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Love, Sex aur Internet Dhoka

Amit Gopalakrishnan’s new tale of Internet romance tells us much about the porousness of modern identity. An important addition to the genre, writes Aishwarya Subramanian.

AISHWARYA SUBRAMANIAN  1st Apr 2012

Illustration by Dev Kabir Malik Design

ne of the difficulties with (and therefore one of the most interesting things about) reading first person narratives is working out just how much the text itself endorses the opinions voiced by the characters. India has in recent years seen an explosion of such novels. These are romances or coming-of-age stories told in the first person by young male characters who are frequently college students. To the lay reader it can be difficult to be sure of the relationship between the protagonist and the text – is the raging misogyny and homophobia ubiquitous in this genre endorsed by its authors, or is their presence merely part of a successful attempt to create authentic-sounding characters? Is the characters' seeming lack of awareness regarding their own horrific behaviour something at which the text is attempting to poke fun, or is the reader expected to take it seriously? The distinction between author and character is further elided by the fact that in many of these books the two share the same name. The narrator of Pankaj Pandey's The Saga of Love Via Telephone ...tring tring... is named Pankaj, for example. And though the protagonist of Arpit Dugar's Nothing For You My Dear Still I Love You....! is named Avinash, at one point a character addresses him as "Arpit".

At a first glance, Amit Gopalakrishnan's She Was My Dream Girl.....But She was a Guy!! appears no different from other books in the genre. Gopalakrishnan's hero is also named "Amit"; he belongs to an engineering college and is unsuccessful with women; he falls in love. In the early chapters of the book he shows contempt for those around him, believing that his lack of social success is a result of the shallow people around him, rather than of his own failings. His retreat into the Internet is a direct consequence of this. Here, he believes, he is finally able to vent his frustrations and truly express himself. It's clear that Gopalakrishnan has done his homework – Amit's Internet postings, on various messageboards and then on Twitter, will feel utterly authentic to anyone who has ever ventured to read the comments on a major news site. The format of the book is innovative as well, with Amit's Internet activity depicted graphically so as to look like a snapshot taken of the website.

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Is the raging misogyny and homophobia ubiquitous in this genre endorsed by its authors, or is their presence merely part of a successful attempt to create authentic-sounding characters?

But it is with Amit's forays into Internet romance that the reader gradually becomes aware that Gopalakrishnan is trying something genuinely new. I mentioned above the apparent lack of awareness that many characters in the genre have with regard to their own actions and how they might appear to others. This is particularly true of their behaviour towards the women around them. Internet romances have been depicted in earlier books. In some, it is a comic subplot in which the objects of the romance turn out to be other than expected – unattractive, of the wrong age, or the wrong gender. In others, such as the above-mentioned Saga of Love Via Telephone ...tring tring..., it is entirely successful – in that book the main character merely keeps messaging the woman in question until she is forced to notice. Gopalakrishnan's Amit, on the other hand, actually thinks about the ways in which he may be perceived online, and eventually rethinks a number of his attitudes. He begins to have feelings for Roshni, another commentor on a major website, but worries that she will find his pursuit 'creepy'. Instead he creates a 'female' identity for himself, Aditi, and uses this to befriend her.

A bit of explanation

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Of course, the twist in the tale has already been given away by the title of the book. It's hard to decide whether this is a good choice or an unfortunate one – if we're deprived of the moment of revelation, we're also in a better position to appreciate the subtlety of the conversations that lead up to it. "Roshni" is really "Roshan". To have one character enact such a charade would merely reiterate the tired old cliché about people on the Internet not being what they seem; to have both do so allows for levels of gender play that Shakespeare could scarcely have bettered between "Roshni" and Amit, "Roshni" and "Aditi" and eventually Roshan and Amit. As a metaphor there's something lovely about this serialised stripping away of fake identities, and the romance between the two boys has the happy ending we're all rooting for.

She Was My Dream Girl.....But She Was a Guy!! is not perfect. Taking on his female identity forces Amit to reconsider many of his opinions, but his reformation is a little too pat. As is his immediate acceptance of his sexual attraction to a man, which feels rather rushed. But it feels churlish to complain when faced with a book this genre-aware and a love story this sweet.

 
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