I’ve said this before on a previous review for Gaylaxy. There is not enough queer fiction. We could have a thousand fictional stories, plays and novels written within the next week and it would not be enough. So, I saw Vikram Kolmannskog’s offer of review copies online and jumped. Kolmannskog is a therapist, lawyer and writer based in Oslo. On his publishing site, www.mohini.no, he self-identifies as Indian-Norwegian, gay and spiritual. He previously published Taste and See: A Queer Prayer and has a story in the free collection Fearless Love, which you can download here. I haven’t read those, but because of Lord of the Senses, I will.
I knew I was hooked when I read, and then re-read, the beautiful spiritual love letter from the narrator-author to Meera, the opening short in the short, compact collection. The narrator – Kolmannskog – reaches out to Meera with yearning. Love is crazy, you realise. Spiritual love is crazy. It is the only way love can be loved.
The entire collections flits between fiction and non-fiction – that is, I assume some of the stories are auto-biographical. Short essays about Ashoka, ugly violent and peaceful, bump shoulders with delightfully tense sessions at the gym, surrounded by beautiful men who might be willing to have sex. A hook-up on Grindr can be flat and tawdry, or enervated, enriching. Bombay is home and Delhi is horrible (but it’s not!). We are all very, very lonely. We all need love. Somehow, some way. Someone please love us.
The collection is spiritual, and takes Buddhist and Bhakti legendary names as spiritual guides, and is also self-consciously anti-caste, anti-fascist, anti-oppressive. I feel that this needs to be pointed out as an oxymoron in today’s times, but Kolmannskog was raised in Norway, so perhaps the usual stereotypes don’t apply.
“Growing Up Queer” shows us Kolmannskog, or Kolmannskog’s alter-ego, growing up queer against the fundamentals of being brown in a very, very white country. His parents’ relationship, joyous early on, deteriorates under the pressures of having to perform the perfect inter-racial family, impervious to racism and bigotry.
Throughout the collection, mothers, aunts, grandmothers figure large, carrying the best and worst of cultural judgement and love with them. “Nanima and Roger Toilet” is a sweet, compact story about the ways in which oppressions operate that can connect us. How we can connect across language barriers to communicate completely different lives. A life lived fighting is a life well lived, but it is tiring.
“Sweetie” is a ships-passing-in-the-night story, setting up the collections multiple repeated theme: you can love someone for a short while, even when you find them on Grindr. “Tower of Silence” is a relentlessly navel-gazing, honest walk through a simple day, ending with a very satisfying act of charity.
“Ravan Leela” was the least successful story in the collection for me because it exists more in the theory and the morals than the emotion – the machinery shows. But it is followed by the fantastic “Murder of Crows” which does much of the same work, talking about caste, cleanliness, the ways in which people can subvert and disrupt it. “Murder Of Crows” is subtle. You meet your eyes with the story, and you understand. “Shredded Dates” is bitter, terribly bitter. And I suspect this is the most universal LGBTIAQ+ theme there is. We are all lonely. Someone broke our heart, once. It also has a stinging little slap of an end, in contrast with the earnestness of the rest of the collection.
“Raja” shows us that some bridges can’t be crossed without language – or perhaps that even the language of love has multiple tongues, and we cannot speak them all. Like the story that follows it, “Surya”, it is dreadfully earnest. Both of these stories tell us that some things – class, culture, can’t be transcended.
“Gold’s Gym, Bandra West” carries out its many seductions almost completely without words, entirely in public. Two eyes meet across the room. Over and over again, the collection shows us the male gaze from a different perspective. What is the male gaze when it is returned? When it yields?
In “Sunset Point” and “Cocktail D’Amour”, speech takes on uncomfortable truths. We can’t handle the truth, or goodbyes. In “A Safe Harbour”, a rebound tenderly patches a man back together.
“J” reminds us of our missing forebears, the queer people who hid in plain sight because they could be alive. It makes me ache. “Sacred Heart” brings us out, open. We do not speak but simply pray, and love. It is a quiet, beautiful story.
“When He Cut My Hair” is a bittersweet closing to this book, looking to a future where maybe we are older. We are alone. We are single, and untouched. Touch, our shared breath – these are the most powerful connections we have. Humans aren’t, generally, built to be alone. Sex, romantic love, family – we need something.
Communication and its lacks are one of the drivers of this collection. Grindr tells you something. Your eyes, meeting his across the room, tell you another. Sometimes, you have sex to be polite. Sometimes you have sex because you can. Sometimes, you have sex because you want to. But sex is not intimacy. Words are not intimacy. Story after story, Kolmannskog reminds us that intimacy transcends deliberate wording. It lies in the body, in touch, and the simple contact of a thigh, of your hands, in some ephemeral thing of the spirit.
Something in me resists this. Surely words can say everything, if we work at it, if we try hard enough and take a few classes. This book communicates through words. Why can’t we, why can’t gay men?
You absolutely must read “Fucking Delhi”, because really, you will love Delhi. Read it for the pun alone.
I love when short stories are tight and compact. In theory you can read through this collection one story at a time, but I devoured it like it was a small hard candy. A sweet, like the Kolmannskog’s lovers like to call each other. A whole bowl of sweets you should share. Kolmannskog’s protagonists are clear-eyed and thoughtful. They see a world and make their space in it as best they can. Sometimes it works out, and we are all afraid that it won’t. They perform in these small moments their selves, with hints of the facets that might operate at other times. They are gay, horny, lonely, praying, at peace. May we all live such full lives, finding beauty where we can.
- Book Review: ‘Lord of the Senses’ is a Tender, Honest and Earnest Collection Bound to Hold Your Heart Still - September 19, 2019
- Book Review: ‘The Broken Amoretti’ is an Utter Failure As a Queer Novel - September 10, 2019
- Book Review: The Scent of God - March 8, 2019