A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: Mago, Homosexuality!

To give readers nuances of Bengali life, Vikram Seth uses some clichés, like a mother awed by Tagore and the household poetry of the Chatterjees. This doesn’t come off as too tiresome, since Tagore was(and still is) a tremendous influence in Bengal and art and literature have a significant place in the lives of most cultured and educated Bengali families like the Chatterjees. One thing that strikes a discordant note however is the use of the idiom “Mago”. Not only it appears stilted and unnecessary in its excessiveness, it is also rendered incorrectly. These are two separate words: “Ma”, meaning mother and “go”, which is a term of endearment. “Go” is also used in other ways, like “O’ go” – in which a husband calls a wife (or the other way round), and in exclamation, such as “Ma go, what a mess!”

Some have argued that Maan and Feroze are gay partners. Maybe. But just because they share a bed on one occasion simply doesn’t imply it. What’s of far greater consequence is their magnanimous friendship. Maan saves Feroze’s life from a raging mob. Later he stabs Feroze, almost killing him. Yet Feroze forgives him, knowing the true Maan behind the delusional madness of the moment that had spurred the knifing. It simply blows any kind of sexual overtones to dust. In context, it should be noted that physical closeness, like holding of hands and laying a hand on another’s shoulder is common among close friends in India, or at least used to be during book’s times. It cannot in anyway be misconstrued for sexual intent.

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4 thoughts on “A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: Mago, Homosexuality!

  1. It’s not only implied that Maan and Feroz had a physical relationship at some point, it’s actually explictly stated. See page 1094:

    “There was something in Firoz’s voice that reminded Maan of their younger days.
    ‘Firoz!’ laughed Maan, turning towards him. ‘All that is over. We were just kids. Don’t tell me you’re jealous.’
    ‘Well, as you once said, I never tell you anything.’
    ‘Oh? said Maan, rolling over on his side towards his friend, and taking him in his arms.”

    They’ve just been talking about the Rajkumar of Marh so it’s clear that this conversation is taking place in a homoerotic context.
    I believe both Firoz and Maan are bisexual. Maan is passionately in love with Saeeda Bai and Firoz is infatuated with Tasneem. At the same time, they are clearly attracted to each other and at some point they were lovers. My reading of section 14.20 is that they are lovers even after this conversation ends. I’m glad that the new TV series has not heterosexualized them as their depiction in episode 1 shows.


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