books you may love: The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella

'We meet our destiny on the road we take to avoid it.' ~ The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella

books you may love: The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella
Photo by Nazym Jumadilova on Unsplash

The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella had been lying on my bookshelf for months now. I picked it up from the library several weeks ago; I don't recall now how I came across it. But I never quite got around to reading it. There was always something else to do, some other book to read, my own writing to attend to.

Just last week, my shelf was overflowing with too many unread books and I mercilessly pruned my TBR pile, returning to the library several books unread. Mercifully, The Sea Elephants wasn't one of them.

Now that my pile was manageable, I started to read the book. Even though I had read the blurb, I wasn't prepared for what an exquisitely beautiful story it turned out to be.

It is a coming-of-age story of a boy named Shagun Mathur, who is conflicted about his sexuality. His mother loves him, but his father wants to 'fix' him by sending him to a conversion therapy centre. When his twin sisters die in an accident, he decides to move away from home by enrolling in an all-boys boarding school, but there too he finds himself ostracized. He runs away from school and joins a traveling theatre troupe performing plays based on Hindu myths, the kind of stories Shagun's mother used to narrate to him and his sisters when they were younger. Then he meets and falls in love with Marc Singer, and is forced to confront his fears and trauma.

Hardback copy of The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella featuring an illustration of a blue elephants' eyes
The Sea Elephants by Shastri Akella

My attempt here to recount the story is already doomed before I've even begun properly.

No words can truly describe the enchanting and heartbreaking way in which Akella has woven Shagun's story and experiences. There's a gentleness that runs throughout the narrative, even when some of the most humiliating and horrifying scenes play out.

I looked up Akella on the Internet and came across this wonderful article by him detailing how his own experiences led to the birth of Shagun Mathur and his touching story.

I'd recommend reading the book first before reading Akella's article below, because it adds more depth and meaning to the story that way. Having read and loved Shagun's story, reading Akella's article gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of what compelled him to tell such a lovely tale.

How Exile Allowed Shastri Akella to Write a Queer Novel
The Sea Elephants began with an image that came to me one day when I was hiking by myself in the Himalayan mountain ranges of Uttarakhand. A young man shifts a photograph from one wall, that has pi…

On an aside, although I'm quite AI-neutral, it's obvious there's no algorithm can be manipulated and twisted to tell a tale so raw and true, a tale that comes from the depths of utterly human experiences.

I took my time reading the story, savouring a few pages at bedtime. I finished reading the book yesterday and I wished Shagun and Marc were real people, so I could go give them a hug, be a friend to them, and have them as friends in my life too.

You can tell how much this story touched me because I had to write an entire post on it, instead of simply pointing readers to the book and its author. I haven't written a 'books you may love' post in a while now, even though I have been reading a lot.

But I couldn't let The Sea Elephants slip by without a mention here. And even now, I'm not ready to let the story and its characters go. I'm not ready to bid goodbye to them even though I've turned the last page and closed the book.

Give the book a read, and please come back here and tell me about it so I too may indulge in the exquisite beauty of the story once more!