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Told from the perspective of a young Zen G, the tone of this book is wry and witty
In India, where families are often described as “traditional yet modern”, sex talk is mostly frowned upon. Many studies show that teenagers are sexually active, but this is ignored in conversations and public health. In the 2000s, when cell phones began to appear, news of “teenage sex video leaks” were often tucked into the heart of newspapers. Aravind Jayan’s excellent new book, Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors, focuses on one such episode.
An upwardly mobile middle-class family is ashamed and shocked that their elder son Sreenath and his girlfriend Anita feature in a video uploaded to a pornographic site. A sneaky neighbor alerts them to the video. Sreenath and Anita don’t seem troubled by their sudden shame in the way that only teenagers can be, but in fact they are deeply affected.
Teenage couple having fun outdoors
Their parents are haunted day and night by the favorite Indian worry, “what will people say?”. After all, “sex was one thing; the sex scandal was a completely different matter”. This question, carrying with it ideas of family honor and respect, determines the direction of the book.
It’s a classic family drama set in the digital age. Since the story is told from the point of view of Sreenath’s younger brother, who belongs to Generation Z, the tone is scathing. He desperately tries to somehow make peace between his brother and parents, who are both equally stubborn. Flickering between the “thin air at home” and the “banter” and “joviality” of Sreenath’s new home, Jayan captures the generational gaps in emotions and worldviews.
What works wonderfully is humor. When Sreenath calls Appa a homophobe, Jayan writes, “Appa thought it was some kind of musical instrument, though he took it as an insult.” When Anita’s mother, with a strange solution to the problem, stands at the door of Sreenath’s house and refuses to leave, his mother is left with nothing other than to let her in after a feeble apology. The whole episode left me torn. Perhaps it was because of this light humor that I was able to ignore the fact that mothers were slowly becoming caricatures of themselves.
Jayan writes a smart, bittersweet book with wit and sensitivity. He is a writer to watch out for.