Lean Days by Manish Gaekwad – Review

Book:  Lean Days

Author: Manish Gaekwad

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 200;

Price: Rs 399

If  #LetLoveBe is the theme of the year, thanks to scrapping down of Section 377 last year, then journalist Manish Gaekwad’s literary debut Lean Days takes the cake for being so true to it, both in letter and spirit. The book dedicated to his mother, Dulari, that is Rekha, sometimes also called Rehana, is a befitting ode to his childhood spent in a brothel, and a brave attempt at celebrating his coming out of the closet, and takes a reader through an enjoyable, enriching and enlightening trip across the country in search of inspiration, and love.

The book is peppered with heartfelt and honest accounts and charming anecdotes from his many encounters with 15 cities and its people, and is more about the journeys, the joy of just flowing with time, and enjoying the moment, but still far from arriving at the destination. His way with words happily meanders through lanes of in-depth research to unearth the art, architecture and history of the place, at the same time, jostling hard to talk about what he is so badly struggling to say, and it is precisely through this kind of shuffle that he tells stories, his and of the others, using imagination with wit and wisdom to regale readers.

The first city on Gaekwad’s travel itinerary is Madras, where he as a tall, fair-skinned, and light eyed man without a beer belly, goes hunting for a muse at the Anna Library, the museum, moves on to Kottivakkam Beach, and from there to Besant Nagar Beach to meet Mahesh Babu-lookalike Vasanth, who treats him like a lady and avoids his advances because he is married and ‘straight’. Vasanth is an unlikely candidate for the author who is looking for ‘inspiration to write, muses to swoon over, lovers to romance with, an everything in between the sheets’, and at the end of Madras Days, has him seeking divine intervention to excuse married men for him. He moves on Bangalore next, and from there the hunt for love makes him pine and whine, follow leads – some futile, some fruitful – to explore the idea of gay love at its candid best in Hyderabad, Delhi, Ajmer, Srinagar, Ladakh, Chandigarh, Manali, Lucknow, Kathmandu, Lumbini, Banaras, Calcutta, and finally Bombay, where he feels “alive, uncertain, unprepared for what it will throw next” at him.

What makes the book sharply pertinent to the politics of gender and sexual identity is the author’s bold assertion of his own identity; the strong statement runs through the pages and makes one wonder from where does he draw his strength to be what he is with so much aplomb. The rich mix of engrossing narratives from his visits, and meeting other men leave nothing to the imagination, and the book is at best as queer and real that it can be. For a writer who could have never written this piece had I not finished reading, must say that Lean Days is an important cog in the wheel of progress of LGBTQ writing, from the days when cities were called Madras, Bangalore, Calcutta, Banaras, Bombay to the current age when they are popular as Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Varanasi and Mumbai, and everything in between.

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