In this passage from Manju Kapur’s novel A Married Woman, the widowed Pipee has persuaded her lover, the still-married Astha, to attend a screening at a local film festival in New Delhi. Astha’s inability to connect with the scenes she is watching and their commentary in “broad American,” a phrase that elides “English” and seems instead to signify a foreign language, could be interpreted as symptomatic of the gulf between “Western” gay identity and Indian same-sex desire. Alternatively, her reactions might be glossed in developmental terms: the enlightened gays and lesbians of the “West,” who agitate and assert themselves before the video camera, are contrasted with Astha and her retrograde reluctance or incapacity to articulate her sexuality. Yet both these readings are unsustainable. Astha cannot be viewed as apolitical, for earlier in the novel she actively associates with the Sampradayakta Mukti Manch and gives a stirring anti-communal speech at Ayodhya in order to combat the resurgent nationalism which led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid. In the peroration she maintains, “In essence women all over the world are the same,”2 , implying a universalism and transnational politics which might also facilitate self-definition as a lesbian. A sense of duty to her husband and children, however, outweighs the need to assert an individual identity premised on sexuality.


Indian Culture Indian History Mainstream American Culture Male Desire Colonial Encounter 
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  1. 7.
    Agha Shahid Ali, The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems of Agha Shahid Ali, ed. by Daniel Hall (New York: Norton, 2009), p. 353.Google Scholar

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© Oliver Ross 2016

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