majumdar takes these words to heart while describing the Bengali community, who are reduced to “fixing the Indian government”, “trying to bathroom sing through the parties” and eating a lot of “curried goat”. Why not just say mangshor jholkosha mangsho, mutton rezalaposto mangshoniramish mangsho and more, which would have been vehicles to transport us, invite us, welcome us. Instead, much like other moments, we, the readers, are meant to be outside of them, just observing to report in shorthand. In the novel, these attempts to appear universal render them awkward, all angles.

Destination love

While Majumdar’s Kaustav ably observes Sunetra, he doesn’t flesh her out enough. She is someone “whose angularity could hurt and kill you with desire”, who has “elegant girlishness”, and is “a little girl playing at being big, wearing her mom’s clothes”. She’s a foil for Kaustav to imagine he would be a better partner to the “big baby” Avik. She’s the stand-in body for Kaustav and Avik to have finally had sex. But, even post-coital, Kaustav and Sunetra remain two cars using two different roads to reach the same destination of Avik. One thinking they’ve got the short end of the stick; the other knowing they actually have.

Within its pages, Majumdar’s The Remains of the Body does speak to the homo (social and sexual) nature of the Indian man and its particular patriarchy. It speaks to heterosexual relationships, where wives keep the friendships fed. Arranging their husband’s social calendar; making sure like a plant, he spends enough time in sunlight. It speaks to the inability of Indian men to find a language to express their desires that don’t always sound like a diktat. It addresses Indian men weaponising their silences. But, it doesn’t illuminate the ways for us — Indian men, both straight and queer — to find ourselves outside of these shames.

The reviewer is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer.

The Remains of the Body
Saikat Majumdar
0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


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

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.