At the launch of his tell-all memoir at Kunzum, Indian film director Onir curated an insightful reading list for our guests. By Jis James & Sumeet K
National Award-winning filmmaker Onir, best known for My Brother… Nikhil and I Am, was at Kunzum in June to launch his memoir, I Am Onir, & I Am Gay. In riveting conversations spread across our GK2, Vasant Vihar, and Gurgaon stores over two days, he dished out his favourite books. Some of these serve as eye-openers in terms of the LGBTQ+ community, their inner lives and rights in the modern world. Onir didn’t want his autobiography to be just another Bollywood memoir rife with glamour and gossip but a tool to empower and educate marginalised communities. This reading list serves the same purpose.
The Reading List by Onir
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: Marquez’s most famous novel narrates the tale of the Buendía family through many generations, laying bare the deep desire of humans to be alone and, at the same time, feel loved. This 1967 novel is often said to have birthed magical realism and considered one of the most important works in all of literature.
- The Carpet Weaver by Nemat Sadat: Nemat Sadat’s debut novel lifts the veil off homosexuality in the politically and religiously torn Afghanistan of 1977. It depicts the journey of a carpet seller’s son embroiled in a secret, forbidden romance while fleeing persecution and war.
- Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai: In this coming-of-age novel, Sri Lankan-Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai lucidly narrates the story of Arjie, from childhood to adolescence, through six chapters that double as connected stories. It may not be autobiographical, but this first novel certainly draws on the author’s own experience of being gay in Sri Lanka and growing up during the escalating violence between the Buddhist Sinhala majority and Hindu Tamil minority in the 1970s and early 80s.
- Shikhandi: And Other Queer Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik: By retelling the stories of various characters from the epic Mahabharata in his signature style, Pattanaik makes us question the binary gender identities and roles that Indian society often imposes. ‘India’s bestselling mythologist’ gives his take on ‘queerness’ by taking a close look at the vast written and oral traditions in Hinduism, extracting tales of Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife Mahadeva, who became a woman to deliver a devotee’s child Chudala, who became a man to enlighten her husband Samavan, who became the wife of his male friend—and so on.
- The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam: Five diverse characters and their lives shed light on an Afghanistan ravaged by a multitude of forces—decades of war and fundamentalism. Aslam paints an intricate portrait of the country with interconnecting stories of an English doctor who has married an Afghan woman and converted to Islam, a former cold war spy for the US on a personal quest, a Russian woman searching for her brother, a young jihadi eager to be martyred, and an American special forces agent. In the light of the US’s withdrawal from the country, this 2008 book takes on a whole new meaning.
- My Last Breath by Luis Buñuel: If the films of Luis Buñuel, like Belle de Jour, Nazarin, Los Olvidados, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, or That Obscure Object of Desire, have enchanted you, his autobiography will offer some insight into the man himself. Never short of humour or honesty, Buñuel takes a free hand, as expected, when launching into an offensive on bourgeois values.
- Maps For Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam: The protagonists of this book—Pakistan-born immigrants—live in an unnamed British town that they have christened Dasht-e-Tanhaii, meaning the Desert of Solitude. On the surface it may look like a tragic love story, but this 2012 book is a layered depiction of nationalism, religious bigotry, and archaic cultural traditions tearing apart lives.
- Sculpting in Time by Andrey Tarkovsky: This is another Onir recommendation that reveals the film buff in him. Andrey Tarkovsky may be regarded as a master of modern Russian cinema, but he was notoriously inaccessible. Until he released this book. Here, Tarkovsky reveals his inner thoughts and memories and inspirations behind some of his seminal works, like Ivan’s Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, The Mirror, Stalker, Nostalgia, and The Sacrifice. A must-read for anyone who has loved Tarkovsky’s work!
You can buy any of these books—or the whole set of available titles—in any Kunzum bookstore. You can also place an order on WhatsApp (8800200268) from anywhere in the country.