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The first public debate on homosexuality in modern India occurred in the 1920s, in the thick of the movement for national independence. It was sparked off by a collection of Hindi short stories entitled Chocolate
(1927), by Hindi nationalist writer Pandey Bechan Sharma, better known by his pen-name Ugra (extreme). The stories created such an uproar that almost every major public figure, from Premchand to Gandhi, joined in the debate. This first-ever English translation of Ugras work raises issues as salient today as eight decades ago: the interpretation of text, the role of fiction in relation to society, and the morality of same-sex erotic relationships. Ugras writings provide a window on nationalist constructions of Indian identity, especially in relation to ideas of Indias past; of gender, masculinity, and sexuality; and of Hindu-Muslim and Indian-foreign relations. Many of the prejudices and ideas bandied about in the 1920s still hold centre stage, and resurface in debates about sexuality, obscenity, censorship, and the civil rights of gay people. In her introduction, Ruth Vanita, who has extensively studied the pre-modern and modern history of same-sex relationships in India, discusses the books ambivalent portrayal of homosexuality and the debate it sparked off among Hindi littrateurs and nationalists.
General readers interested in the history of same-sex relations in India, modern Indian fiction, and early twentieth-century India, as well as teachers and scholars of English literature, translation studies, gender studies, Indian history, and sociology will find this volume engaging.
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