One step out of the steel almirah

Updated: Apr 14, 2019, 09:58 IST | Ekta Mohta

A new Instagram account offers a peek into the closets of members from the LGBTQ community. And, they're filled with dog-eared books and bodice-ripper novels, fairy lights and stripper poles

One step out of the steel almirah
The closet of Kanishka, a grey-asexual woman, as illustrated by Anjali Kamat. Her closet includes fairy lights, a rusty gramophone, a wine cabinet, an oven, a bookshelf and her vinyl record collection

Sometimes, it's easier to pour your heart out to strangers. Almaarii is a new Instagram handle, on which members of the LGBTQ community can describe their closets, their safe spaces, in detail, which are then illustrated by artists. Praveen Kumar, 25, who identifies as non-binary and gay, writes, "When I try to visualise my closet, I see a garden with all my queer and less queer friends and family in it and a sense of comfort and home fills me.

We sip chai, talk about the world, and some nights, we just lie under a clear sky to count stars. But, it wasn't always this way. A few years ago, the loneliness of existence and shame of sexuality and gender expression were my only companions on that dry patch of land I now call my garden. However, now this little garden is more than home."

The closet of Shambhavi, an asexual woman, as designed by Seema Misra. In addition to books by Michel Foucault and Devdutt Pattanaik, her closet includes figurines and paintings of dragons because "people say they don't exist. They say that about asexual people, too"
The closet of Shambhavi, an asexual woman, as designed by Seema Misra. In addition to books by Michel Foucault and Devdutt Pattanaik, her closet includes figurines and paintings of dragons because "people say they don't exist. They say that about asexual people, too"

Co-founded by Pooja Krishnakumar, 24, digital content editor at Gaysi Family, and singer-songwriter Teenasai Balamu, 24, Almaarii came about because, "India has one of the biggest closeted populations in the world, and it simply goes unaccounted for because the existence of queerness and queer people isn't acknowledged," says Krishnakumar. "Whether we use the word 'closet' or not, we go through the same motions and emotions of being closeted, trapped and hidden away. We felt that the narratives of queer South Asians needed to be brought out. We [wanted] to make a space to shed some light on each person's individual experience and make sure we collect every kind of story: nothing is barred."

Within eight months, they have accumulated 52 stories, of which 22 have been illustrated. Their role is to play matchmaker between queer people and illustrators. The common thread running through the stories is that the closet is a sacred space. "It's a space that has protected them, and often, the only space they could be who they are. For some people, their closets really do exist as their bedrooms that are decorated slyly with little rainbows; for others, it's a space in their mind. Each person's experience and relationship with their closet is unique, and that is perhaps why some closets are full of sunshine, while others aren't."

For now, the duo has focused on LBT stories from the LGBTQ community because, "In its stride, patriarchy has naturally affected the queer community as well. Here also, the most privileged members are cis-gendered men. This has led to quite a bit of erasure of the struggles and achievements of the LBT community. I wanted to start off by collecting stories from the more marginalised parts of the community, before actively looking for cis-male narratives." The account is by the LGBTQ community for the LGBTQ community. "[We want to] pass the mic and not resort to tokenism as most cisgender and hetersoexual spaces still do. Let marginalised communities talk for themselves and take up space. They need not be given to us; they [hetersoexuals] just need to make some space for us as well."

For all this, Krishnakumar hasn't posted her closet yet. "Like how one invites guests into their home, and the host eats the last? This project is where I have invited people into my house, and the project is my closet. I want people to feel safe, loved, welcomed."

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