Satire Books

‘Madam, Give Me My Sex’ by R. Raj Rao: Sex and other bombshells

The title of the book comes from a rather funny mondegreen — misheard (and in this case, mispronounced and misunderstood too) lyrics of a song — that created a ruckus in a certain fictitional university in sleepy Pune. This is an early indication of the flippant manner in which Raj Rao treats all that we consider sacred in today’s world of extreme political correctness and strictures we daren’t question. Rao, professor in the department of English at the Savitribai Phule University of Pune and a prominent gay activist, is also the author of The Boyfriend, India’s first gay novel.

Using the microcosm of the rambunctious life in this fictitious university, Rao takes potshots at not only the higher education system but also at the corruption that besets the legal machinery that seeks to protect the rights of minorities, be they of gender or caste categories. Rao’s levity notwithstanding — at times he seems to take childlike delight in hitting where it hurts the most — he tellingly identifies the maladies that afflict our democracy.

Not for prigs

One suspects that Rao modelled this university on the institution where he teaches, and that one of the central characters of this novel is based on himself. At times you may feel that you have walked into the world of Mario Miranda,

‘Madam, Give Me My Sex’ by R. Raj Rao: Sex and other bombshells

but Rao is also laughing at himself all the time. Sample this florid description of Mrs. Veronica D’Costa: “Her endowments included a round chubby face, large eyes and papaya-sized breasts.” Such a bombshell was created to become the target of the male gaze, and she makes good use of her assets without actually compromising her virtue ever.

But then walks in the campy Dr. Viraf Darashaw Marshaw, whose “hips swayed from side to side as he walked so that while one buttock was up, the other was down.” A snatch of conversation will give readers a taste of Rao’s brand of humour: “‘You must be Dr. V.D. Marzban?’ ‘No, I am Dr. A.I.D.S.”’ So don’t go looking for profundities in this fast-paced read; you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Quite in keeping with the stereotypes of the apparently insatiable sexual appetites of homosexuals, Dr. Marzban, who is foreign-educated like the novelist himself, promptly seduces a student, and the scatological details of buggery that ensue are not meant for prigs.

377 in a dusty town

In no time, Dr. Marzban establishes himself as a distinguished teacher of LGBTQI studies, a course he had himself created, but thanks to the machinations of a feminist firebrand, he is removed and replaced by teachers whose incompetence is beyond question. The complaints of the aggrieved students fall on the deaf ears of the feminist. They begin a hunger strike.

The local press gets wind of it and soon the issue snowballs into a controversy. The vice-chancellor puts his foot down. The feminist is put in her place and Dr. Marzban is reinstated. But that is not the first or thr last of the controversies that the institution is mired in, rocked as it is by identity politics from time to time.

In between, Rao pokes fun at the entire edifice of Indo-Anglian literature and “a world-famous literary and cultural theorist who teaches at New York University” but is originally from Bengal. Rao changes her name but it is clear who he is targeting, and although some may find this indulgence in jibes cheap, the charge of deliberate academic obfuscation is very real, and the issue is already in the public domain.

When Rao is writing a novel, how can it be free of any reference to Section 377? There is an entire chapter on Dr. Marzban being tried for his predilections, and the legal battle that ensues between a sophisticated city legal eagle, who takes up cudgels on his behalf, and the opposing “gutkha-chewing lawyer”. The arguments proffered in defence of Dr. Marzban are predictably facetious, but the charges against him are too flimsy to hold water, and he is triumphant at the end.

Rao is certainly no stylist in the accepted sense of the term, and his wordplay can get exasperating at times, but he competently describes life in a “dusty, nondescript town”. If he set out wanting to outrage the sensibilities of a hetero-normative world, he achieves that purpose successfully enough.

The writer focuses on Kolkata’s vanishing heritage and culture.

Madam, Give Me My Sex; R. Raj Rao, Bloomsbury, ₹499


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 7:21:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/madam-give-me-my-sex-by-r-raj-rao-sex-and-other-bombshells/article29467037.ece

Next Story