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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Queer quills

Yaarana was one of the first gay anthologies,there were slim pickings.

Written by Georgina Maddox | Published: February 10, 2009 4:23:45 am

We read between the lines as queer literature proliferates

Yaarana was one of the first gay anthologies,there were slim pickings. Please remember you are dealing with people who are alone,who may have thoroughly private lives in a very traditional society that respects privacy (read social hypocrisy) above all else,” 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 excavated 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 whose has a novel is in the works. In 2000,Ruth Vanita and Salim Kidwai published Same Sex Love in India,followed by Arvind Narain’s Queer in 2004,Because I have a voice,2005,by Gautam Bhan and Narain,Loving Women by Maya Sharma in 2006,Sexualities,a collection of essays edited by Nivedita Menon in 2007 and the Phobic Erotic in 2007.

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,who began as a journalist and turned into an activist,set up the Humsafar Trust and is currently working with the United Nations office in the Capital,postulates,“The rise of middle class,bourgeoisie has a large role to play. Urbanisation gives space for people to articulate and print their works.” Kavi believes the market has a huge role to play. “They cannot ignore us any more,” he says triumphantly.

Having said that,Raj Rao,who also authored The Boyfriend,has faced obstacles as an educationist and writer. “I formulated a course on homosexual literature to be taught to fourth semester MA students. The Board of Studies in English (BSE) promptly singled it out and rejected it,remarking that Indian students did not need such a course,” says Rao revealing that a book may be printed by a cutting-edge publication

like Sage.

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