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Pride Month: Read these books to understand the queer experience better

Updated on: 06 June,2021 05:13 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Anuka Roy |

Rhodes scholar and queer rights activist Anish Gawande shares a reading list that is all pride and no prejudice

Pride Month: Read these books to understand the queer experience better

The photo is for representational purpose only

Love, loss, belonging, and the complicated web of human relationships form the foreground of these queer books recommended by Anish Gawande, curator of Pink List India — an archive of Indian politicians supporting LGBTQIA+ rights.

Titles such as James Baldwin’s heartbreaking novella ‘Giovanni's Room’ or A Revathi’s inspiring autobiography ‘The Truth About Me’ have provided him joy and solace, says Gawande, and have held within their pages spaces for reflection and celebration. “Many have been written by those I have admired from afar, others have been written by incredible activists and academics who I am grateful to call my mentors and friends. And yet others have snippets of my own contributions to queer literature hidden between their covers.” 

Anish Gawande

As we celebrate Pride month all through June — indoors rather than in public gatherings this year — pick up these works for a nuanced appreciation of queer experiences. 

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin 

This novella by Baldwin, about an American man in Paris and his affair with an Italian bartender, skillfully explores masculinity, class, identity, love, and loss. Gawande read this book at a time when he was coming out and it gave him a narrative of love, longing, and loss that he could relate to. “I could not stop crying for hours after finishing Baldwin's masterpiece.”

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine 

Alameddine tells the story of Jacob, a gay, Yemen-born poet living in San Francisco, as he waits to check into a mental health facility. The plot revolves around the single night he spends in the waiting room. According to Gawande, The Angel of History grapples with important questions such as ‘what it means to be queer and an immigrant’ and ‘what it means to lose loved ones to the AIDS crisis’. “As someone who has lived in three countries over the past three years, I saw Alameddine's book as a meditation on love, longing and belonging.” 

The World That Belongs to Us edited by Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal 

“This anthology is, above all else, a tribute to all the queer individuals who have loved and lost before us — and the paths that they have charted for our stories to be heard,” says Gawande. It brings together the best of contemporary queer poetry from South Asia, both from the subcontinent and its many diasporas. Some of the voices featured in this book include Hoshang Merchant, Ruth Vanita, Kazim Ali, Rajiv Mohabir, and a host of new poets. These poems touch upon themes like desire, loneliness, struggles, activism, the role of family, among other topics. Gawande says, “It's also deeply personal, given that the book contains my translation of a poem by Aligarh Muslim University professor Ramchandra Siras.”

Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife by Kareem Khubchandani 

The author focuses on queer South Asian men across borders. Covering gay neighbourhoods, nightclubs, bars, and house parties from Bangalore to Chicago, Khubchandani’s book sets out, in its own words, to demonstrate that the unlikely site of nightlife can be "a productive venue for the study of global politics and its institutional hierarchies.” Kareem’s work has been a revelation for Gawande. “Right from its quirky title, Ishtyle manages to inflect academic writing with humour and wit to put forth a book that is witty and riveting. I love the movements from global to local, from Bollywood music to queer theory, that present new ways of narrating contemporary forms of contemporary aesthetics.”

Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Unprivileged India by Maya Sharma 

The book consists of ten real-life stories from queer women in India, particularly from the working class, who remain underrepresented in mainstream media. “Maya’s book on lesbian narratives across India is one of the most groundbreaking works I have read,” says Gawande. He adds, “Not only is she a phenomenal activist who I have been inspired by and learnt from, but a gifted writer who puts across stories that are effortless to read but profound in their examination of the queer landscape around us.”

The Truth About Me by A Revathi 

Revathi is another activist Gawande is inspired by. “Her book is empowering not only because of her own impressive trajectory but also because it is one of the first autobiographies by a South Asian trans person,” he says. In this compelling autobiography, the author shares the deep discomfort of being in the wrong body which had affected her from childhood. The book describes her emotional and physical journey of fighting the system to establish her own identity. “She rejects traditional narratives of sympathy and pity to tell her story the way she wants to, giving so many of us the courage to tell our own stories,” adds Gawande.

Queeristan by Parmesh Shahani 

Gawande recommends ‘Queeristan’ to every individual working in the corporate world and beyond. “With important insights into the history of the queer movement in India, the book rejects the tokenisation of the LGBTQ+ community in favour of advocating for concrete steps that actually benefit queer Indians,” he says. Shahani, who is the head of Godrej India Culture Lab, draws from his journey in the corporate world as an out and proud gay man, to talk about inclusion of the community and give a step-by-step guide to reshaping office culture in India. He speaks to inclusion champions and business leaders about how they worked towards change. 

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