R. Raj Rao
|R. Raj Rao|
|Occupation||Writer, Professor of Literature|
|Notable work(s)||The Boyfriend|
R. Raj Rao (born 1955) is a writer and teacher of literature and "one of India’s leading gay-rights activists." His 2003 novel The Boyfriend is one of the first gay novels to come from India. Rao was one of the first recipients of the newly established Quebec-India awards.
R. Raj Rao was born in Bombay, India. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Bombay in 1986 and received the Nehru Centenary British Fellowship for his post-doctoral research at the Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, U.K. He attended the International Writing Program, Iowa, in 1996. His works include Slide Show (poems). He has edited Ten Indian Writers in Interview and co-edited Image of India in the Indian Novel in English (1960–1980). He works as a professor and head of the English Department at the University of Pune. Rao is openly gay. On the recurring themes of homosexuality in his works, Rao says: "I am myself a poet, novelist, playwright and writer of non-fiction. Similarly, my teaching and research interests in queer theory and queer literature are a direct and natural outcome of my being gay and imaginatively tackling the subject in my fiction, poetry and plays."
Rao in the queer scene
Poems from Rao's BOMGaY collection served as the basis for Riyad Vinci Wadia's film Bomgay (1996), said to be India's first gay film. The Boyfriend was his first novel. It was released with fanfare by Penguin India all over the country in 2003. Filled with irreverent, dry humor and devoid of sentimentality, The Boyfriend is a tragi-comic love story set in the jumbled up heart of Mumbai. It also deals with unsparing irony the realities of caste, class, religion, masculinity and the gay subculture in India. It created quite a stir when it first appeared and was discussed in many prominent magazines as a guide to the then underground gay subculture in Bombay. It went on to be used as a model for the queer scene in India in researches in the field of queer studies.
Rao published the non-fiction work Whistling in the Dark in 2009 and the novel Hostel Room 131 in 2010. His next book, provisionally titled Lady Lolita's Lover is also a novel.
Following the success of The Boyfriend, Rao founded the Queer Studies Circle at Pune University. Rao was one the first to offer a course on LGBT literature at the university level in India. Rao first offered it in 2007, after years of resistance on the part of his academic superiors. He said: "It's strange how the academic fraternity that has always been quick to accept all kinds of literature — Marxist, feminist, Dalit — had a huge reservation when it came to queer literature. For years, the Board of Studies refused to let us start the course saying that 'Indian students do not need it'. Finally we clubbed it with Dalit literature and started it under the genre of Alternative Literature."
- Sildeshow (Peepal Tree Press, 1992), poems
- Image of India in the Indian Novel in English (1960–1985) (South Asia Books, 1993), co-editor with Sudhakar Pandey
- Nissim Ezekiel: The Authorized Biography (Viking, 2000)
- One Day I Locked My Flat in Soul City (Harper Collins India, 2001), short stories
- The Wisest Fool on Earth and Other Plays
- The Boyfriend (Penguin, 2003), novel
- Whistling in the Dark: Twenty-One Queer Interviews (Sage, 2009), co-editor with Dibyajyoti Sarma
- Hostel Room 131 (2010), novel
- Ten Indian Authors in Interview, editor
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "Speaker Profiles," April 2004, accessed May 15, 2011
- Arora, Kim (7 February 2011). "Authors get bold as gay literature picks up in India". The Times of India. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- Pink Pages: The Boyfriend, accessed May 15, 2011
- Concordia University: "Quebec-India Visiting Scholar Awards Program Welcomes Two Professors," January 29, 2008, accessed May 15, 2011
- Concordia Journal: Karen Herland, "International Interdisciplinary," February 14, 2008, accessed May 15, 2011
- "Raj Rao to read his plays today," April 1, 2011, accessed May 15, 2011
- Kavi, Ashok Row (26 September 2010), "Too queer to be true", Hindustan Times, retrieved 9 January 2011
- Internet Movie Database: Bomgay (1996), accessed May 15, 2011
- Hindu Literary Review: "First Impression," September 7, 2003, accessed May 15, 2011
- BBC: Zubair Ahmed , "Gay Bombay comes out," June 19, 2003, accessed May 15, 2011
- Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies: Terry Goldie, "R. Raj Rao's The Boyfriend: A Model of the Indian Homosexual?," September 10, 2006, accessed May 15, 2011
- Iowa Research Online: Sucheta Mallick Choudhuri, "Transgressive territories: queer space in Indian fiction and film," 2009, accessed May 15, 2011
- York University: "Sexuality and Literature: Sexology vs. Fiction", accessed May 15, 2011
- Times of India: "Gay rights groups hail bid to amend law," July 27, 2002, accessed May 15, 2011
- The Punekar: "Marathi teacher takes charge of English department at Pune University," October 15, 2010, accessed May 15, 2011
- The Punekar: "Gay-lesbian course at UoP sets an example for other universities," July 16, 2009, accessed May 15, 2011