FOR YEARS, SIX SHORT STORIES, written in Kannada, about a man and his travails in rural Karnataka and Bengaluru, sat in the writer Vasudhendra Shroff’s work folder on his computer. From time to time, he would reread them and edit the prose for clarity, but Vasudhendra, a successful Bengaluru-based writer of short stories, essays and novels, who goes only by his first name, did not dare to send them out for publication. He had little doubt that the stories in his folder would be accepted for publication by a Kannada newspaper or magazine. He had, nevertheless, a lingering sense of foreboding. The stories were semi-autobiographical, derived from his experience as a closeted gay man. Though the process of writing the stories had felt cathartic, they were also intensely personal. Publishing them would effectively mean disclosing his sexuality to the world.
Even in his early forties, Vasudhendra had a fear of homophobia that was deeply internalised. Growing up in Sandur, a small town in Bellary district, jokes about gay men had been common among his school friends. He continued to encounter them when he went to engineering college and then began work as a software engineer in Bengaluru. He went on to become an author of some standing in contemporary Kannada literature. Writing about a gay man’s private life could pose a threat to that status. He feared that his readers would abandon him, and that the experiment would scar his literary career forever.
“I didn’t have the nerve to put them out for publication,” he told me when we met in early March in his home in an upscale apartment block in south Bengaluru. Spring had brought the petunias out in bright blooms of violet and pink. They lined the apartment’s cobblestone walkway. From where we sat, out on his balcony, we could see a weekend tae-kwon-do session in progress on a nearby tennis court. “Usually when I submit a story to a publication,” Vasudhendra added, “it goes to print practically the next day or the next week.”
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