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With a bisexual protagonist unusual in Indian fiction, Love Bi The Way by Bhaavna Arora had the potential to be so much more than it is.
June is Pride Month. In that vein, we thought why not discuss a book dealing with an LGBT+ theme?
When I read the blurb of Love Bi the Way by Bhaavna Arora, I guessed that it would be dealing with bisexuality. It did seem like an empowering and bold move by the author in a country like India where Section 377 still rules. Sadly though, like a soda can left outside the freezer for the long time, my enthusiasm also ebbed as I progressed with the book.
The book had the scope for making a difference and leaving its mark in the genre of queer fiction. However, the delivery left me wanting for more. Having a bisexual protagonist seemed like a good example of representation in Indian fiction, but by making the story what it is, and using a lot of sleaze in what seemed like purely for titillation purposes, the author has pandered to stereotypes of bisexual people – the view that even other LGBT+ people have about them (leave alone heterosexuals) that they are as a rule promiscuous and just out to have a good time.
This has been a lost opportunity to portray bisexuality in India in a dignified manner and it sets an uneasy precedent of such representation in Indian fiction.
The plot revolves around Rihana and Zara who are housemates in a palatial house in Delhi that Zara’s parents have left for her. Rihana is the most promising artist in India whose art work sells for millions of rupees, while Zara clinches every deal in her business which soon becomes a multimillion dollar enterprise quite effortlessly! Unrealistic right at outset!
Zara has been chronically depressed over a broken marriage and Rihana has suffered a horrific past which has left her suspicious of men and their intentions. After both their bitter experiences with men, they realize that love was closer to home than they’d thought.
Throughout the book the author keeps emphasizing that Rihana and Zara’s pet dog, Tiger, doesn’t eat if he is not fed by Rihana. However, they casually go for a few days trip to Jodhpur without making any arrangements for him! Being a pet parent myself, I kept screaming internally, “But what about the dog?”
Zara is portrayed as someone with a serious mental condition. However, she gets healthy almost overnight after a drunk chat with her friend, Rihana! So much so, that a person who is shown as a divorcee and a virgin, and as someone who didn’t want a divorce because she wanted to avoid society’s tags attached to a divorcee, goes to Jodhpur and loses her virginity to the Prince of Jodhpur and then moves on with life as if nothing happened when he dumps her! Mental health problems are serious issues and to treat them with such flippancy doesn’t seem agreeable to me. Also, anyone who has undergone a trauma knows that it takes time to come out of it and this overnight recovery as well as a 180-degree change in the mindset about ‘log kya kahenge’ is a bit of a stretch.
Though Rihana was being portrayed as an empowered and liberal woman of today, for most parts of the books, she comes across as obnoxious and self-centred. Women empowerment doesn’t give you the license to be a selfish, privileged, and a self-entitled jerk. For example, when you board a flight, you’re expected to maintain a decorum. While Rihana and Zara are traveling in business class, Rihana starts laughing loudly while watching a movie. When a minister (who happens to be a co-passenger) asks her to be quieter, she acts snarky.
Then, she just thinks of flirting with the steward and starts making out with him to which the latter (without any consideration for his career in the industry) also apparently agrees.
She wants to have sex with every random man she comes across and according to her, that’s ALL that every man wants.
Her thoughts on women are not too kind, either: She doesn’t mind thinking of Demi Moore as merely being an insecure old hag (without any consideration for Demi’s own accomplishments) just because Ashton Kutcher, her ex-husband, was younger to her! “Owning a car like Dhanno (a Porsche Boxster) feels probably like what Demi Moore must have felt with Aston Kutcher – she was proud to have him and ride him, but very insecure to leave him alone. Dhanno is my Ashton Kutcher.”
Also, when Zara asks whether a man’s relationship status doesn’t matter to Rihana for her to be intimate with him, she replies, “It doesn’t, Zara. Having sex is as natural to me as eating or pissing. How does it matter if he is married or not. I don’t know why people take it as seriously as the HIV virus. If a man has decided to have sex, he will have it anyway, with anyone he can. Men aren’t as choosy as women!”
Dear Rihana, people take it seriously because most of us have a conscience and we do not want to cause mental agony to another unsuspecting human being (who is being cheated) while having a good time ourselves.
The men in the novel are like cardboard cut outs of each other without any viewpoints (except on sex) or character complexities. They have been placed all over the novel just to make it progress. All men, irrespective of whether they are the CEO of a five-star hotel, a random guy at the vet’s clinic, a cabin crew, or a married doctor, think of only screwing Rihana, the moment they meet her. Except the Prince of Jodhpur that is, who thinks of screwing Zara!
Leave alone doing justice to LGBT+ literature, even if this book was a beautifully written erotica, I might have still appreciated it as just that. (On a side note, author Rosalyn D’Mello gives a beautiful explanation about the differences between erotica and smut, which I guess is a good guide for authors trying out this genre).
In conclusion, I feel that this book could have been a more interesting read had there been more focus on the character and plot development aspects and less on description of sexual escapades. Also, the intangible aspects of the relationship between Zara and Rihana could be explored in a greater detail. However, this is just my view and if you enjoy books that focus more on sexual encounters, then you are more likely to enjoy Love Bi the Way.
Disclaimer: This is just the reviewer’s own opinion and might differ from others.
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Image source: By Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team from Germany (IMG_26671) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, for representational purposes only.
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