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Published on January 2nd, 2015

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Review: Talking Of Muskaan

The young adult book is a wonderfully-told story of dealing with homosexuality and trying to break free of its shackles.
by Vrushali Lad | editor@themetrognome.in

I recently read Talking Of Muskaan, and I really liked it. It is a story about the terrible teens and dealing with homosexuality at an age where people are just becoming aware of several important things about themselves and the world.

The book is written in three narratives – a close friend, a relatively new friend and an acquaintance – that give three perspectives on the central character, Muskaan, a seemingly strange person who has recently started acting very ‘weird’ around even her close friends. The girl has become very withdrawn as each day passes, finally attempting to end her own life. At the heart of the matter is her supposed homosexuality, which only one person knows anything about. As her class, and more importantly, her circle of friends, begin to come to terms with her suicide bid, several truths tumble out from the not-so-perfect lives of those around Muskaan, friends who could have possibly prevented the tragedy by acting on time.

The Metrognome spoke to the book’s author, Himanjali Sankar, on her book’s bold theme, its central character and the creative process that went into the telling of the story.

Excerpts:

What inspired Talking of Muskaan

Himanjali 1I had been mulling over some ideas for many months when in December last year the earlier judgement by the High Court declaring Section 377 unconstitutional was overturned by the Supreme Court – that bothered me and also made me realise what I needed to do with the ideas I had. The book I was going to write was going to use homosexuality to give a twist to the plot but I suddenly felt after 377 that I didn’t want to use it just as a plot enabler but instead wanted to make it central to the plot.

Does Muskaan exist in real life?

I am very sure she does! Maybe not exactly as I have imagined her but there will be teen lives that reflect hers.

What kind of research went into the writing of this book?

No formal research as such. I spoke to the principal of a school to understand the RTE quota and its implementation in schools – and also to understand the softer aspects of how families and children were reacting to it. Other than that, my research entailed listening in on my daughter and her friends’ conversations and trying to figure how the teen mind worked!

Why did you leave out Muskaan from the actual storytelling process? She appears only in the others’ anecdotes.

Muskaan was there in the earlier drafts as one of the narrators but it wasn’t working – it was getting too crowded with four voices and slowing the story down. Then one of my editors suggested we do away with Muskaan altogether, which at first seemed sacrilegious, but as I tried out the idea it seemed the perfect solution. And then it made sense to call the book Talking of Muskaan.

Have any parents of teenagers read the book? What has their feedback been?

A handful of parents of teenagers have read the book and approved of it. Thankfully! I think sensitising teenagers to different ways of being can’t be a bad idea, and that is how they felt too.

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An excerpt from Talking Of Muskaan:

‘For the next ten minutes we took turns to throw and catch the ball. We did not speak but, oddly enough, it felt nice. I do not have anything against her, personally. I am only concerned about my own academic performance. I think the reason I disliked her was not just because she is the only student who is serious competition for me, academically, but also because she seems to do it without really caring. It’s so important for me and for her, it is nothing.

As we sat there, I felt like saying something to her. ‘Any particular problem?’ I asked.

As soon as I said that, I felt what a stupid question it was, and I did not expect her to reply.

‘It’s just…my friends. They get after me for stupidest reasons,’ Muskaan said. ‘You know Prateek – he wants to go out with me, it seems. And my friends are getting after me to say yes…and something happened a month back…I didn’t give it any importance, I thought it would sort itself out but it hasn’t and Aaliya is still not speaking to me.’

‘Prateek?’ I smiled. He was one of the stupidest boys in the class. ‘Why would your friends want you to go out with him?’

‘They think he’s cool and good-looking and all that.’

‘Really?’ As far as I know, Prateek is very wealthy and I suppose that is what made him cool in their eyes. It made me angry. Not at Muskaan, but at her friends.

‘And what are you running away from?’ Muskaan asked me. She asked as if she really wanted to know, which was nice.

‘Well, I don’t know. It’s just that…I feel like a misfit sometimes…My family is very different. Not, you know, well-to-do, like most of the kids in school.’ I shrugged. ‘It’s just, that it makes me feel…like an…outsider.’

I had never told anyone this before. I had never let anyone know how I felt. I did not know why I was telling Muskaan. Maybe because she seemed really interested. Also just sitting there with her, in my favourite place, it was somehow easy to talk.”

(Featured image courtesy gaysifamily.com)

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