Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

A One Page summary of my novel-in-progress

Satyam, a South Indian law student, is faced with the murder of her beloved cousin, who has been poisoned by her  brother in an honor killing.  The girl was going to marry a Dalit (outcaste) boy and dishonor her family.  The police rule it a suicide.  Satyam, a timid woman, is faced with compelling evidence of murder from the family servants.

The story weaves back and forth between Satyam’s courage and fear, between action and paralysis, as she tries to pressure the police to re-open the case.   Her only allies, her elderly father and the family’s 70 year-old  cook, assist her but sometimes wane in their commitment to Satyam’s cause. 

On the outside, Satyam seeks justice for her dead cousin.  On the inside, she is tortured by her desires for Meena, a college friend, and struggles to accept herself as a lesbian.  She also resists her mother’s pressures to accept an arranged marriage. As the story progresses, Satyam becomes more emboldened.   The murderous cousin is arrested.   Satyam tells Meena that she is gay and breaks off the friendship because of Meena’s hot and cold behavior.  She finally tells her mother she refuses to marry.

Satyam’s “coming out” – both as an outspoken human and as a lesbian- grows with the support and mentorship of her human rights law professor.  Satyam continues her fight for justice after her cousin gets out of jail by joining a lawsuit against the police for their inaction in a variety of cases involving caste-based violence.  She starts to vocally defend gay rights in her school.  And the Indian Supreme Court, after almost a decade of court battles, issues its iconic September 2018 ruling decriminalizing homosexuality.  Satyam is invited by her mentor to argue the case in the classroom, and she does with vigor.

The story ends with bitter sweetness.  Satyam has found her voice, stood up to pressure, and embarks her journey as an advocate for others.  However, she may be lonely as an unmarried woman in an extremely homophobic culture.  This is left to the reader’s imagination. 

Satyam’s Tamil name means Truth.  Her heart contains the dilemma of so many women in rapidly changing societies:  to be true to oneself and face the consequences, or to remain safe in the shelter of traditional roles.  

3 Comments

Add Yours →

Cynthia, this sounds like a rivetting story. I’ll be looking forward to reading it when it’s done and out there.

Happy, productive writing!
V

It sounds like a wonderful idea for a novel. You will probably get some flack, but any writer pushing any boundaries gets flack. And all good writing pushes boundaries. I’m proud of you, dear friend.

Karen, Hi! yes, we must keep pushing the boundaries. And it’s wonderful to have the time and health and opportunity as a privileged white American to be able to do this creative work, to travel back to India (a bit of a financial stretch!), and hopefully in the end to offer an empowering story to those who are in the grips of conservatism, wherever they may be! I hope I can reach a broad audience- including LGBT folks in countries where they are not only unwelcome but in danger. The world is a patchwork of change, isn’t it? Of course here in the US we have SO MUCH else to change- even if LGBT rights have made great strides in the last decade or two.

Leave a Reply to Karen Gruetter Cancel reply