This is a really sweet, feel-good story. Set some time before homosexuality was legalized in India, The Other Man tells the story of Ved Mehra, the wealthy, George Clooney-esque heir to his father’s Mumbai business empire. He goes on dates with women to appease his mom, but secretly meets up with men on Grindr. A messy breakup years ago has cautioned him from trying for anything more than no-strings-attached sex.
Enter Carlos Silva, an American on a business trip to India, who genuinely seems to want to use Grindr to make conversation. Their messages turn increasingly flirty, and even the people in Ved’s life notice how much happier he seems to be. The only problem is that around the same time he met Carlos, Ved had also finally agreed to an arranged marriage with Disha, and preparations are in full swing for their engagement party.
Despite the romantic elements, the story focuses a lot more on Ved’s personal growth, and his journey towards taking charge of his own happiness. While Ved and Carlos definitely engage in cute banter, the sparks are fairly mild, and I finished the book more happy about Ved finally making choices for himself rather than for his family, than about the romantic happily-ever-after.
Carlos was cute and charming, and I like how candid he was with Ved, but I do wish he’d been a bit more understanding of the complications Ved had to deal with. For example, Carlos gets angry that Ved rushes him out of his apartment one morning — Carlos accuses Ved of disrespecting him by not letting him hang around for a shower and breakfast — but the unfortunate reality is that Ved’s father also lives in the apartment, and Ved has many reasons to believe his father wouldn’t be supportive of his sexuality. A major snag for me is that Carlos felt a bit like a manic pixie dream boy — a perfect catch in many ways, yet with little sense of who he actually is / what he actually wants in life.
In contrast, I found Ved’s fiancee Disha a much more complex character. She has her annoying moments — to me, some of the stuff she does to ingratiate herself into Ved’s life and family verge on manipulation — but a lot of her annoyance at how Ved treats her is super understandable. Like him, she’s making the most of a bad situation — she isn’t in love with him either, and she’s still heartbroken over an ex-that-got-away years ago, yet she also feels the weight of family expectations to marry the ‘right’ kind of man. Unlike Ved, however, who often ignores her calls and texts to be with Carlos, she dives right into fulfilling her obligation by planning their engagement party, and in that regard, I found myself sympathizing with her a lot.
That being said, Ved is also very much a sympathetic character. While he does do some things that kinda suck, he’s also very clearly trying his best at balancing what makes him happy with what will make his family happy. True to the story’s overall light tone, the major conflicts get resolved fairly neatly, and everyone gets a version of a happy ending. Part of me wishes there was a bit more of realism in how the various resolutions were handled, but I’m reading this shortly before Christmas, and part of me appreciates how chill and optimistic the story turned out to be.
Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.