The Many Colours of Anshu tells the story of a middle-class Maharashtrian child
As a 19-year-old, Anshuman Sathe remembers attending a queer workshop for kids in Bengaluru. Trying to make sense of their own identity then, Sathe was amused when a question was thrown at the kids: "what makes you a boy or girl?" The older kids were reluctant to answer, but the younger ones gave animated responses: Scoring better marks, getting certificates, helping parents. The suggestions were varied, and not bound by gender stereotypes.
Sathe who was raised in a middle-class Maharashtrian household, and grew up in a Dadar chawl, says this incident led them to reflect upon their own childhood, when they were fond of exploring. "I loved dressing up, but surprisingly, no one judged me for that," they share.
This led Sathe, now 23, to pen their own story for a just released children*s book, The Many Colours of Anshu. "Anshu has always been told that he is a boy. After all, he does all the things that boys do," the book opens, as Sathe goes on to write, "Aai, I*m really very tired of all these boy things!" And then Anshu spots an old box of curios on top of Aai*s cupboard: "He puts on the bright yellow shirt. He wears his favourite floral socks. He even tucks a red flower into his hair. Anshu*s world is suddenly full of possibilities."
Sathe, who was first exposed to the LGBTQIA+ community, while pursuing their undergrad in Bengaluru, says the book is a love letter to their childhood. "As a kid, I did not realise that what I was doing was something outside the box. I did not have the vocabulary to express it. But somewhere in my heart I knew better and tried to express myself that way," says Sathe, adding, "I used to play bhatukli (kitchen utensils) and ghar ghar with my friends in the neighbourhood. Looking back now, my childhood was joyful and non-restrictive. And that is what I aim to tell the readers."
Sathe, who is a graphic designer by profession, has also made the illustrations for book with the guidance of art director Priya Dali, who works at Gaysi, a platform that supports the LGBTQIA+ community. The household Sathe recreates is one from their memory - the Kalnirnay, the Maharashtrian calendar, is seen hanging by the wall. "Everyone has a different story and I have tried to put forth mine. It was fun and easy to be myself and I want to give the readers that confidence as well - that it doesn*t have to start from a state of denial," they add.
Sathe likes to describe the book as a "diary about thoughts and feelings of a queer kid". "I want it to act as a gateway for conversations between parents and children," they say, adding, "People should feel comfortable exploring gender."
Whenever people have questions about their sexuality, Sathe asks them: "What would you want to do, if there was no gender constraint?" This evokes a variety of answers. "My grandmother told me she wanted to swim in the ocean like the boys," they smile.