‘Queer’ book club in India
Prabhat Sharan (deccanherald.com)
They are shunned, despised and discriminated. Their howls of desp­air have been roiling their psyche for generations.
And even today, these socially-tattooed creatures continue to walk furtively, hiding from their own shadows in harsh societal winds that carves out social structures in fossilised dead sharp stones.
The bruises are deep in their scorched minds; and inner tornadoes make their lives a swirling dust-storm in a wasteland called ‘normal cultured society.’ They are the people whose libidinal proclivities are termed sometimes as “Queer, or Gay, Homo, Lesbo or Hijra.” And ironically, the majoritarianist populace has always been attracted and horrified in the same breath to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transvestite) sexual minorities.
“Exactly. Who defines what is natural and what is unnatural.
It is a strange twist of irony in Indian civilisation that fundamentalists- damning people who are what one may call “queer”-- do not realise that they are wearing spectacles provided by British Victorian missionaries. These prudish Victorian missionaries shackled and smashed the healthy sexual Indian psyche which was all assimilating and free of prejudices towards all forms of sexual relationships,” says Shobhna S Kumar, a self-professed lesbian.
Born in Fiji, her spiritual angst made her a globe-trotter. After hopping from one country to another, in quest of a deeper fulfillment to her ‘existential crisis,’ Shobhna landed in Mumbai nine-and-half-years ago, to start working with women in ‘distress or crisis,’ in a municipal-run hospital. Her experience as a counsellor, watching the charade of the society killing minds of women and girls, silently and quietly, every minute, every hour with the ticking of the clock, has possibly given her voice a soft touch and a gentle glimmer to her eyes.
“I have no qualms about my being a “queer.” But not everybody is as comfortable as I am about one’s sexuality. But in India the Victorian paradigm continues to rule shaping opinions and biases. And, thought-proving books and debates throughout the ages have always been
effective catalysts in ushering a change or stirring the simmering sexuality buried deep in the recesses of mind,” she says.
In a country that horripilate at the word “sex,” the idea of opening a non-profit “Queer Book Club,” needed a lot of deliberation and gall. But, Shobhna says, “I just wanted to do a little bit for the queer community; create a space like a small modern-day alcove where readers of alternate sexuality literature can ensconce themselves and hermeneutically deconstruct, dissect and collate the ideas penned down through generations of queer writers.”
“The Queer Ink Book Club, nestling in an apartment in the city’s quaint north-western suburb Santa Cruz, is possibly the first one if not in country at least in Mumbai held its first meeting on Sunday. We intend to discuss the brilliant radical and path-breaking Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai’s powerful short story “Lihaaf.” (The Quilt.) The story written in 1941-42 had created a storm then. It is a story that not only has strong radical feminism bubbling under the psycho-physical graphic interactions among women protagonists but it also makes a straight attack at the religious orthodoxy of the time.
“After Chugtai we intend to take Parvati Sharma’s re-interpretation of the same story. It would be interesting to see how a classic story has been re-interpreted after nearly 50 years. That’s how we intend to go about working slowly on
fiction, poetry, drama and other studies, penned down by writers who through ages have fearlessly tackled subjects
considered as taboo by a culture in a particular space-time social continuum. We also intend to call living writers who have tried to explore such issues to interact with the club readers,” Shobhna informs.
Talking about the response, Shobhna states as a matter-of-fact, “Knowing how deep the stigma runs, it was obvious that we would not be carpet-bombed. But as of now there are 26 persons who have evinced very keen interest and remember the idea of starting an exclusive alternative sexuality book club is a logical extension of my starting an on-line book shop.”
The on-line book shop was started as a response to her own search for books not available in Indian book shops. “It was then I realised that most popular book shops shy away from displaying LGBT books. It was both ways. Readers desperately seeking and wanting to read such books lurked near the shelves but shied away from buying it. While for the book shop-owner, these books just occupied shelves. “Therefore I started a full-fledged on-line book shop. And in any case I have always been a voracious reader of intellectually stimulating books. Thus, “Queer -Ink,” an e-book store came up. And then the next logical step was to get into publishing. And the first book from the Queer-Ink would be out next month containing 29 short stories edited by Meenal Hazaratwala. And then the idea of book club exclusively discussing LGBT literature cropped up.”
Shobhna, however, takes pain to state that her definition of LGBT literature is not narrow or a ‘closed door literature.’
“It is a fact that when a straight writer writes on issues dealing with alternative sexuality then most of the time the language used is offensive. But it is also a fact that several serious mainstream literary writers, who are not “Queer,” have written with deep and extreme precision the turmoil, expectations in the lives of LGBT.
Moreover, the membership is free and is not restricted to LGBT. I would say without getting into the semantics and sexual politics of language… even “strai­g­ht,” people are welcome to the club. After all the essence of sexual sublimity is a stairway to one’s own self-realization; it is the same stream of consciousness that runs through every psyche and every being… because nobody can define what is normal or what is abnormal till it does not harm or hurt anybody,” Shobhna sums up.

Η ιστοσελίδα του QueerInk: http://www.queer-ink.com

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