You know when you are a brown girl in the world and you grow up reading Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew and all the newsreaders on television and all of your teachers at your very British primary school and then international high school are white?
And some years later, your family is living in New Zealand and you have made it through that last year of high school where you are one of three brown people in your year.
And you are starting to think maybe you might be queer but then all the queers you see around you – even all the people in Womenspace in your first year at university where all the lesbians hang out – are white.
And then you find this book in which, at last, you can see yourself.
The stories it tells are your stories. Stories of being brown, growing up in the diaspora, creating home, being queer. Stories of desire, displacement, and belonging.
If you haven’t read Minal Hajratwala’s Lambda award-winning book, Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), go online and buy it now.
I read Minal Hajratwala’s (MH) book and it was magic for me. I bought copies for my mother and my friends. Found MH on (ahem) facebook. Sent a carefully worded note on howfuckingbeautifulamazingandlifechangingherbookis.
She accepted my friend request.
And so it happened. MH posted a call for submissions, for Out! Stories from the New Queer India. MH herself was to be the editor.
Did I mention I write stories?
For some time now, I have been engaging in a process of un-writing and re-writing myself. Because, growing up, my history books, like the fiction on the bookshelves, were whitewashed.
(The pages about the occupation of Palestinian were actually cut out from our textbooks with scissors, but that is another story.)
I learned that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, Australia was terra nullis and wherever there was a land acknowledged to have people, the white man brought the gift of civilization.
I grew up playing with blonde Barbies, speaking English at home, and going to Church on Easter as part of my schooling.
I have a degree in French literature and did not have words to communicate with my grandmother when she was alive.
As part of this ongoing journey of self reflection and decolonisation, I have been exploring Indian mythology. To reconnect with my heritage and also… well, because it is so gay. Hindu myths in particular are scattered with cross-dressing gods, deities are often represented as hermaphrodites, and sex/ gender changes are casual events.
The Ramayana tells the story of King Dilipa of Ayodhya, who dies childless. Because his lineage cannot end, the gods intervene in a supergay way. The gods facilitate the love of Dilipa’s widows (he had at least two wives), and a son is born as a result of their lovemaking. Thus conveniently ensuring the continuation of the Ayodhya dynasty.
Who would have thought? Contemporary Indian society can be so awkward about sexuality, and it would appear that the fundamentalist Hindus have been somewhat selective in their version of things.I mean, poly relationships and lesbian parents?
My story “Stardust” re-stages and reclaims this Hindu myth as a queer legend, incorporating Bollywood camp and contemporary realities. It is packed with pastiche and melodrama. It was a lot of fun to write, and it was an incredible opportunity to be coached and guided by a writer I respect and admire.
And to be part of a landmark publication. Out! Stories from the New Queer India is a collection of 30 stories, written by established and emerging writers in India and the diaspora. It is the first anthology of queer writing to be published since sexual activity among same-sex, consenting adults was decriminalised, with the 2009 Delhi High Court Ruling on section 377 of the Indian penal code – which was based on colonial law.
My only regret? That I couldn’t be at the book launch in India. With the incredible Nandita Das (whose character in the movie Fire (dir. Deepa Mehta) falls in love with another woman, played by the legendary Shabana Azmi). And of course, with MH.
Out! Stories from the New Queer India is available online at www.queer-ink.com
The publisher, Queer Ink is doing it all over again, and you don’t even need to stalk any editors for the deets. The second anthology will be edited by poet and author of Love? and Sham-e-raah. The 2013 call for submissions is available via the Queer Ink Publishing: 2013 Queer Ink Call for Submission webpage.