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How the average Indian family responds to scandal

Aravind Jayan’s debut novel ‘Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors’ is perhaps one of the most original stories to have been published in India in a long time

Perhaps as readers, we are also voyeurs: for while scandalous incidents can totally upend someone's life, it’s easy to laugh at someone else’s expense. (Pexels)

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Sreenath and Anita are secretly filmed while sharing an intimate moment. This video is uploaded on the internet and, as is the case with such incidents, goes viral.

Under huge stress and trying to make sense of the turn of events, 22-year-old Sree hasn’t “come down to see the new car” that his family, consisting of Appa, Amma, and his younger brother, the unnamed narrator, is happiest about – finally, their middle-class dream has come true.

The family, which lives in a spacious house in the Blue Hills colony in Trivandrum, is yet to be confronted with a shocking revelation, and its potential to ruin their lives.

This is the setting of the Bengaluru-based award-winning writer Aravind Jayan’s exquisite and original debut novel Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors.

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Promising from the very first page, the book remarkably captures reactions ranging from dramatic to irrational, all stemming from a generational mismatch between parents and children in how they deal with a scandal. It establishes how, under the guise of protecting themselves from being shamed, parents chose respectability over their children’s overall well-being.

Because of their separate motivations and attitudes towards this incident, a conflict arises between all the parties involved—Sree, Anita, and their respective parents. This creates fertile grounds for humour and insights into human behaviour. For example, as the narrator notes in one scene: “Sex was one thing; a sex scandal was another thing altogether.”

Perhaps as readers, we are also voyeurs: for while such incidents can totally upend someone's life, it’s easy to laugh at their expense. What’s worth cherishing about Jayan’s prose is that it’s able to create genuine moments of laughter while dealing with this issue sensitively.

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors, by Aravind Jayan, published by Hachette India, 208 pages, Rs. 599.
Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors, by Aravind Jayan, published by Hachette India, 208 pages, Rs. 599.

The setting, the story, and its characters are so well-developed that even though everything gives an air of utmost familiarity, their reactions remain unpredictable. Jayan's craft makes you read the entire book in a single sitting, almost as if you’ve just discovered a scandalous report while scrolling through your phone and just cannot help yourself from being sucked into every minute detail described.

Even though more novels are exploring the inevitable impacts of the internet and social media, Teen Couple wouldn’t have to struggle to create a space of its own in the subcontinent. Because Jayan’s understanding of his characters’ emotional journey is mature, their actions play out in a controlled environment that he has cleverly built.

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Sample this incident. While the narrator is trying hard to play the “middleman”, Sree and Anita develop a thick skin towards the unfolding of events. They seem to have accepted their independence (read: being disowned by their families) and move on in their lives, so much so that when they’re identified in a marketplace and a few of their juniors ask for their autographs, both happily oblige.

It’s a moment that must be underlined to introspect the invisible impacts on their psyche. Do they feel safe anymore? Would Bollywood-like vengefulness on Sree’s part or Anita’s gullibility be of any help? Can they convince people to not make a big deal about it? Is such a situation under anyone’s control?

While the book is an extremely light read—for this subject, a huge achievement—it leaves you thinking about these and more questions, including your role as a voyeur who feeds off on gossip and is part of the problem that Sree and Anita find themselves facing in an increasingly isolating world.

Saurabh Sharma is a Delhi-based queer writer. On Instagram and Twitter as @writerly_life

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