Part of that arises from the circumstances under which I grew up. The schisms between Hindus and Muslims really affected our lives.
My parents were living in Pakistan when the country was divided along religious lines between Pakistan and India. My parents had just gotten married. They had to flee, and they lost everything. They actually left unopened wedding presents laying on the table.
I was born in 1959, and when I was growing up, we lived in a one-room flat in Mumbai. The other three rooms were occupied by Muslims. We were the only Hindu family in the building, which is the exact reverse of their respective proportions in the Indian population. Relations were definitely strained at times. Once, I heard the neighbors refer to us "kafirs" or nonbelievers. But the neighbors who were also our landlords had a son who was the same age as I, and we were very good friends.
"The City of Devi" also is the first novel in which you're writing about a same-sex love relationship. [The book is dedicated to the author's longtime partner, Larry Cole.] As a gay man, was that significant for you?
Bringing this subject into the open was significant for me, not only as a gay man but also as an Indian. I left India when I was 20. Though I pretty much knew then that I was gay, it was more of an abstract theoretical suspicion than anything based on experience. Homosexuality was completely invisible, and this was in the 1960s and 1970s. The whole 20 years I was in India, I saw just one article about homosexuality.
The decision I had to make was how honest to be about Jaz. I decided, "OK. One has to push the envelope." He's really out there. He has a very strong sexuality, and I decided to write about it.
I just got back from my book tour of India. The question came up: "Would I be reading out loud any of the gay scenes?" I decided that I would make it a point to read from them. People were like, "Oh my god, Calcutta is so conservative, what's going to happen?" The city seems to have survived, thankfully. And during the time I was in Mumbai, "Time Out Mumbai" had a whole issue devoted to gay life in the city.
India is a very funny country in that way. People aren't necessarily outspoken, but they're perfectly willing to embrace things in quiet. They just take it in their stride, say, "OK, fine,' and get on with their lives.
If you go
Manil Suri will read from his book, "The City of Devi" at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery, 1000 Hilltop Road, Catonsville. He will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road. Both readings are free. Visit artscalendar.umbc.edu or theivybookshop.com.
About the book
"The City of Devi" by Manil Suri will be published Monday by W.W. Norton & Company. 384 pages, $26.95.