On the face of it, Homeless: Growing Up Lesbian And Dyslexic In India is a memoir. At its heart, though, the book is a nod to all queer and neurodivergent people who have struggled to articulate the effects of their identity on their lives. Written by author and diversity, equity and inclusion expert K. Vaishali and published by Simon & Schuster and Yoda Press, it’s a book readers need to add to their Lesbian Visibility Week (24-30 April) TBR pile.
Homeless is a difficult book to read. Written in a stark, spare, unflinching style, it recounts several months of the author’s life in a hostel at the University of Hyderabad, and everything that leads up to it, including the real-life experiences of discrimination she faced as a lesbian woman and as a person with dyslexia.
Partly because it is based on the author’s real-time diaries, the book is less an exercise in recollection, as memoirs tend to be, and more in introspection—a close interrogation of her own biases and privileges.
The author repeatedly refuses to look away from the worst of her experiences and explores the most difficult of emotions. We get a glimpse of the times when she was forced to go to an unclean bathroom in her hostel, filled with flies, menstrual products and faeces, because there was no alternative; when she self-medicates with alcohol to overcome her heartbreak; when she recalls instances of physical and verbal abuse from trusted adults, especially her mother; when she says she has stopped attending protest marches because she has stopped hoping for change. It’s both distressing and compelling.
By doing this, the author holds up a mirror, forcing readers to interrogate themselves. One thinks of her discomfort and embarrassment at how little she knows about caste politics, something many readers may share: “I should really stop taking myself seriously when I don’t know of suffering outside of my own loneliness.”
There is an uncomfortable sense that she is putting the reader in the position of judge and jury for her own actions and asking them to decide on the morality of her actions on her behalf, possibly to absolve her or even themselves as they recognise themselves in her actions.
Perhaps, though, there is no need to answer the questions she poses; forcing us to ask ourselves the same uncomfortable questions is the point. Either way, anyone who reads the book is not merely a witness to the events in the author’s life—they are participants. The conversation the author holds with herself pulls them in too.
Above all, the book is a reminder to be empathetic. By not shying away from describing her toughest experiences, especially those with her invisible disabilities, such as dyslexia , the author warns us that we never know what a seemingly able-bodied person might be going through.
The ending, while a little abrupt, brings this home in a poignant way—it looks to the future, full of hope, and is in contrast to the rest of the book, in which the author struggles to imagine a future for herself. It is also a reminder to hold on no matter how bad it gets—because even if one can’t visualise it, better times are coming.
Rush Mukherjee is a Kolkata-based writer.
Also read: The parallel worlds of Mridula Garg’s women