Queer quills

Yaarana was one of the first gay anthologies in India. Please remember you are dealing with people who are alone in a very traditional society,” says Hoshang Merchant,about India’s first gay novel that was published by Penguin India in 1999.

Written by Georgina Maddox | Published: February 11, 2009 11:35 pm

We read between the lines as queer literature proliferates

Yaarana was one of the first gay anthologies in India. Please remember you are dealing with people who are alone in a very traditional society,” says Hoshang Merchant,about India’s first gay novel that was published by Penguin India in 1999. Technically Sakhiyani,Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India,Giti Thadani’s 1996 documentation that examined and reclaimed lesbian imagery in Ancient Indian art was the first book,but it was rather art historical in its approach and,in comparison,Yaarana flew off the shelves.

Soon after this,Facing the Mirror,an anthology of lesbian and bisexual women edited by Ashwini Suktankar surfaced. “For a long time,these three books were the most thumbed books by the queer community,researchers and writers reflecting on Indian queer identity,” says Kamini Pathak,a queer writer who is currently working on a novel. In 2000,Ruth Vanita and Salim Kidwai published Same Sex Love in India,followed by Arvind Narain’s Queer in 2004,followed by Because I have a voice in 2005,by Gautam Bhan and Narain. Loving Women by Maya Sharma in 2006,Sexualities,a collection of essays edited by Nivedita Menon came out in 2007 as did the Phobic Erotic.

Cut to 2009,Whistling in the Dark-Twenty-one Queer Interviews authored by Raj R Rao and published by Sage is the tenth book to be published in India. This,not counting the publications of queer fiction brings the grand total up to 10 books.

Perhaps 10 is a small number when compared to books published on other minorities in our democracy,but for a community that has largely lived in the closet,this is huge.

“One of the factors that have affected publishing is women in academia looking at queer issues. Both Ruth and Nivedita Menon are from academia. Also sexual rights NGOs and activism has opened up the other arenas,” says Kavya Sundaram,an academician.

Ashok Row Kavi,one of the first ‘out’ gay men in India who began as a journalist and turned into an activist when he set up the Humsafar Trust,is currently working with the United Nations office in the Capital. Kavi postulates,“The rise of the middle class bourgeoisie has a big role to play. They cannot ignore us any more,” he says triumphantly.

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