Rahul has a routine. He wakes up, he goes to work as a professor of chemistry at Emerald University, and he goes home. Dinner, washing up, and bed. There are regular visits to his parents, writing papers, and calls to his best friend, Ritesh. Rahul’s careful, cautious, and takes no chances, until today, when his hookup wants to see him at University. And there, in the men’s bathroom, Rahul is caught.
Being gay in India is no longer illegal, but Rahul remembers when it was. The student staring at him with dark eyes and bright interest holds Rahul’s life in his hands. If Akash goes to the dean, Rahul could lose his job. And not just his job. His parents barely accept his being gay, and what about his neighbors? His landlord? People on the streets? What will they think? What will they do to him?
So Rahul takes a desperate chance. When Akash asks Rahul to take him to a nearby, trendy restaurant … Rahul agrees. Soon, Rahul is taking Akash to photography lessons, paying for his meals, helping him with homework — and falling in love with the beautiful young man. Akash is light and joy; Akash says again and again that Rahul has nothing to fear from him. Akash doesn’t want to use this secret to hurt him, doesn’t want anything of the sort. Except, maybe to be friends?
And then Akash graduates, and everything changes.
A fair warning, this book will leave you hungry as Rahul and Akash make the restaurant, Singh, their second home. They come for lunches, they come for dinners, they both invite Singh to open a booth during a college fair, and the author makes the food sounds so very, very good. So settle down with a snack before you open this book.
Rahul is 36 and already feeling as though life has been sucked out of him. He has lived so long in fear, closing himself away from the merest chance that something could hurt him. Once, Rahul had been more open, more hopeful, dreaming of love and believing himself worthy of it, only to run and hide and lose it. There is an age gap between he and Akash of some dozen or so years, and Rahul feels it keenly. Not in the “I’m so old, you’re so young” way, but more in the way Akash has no fear. No fear of being arrested and beaten by the police, no fear of being killed. He sees two men kissing as something allowed and natural. He also sees in Rahul someone who cares for him as Rahul gives him a ride home in the rain, takes him home when his arm is broken in a fall, and insists on buying food for him, and he flushes when Akash shows the photographs he’s taken of him. Akash keeps a distance between them while he’s a student at the university, always making sure he’s right there by Rahul’s side, but never pressing for anything more until graduation.
As I said above, it’s a clash of generations more than it is an issue of age. Many men in Rahul’s generation took wives and started families to avoid the stigma of being gay. As such, their clandestine relationships, their furtive meetings and affairs become things of shame and guilt, further adding to the sense of wrongness, making them feel like criminals as they skulk through the sides of society. It’s something Akash doesn’t altogether understand, but he can see the bone deep fear Rahul holds tightly to.
How you arrived at the truth doesn’t mean anything compared to the truth itself.
Akash has to fight against the person Rahul has made himself in order to blend in, and has to be patient enough to let Rahul learn a new truth: That he is deserving of love, and that he is allowed to love in return. That Akash loves him, and wants to support him. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s one Akash has the strength for, because he loves Rahul. Not Rahul his ex-teacher, but Rahul who laughs at kitten videos, who finds chemistry interesting, who gives car rides to soaking and stranded students.
I truly enjoyed the characters. Rahul felt both like a professor and there was enough chemistry phrasing thrown in to establish that he knew what he was talking about (which I appreciated.) He is honestly a good man, though he is a bit of a sad-sack through much of the book, and there were times I wanted to push him out of his funk. Akash, for all that we see him only through Rahul’s eyes, has a decided stubborn, calculated nature — and is just as honest and open as a sunflower. The two of them work well together, and they felt like real people living real lives.
The writing is strong, the plotting is good, but I really loved the message of self acceptance: “I wanted to heal myself completely first, to be the best version of myself, a version that would be able to give Akash what he wanted.” It’s also nice to read a book set in a new place, with new flavors, and a new culture, and I hope to read more from this author in the future. If you give it a chance, I hope you enjoy it!