A whole rainbow in verse

Updated: Jul 19, 2020, 07:55 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

The much-awaited queer anthology from South Asia, curated by Akhil Katyal and Aditi Angiras, is a powerful addition to writings that redefine how we look at gender

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community during the Pride March in Mumbai. File pic/AFP
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community during the Pride March in Mumbai. File pic/AFP

How do you know when you've loved someone enough–enough to turn them into a home?

Into a place you move into, with nothing in hand, no clothes on your back.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community during the Pride March in Mumbai

These lines from genderqueer journalist Chithira Vijayakumar's poem, On an Afternoon Spent Gently Unhooking Stars Caught in Barbed Wire, warmed and stung the heart at the same time, just like verse from the 90-odd voices in this polyphonic-sounding, bold, audacious and much-awaited anthology of queer poetry from South Asia titled, The World That Belongs To Us (HarperCollins India).

We call it polyphonic, because it's one-of-a-kind, and yet not—too many sounds, but all coming together in perfect harmony.

Aditi Angiras
Aditi Angiras

In the preface, Akhil Katyal and Aditi Angiras, who've curated this brilliant collection, have acknowledged the enormous task they had at hand, when they decided to put together an anthology of this nature. Their first, and biggest challenge was to define 'what's a queer poem'.

"'Queer' turned out to be both, an embodied experience available to some people but also a disembodied stance towards the world wielded by many. Mostly, we have erred on the side of being catholic in our choices, of including rather than excluding," the authors admit. Yet, as each poem unravels, we see the choices they've made, and why. These works come from different regions, languages and different people, some of whom might even find LGBTQIA+ limiting as a definition. They also show us a mirror to our society, while exposing us to their own vulnerabilities and challenges, as they negotiate through life. Their gender often becomes a weapon in the hands of bigots. Take 26-year-old Arina Alam's verse, for instance. Arina lives in Coochbehar, and identifies as a woman. "I know in which street I will meet my bullies, where I will face ridicule when unwanted eyes will rip off my clothes...," she writes. "But I don't know when I'll be smacked because my androgynous face
disturbs haters."

Akhil Katyal
Akhil Katyal

We were also moved by Kushagra Adwaita's verse, which has been translated from Hindi by Katyal. A cis-gendered man residing in Varanasi, Adwaita writes of one day being lost, "like the seven colours of the rainbow are lost… like the sky's reflection is often lost, like laziness loses its step after sleep." For a heterosexual person, reading this anthology is a world of discovery. It introduces us to our failure to see the world, beyond black and white. This is not just a rainbow, it's life. There is angst, pain, pining, hurt and love. It's a wholesome, powerful addition to the stories that humanity is creating.

Price: Rs 599
To book: amazon.in

It introduces us to our ignorance, naivete and failure to see the world, beyond black and white. This is not just a rainbow, it's life

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