I just now finished reading Slightly Burnt by Payal Dhar. I knew her through her reviews – she had reviewed several of Andaleeb’s books as also Nirmala & Normala. Her review of Queen of Ice blew me over. In a sense I was partial to her writing. So when I heard that she had written a book, “Slightly Burnt”, I ordered it immediately on Amazon.
Komal (aged about 16) and Sahil (also of the exact same age) have been friends for as long as Komal can remember. And there’s nothing that one keeps from the other. But life, as many of you know throws up its little surprises, or shocks if you feel so. So one day when Sahil reveals to Komal that he is gay, it shakes Komal to her very core. Somehow Komal has this feeling of being betrayed and she does not know how to react or respond to the information. To complicate things further she discovers that Sahil and her rather gentle younger brother, Vikram are attracted to each other. How Komal handles her confusion and how she manages to confront the situation positively is told in the rest of the story.
No, it isn’t a lurid tale of complicated relationships. Written for a young adult audience, it is a tale of young people coming to terms with the LGBT issue. How they are affected when they find out that their friends or relatives are lesbian or gay.
The book is written in 2 parts, with each part having 2 sections, titled, Before and After. Part 1 deals with the Komal’s friendship with Sahil, and her reaction to Sahil’s “coming out” about his gay nature. Part 2 is about Komal coming to know about the attraction between her best friend Sahil and her brother Vikram.
The main characters are Komal, her friend Sahil and her brother Vikram. Komal’s parents, Komal’s friend Rashmi and Sahil’s mother & his sister, Falak form the rest of the characters.
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- Ms. Dhar has handled the topic with sensitivity and authenticity that it doesn’t create any discordant note throughout. The confusion that Komal faces is what most teens are likely to feel – it is more to do with how to react to the situation, than about right and wrong. The story ends on a positive note, with the characters “resolving” the situation by coming to terms with it.
- The author deserves special mention for taking a plot that deals with a taboo topic and bringing it out in the open. It is an important resource for parents also, who mostly are still bound by traditional notions of “normality”. Hopefully it would be a landmark book which would encourage open discussion on such topics between youngsters and parents. I know, I know – there is Talking of Muskaan, which also deals with the same subject.
- The teaching methodology adopted in Komal’s school, kind of made me hope that there were more such schools that encouraged originality and individuality rather than academic performance. It had a place for the quirky English teacher – Einstein, the petite school counsellor – Usha McDowell as well as Rizwan sir. Reading about them always brought on a smile.
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Not to take away from the book, but I felt that the author missed an opportunity to address several aspects of the issue:
- How does a gay person himself/herself discover their sexual orientation and how do they come to terms with the realization? i.e We fail to get Sahil’s perspective.
- How do parents of LGBT children react and come to accept their children’s different orientation?
I understand that in a book of this size (~170+ pages), comprehensively covering the different dimensions of the issue is well near impossible, but one can always hope, right?
Looking forward to more such books from Ms Dhar.
Slightly burnt is still an enticing flavour!
The reviewer bought a hard copy of this book for review. He would be delighted if the author would offer to sign it.