In India, where families often describe themselves as “traditional yet modern”, sex talk is largely frowned upon. Multiple studies show that teenagers are sexually active, but this is ignored in conversations and in public health. In the 2000s, with mobile phones becoming prevalent, reports of “teenage sex videos being leaked” were often tucked away in the heart of newspapers. Aravind Jayan’s excellent new book, Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors, focuses on one such episode.
An upwardly mobile middle-class family is ashamed and shocked that their older son, Sreenath, and his girlfriend Anita feature in a video that has been uploaded on a pornographic site. The video is brought to their attention by a nosy neighbour. Sreenath and Anita seem outwardly unbothered by their sudden infamy in a way only teenagers can be, but are actually deeply affected.
Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors
For their parents, India’s favourite preoccupation, ‘what will people say?’, haunts day and night. After all, “sex was one thing; a sex scandal was another thing altogether”. This question, carrying with it notions of family honour and respect, determines the course of the book.
This is a classic family drama set in the digital age. Since the story is told from the perspective of Sreenath’s little brother, who belongs to Gen Z, the tone is acerbic. He is desperate to somehow bring about peace between his brother and his parents, both of whom are equally stubborn. Jayan flits between the “thin air at home” and the “banter” and “joviality” at Sreenath’s new home, capturing the generational gaps in emotions and worldviews.
What works wonderfully is the humour. When Sreenath calls Appa a homophobe, Jayan writes: “Appa thought this was some kind of a musical instrument, though he took it as an insult just the same.” When Anita’s mother, with an outlandish solution to the problem, stands at the doorway of Sreenath’s house and refuses to go away, his mother has no choice but to finally let her in after making a lame excuse. The entire episode had me in splits. It is possibly because of this easy humour that I could ignore the fact that the mothers slowly became caricatures of themselves.
Jayan writes a clever, bittersweet book with wit and perceptiveness. He is a writer to watch out for.