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Tag Archives: South Asian authors

Queer & Here: Your Reading List for Pride Month

New York’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 saw members of the LGBTQ+ community clash with the police in what is widely known as the catalyst for the modern queer rights movement in the United States. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two trans women of colour, were the main organisers of Stonewall riots. They protested against arbitrary raids and arrests by the police, targeting the queer community in New York. Their legacy of fighting for the rights of marginalised communities of colours, the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV and drag queens, have been recognised throughout the years. Though the Stonewall riots are sometimes seen as the starting point for the assertion of queer rights across the world, the queer community in every country has its own distinct history of fighting against homophobia and sexism.

 

In her book Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave proposes that India’s first known gay protest was organised outside of Delhi police’s headquarters in 1992. The first queer demonstration also occurred in Delhi in 1992, when two hundred delegates walked out of the International AIDS Conference to protest the Indian government’s stand against homosexuality. The first effort to decriminalise same-gender sex in India, came in 1994, with a petition filed in the Delhi High Court; that same court was the first in India to decriminalise same-gender sex in 2009 (though this decision was later reversed). With the Supreme Court in India reading down the archaic Section 377, which criminalised sexual conduct ‘against the order of nature’ in September 2018, queer narratives and literature are fast gaining prominence. However, queer literature in India has existed before the Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict. Scholars such as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai collected over 2000 years of Indian writing on same-sex love in their collection Same-Sex Love in India. A Lambda Literary Award finalist, this book showed how important it is for non-Western cultures to develop a critical vocabulary and formulate context-based theories which are unique to the Indian subcontinent.

 

Fierce FemmesLiterature is an important lens through which to examine cultural shifts, as it is, in many ways, a microcosm for our society. Positive portrayals of same-gender love are slowly becoming more mainstream. Kai Cheng Thom’s Lambda finalist Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is one such book and the latest addition to Young Zubaan’s list of kickass feminist books for children and young adults. (find the link to our web store at the end of the article). For this year’s Pride celebrations, we have curated a list of five books which pertain to the truth of living as a queer person in the global South, or as a queer person of colour in the North.

 

 

  • Cobalt Blue - Sachin Kundalkar

CobaltBlueTranslated from Marathi by acclaimed novelist Jerry Pinto, Sachin Kundalkar’s novel traces the story of a mysterious tenant who captures the hearts of two siblings Tanay and Anuja, when he arrives as an artist looking for lodging in their family home in Pune. The novel pairs interior monologues from Tanay and Anuja, both addressed to their beloved boarder, who charmed each of them before leaving without any explanation.

 

Published in Marathi in 2006, Cobalt Blue is ahead of its time in its representation of queer love. The moments shared between Tanay and the tenant are not written to satisfy heterosexual voyeurism, but realistically depict the joy and agony of love. A tale of rapturous tenderness and fierce heartbreak, Cobalt Blue with its experimental narrative style and daring imagination is a frank exploration of a gay life in India; of people living in emotional isolation and attempting to find intimacy against all odds.

 

  • A Life in Trans Activism - A. Revathi

A Life in Trans ActivismPublished in 2016 by Zubaan, A Revathi’s second book traces her life, and her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. It narrates the tale of how she rose from office assistant to the director in the organisation. The first half of the book describes her journey as a trans woman, as she becomes an independent activist, theatre person, actor, writer and organiser for the rights of transgender persons. Later, Revathi offers insight into one of the least talked-about experiences in the gender spectrum: that of being a trans man. A Life in Trans Activism emphasizes the ways in which the trans identity intersects with other identities, and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.

 

 

 

  • Babyji - Abha Dawesar

 

BabyjiBabyji is a daring coming of age story of 16-year-old Anamika Sharma, a student in New Delhi. Abha Dawesar’s second novel details the exploits of Anamika as she romances three women, juggling her studies and her lovers while attempting to finish school. The story is set against the backdrop of Mandal Commission's recommendations in 1980, which proposed the doubling of seats for backward castes. An upper-caste woman herself, Anamika uses her academic expertise and sexual prowess, to liberate herself from the Brahmanical mores of the society that she inhabits. Babyji is a brave exploration and moral enquiry into what it means to be a growing woman who is coming to terms with her own sexuality. This novel is the winner of the 2005 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and of the 2006 Stonewall Book Award for Fiction.

 

  • The Devourers - Indra Das

 

TheDevourersIndra Das’s debut novel is a love story between two shape shifting werewolves, Fenrir and Gevaudan — a gay couple — and their companion, a young Muslim woman called Cyrah. The shape shifters exist on the margins of society: they wander into Shah Jahan’s empire, fleeing persecution in their homeland. Alok Mukherjee, a Bengali professor of history who narrates the novel, is still reeling from an engagement that was broken off after his affairs with other men came out in the open. The Devourers refuses to be pigeonholed into a single genre; it borrows tropes and writing devices from dark fantasy, speculative fiction and science fiction. A chilling saga that spans across various centuries and continents, this novel showcases Das’s incredible prowess with language and rhythm. The Devourers won the 29th Annual Lambda Award in LGBT Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror category.

 

  • Sister Outsider - Audre Lorde

SisterOutsiderA collection of speeches and essays by a self-described “black lesbian feminist warrior poet,” Sister Outsider is considered a ground breaking work by Audre Lorde. This book contains a great mix of ideas and tones; it has poems, interviews, journal entries, and speeches interspersed with aphorisms. It proved to be an important and necessary tool in the cannon of progressive theory when it was first published in 1984. Lorde’s work centres the experience of black lesbians and critiques a mostly white, academic community of second-wave feminists for overlooking blacks, gays and women, as well as the elderly and the disabled in their theories.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S: The South Asian edition of Kai Cheng Thom's novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir is now on sale on our website.

Gender & Agency: Our Picks from the Latest in Young Adult Lit

A 2011 study at Dartmouth College that looked at 5600 children’s books published in the US in the 20th century found that only 31% of these books had girls as the central characters. Thankfully the representation of women and girls in children’s books is getting better and we have seen some strong female characters in the recent past. A few years ago, the Association of American Publishers ranked Children’s/Young Adult books as the fastest growing publishing category. Avoiding the debate on the labels “teen” and “YA” and keeping to a broad 12+ age category, here are some of my picks of Indian YA books published in 2016 and 2017 with central female characters or well rounded female characters.

z1edit - Asmara’s Summer by Andaleeb Wajid (Penguin India, 2016): Bangalore based author, Andaleeb Wajid sets her novel within a real space in the city. She thought of the story when in an auto passing by Tannery Road. Her seventeen-year-old protagonist Asmara, has a secret that she wants no one in her college to know: that her grandparents live by Tannery Road, an area known for its lower middle-class Muslim population. She is forced to spend her summer vacation with them and this forms the timeline for the novel in which the author deftly handles differences in socio-economic class through the eyes of her young protagonist.

 

z2edit- Tanya Tania by Antara Ganguli (Bloomsbury India, 2016): Though written on a Goa beach during the monsoon, the author takes us back to Mumbai and Karachi of the 1990s against the backdrop of political violence. The novel is a story of two young women, children of college best friends who are encouraged to get to know each other. The girls - Tanya Talati in Karachi and Tania Ghosh in Mumbai eventually divulge details about their personal lives and share their ambitions with each other. The novel also brings out the political realities of the two countries through the two relatively privileged protagonists. Written completely in the form of letters spanning a period of 6 years, Ganguli weaves together a heart-wrenching narrative.  

z3edit - Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb Books, 2017): The only non-fiction book on this list, Girl Rising centred on the eponymous Girl Rising, a global campaign for girl education that created a film chronicling the lives of nine girls in the developing world. Author Lee Stone, uses additional research focusing on these nine girls and others examining barriers to education including factors like early child marriage, sex trafficking, poverty and gender discrimination. Though it is questionable if education by itself without a large set of accompanying conditions can really create a transformative change in the lives of these girls, the book through its infographics, photos alongside a compelling narrative sets the ground to begin important conversations.

z4editThe Sorcerer of Mandala by D Kalyanaraman (Yali Books, 2016): Unlike the other titles in this list, this is a comical, light read with the publishers describing the book as a quirky fantasy novel suitable for ages 14 and up. The story is set in Orum, a town suddenly isolated from the rest of civilization. To save Orum, Vikram, his reluctant fiancée Ponni and his friends a thief and an aspiring playwright must steal a jewel that hangs around the neck of a demonic goddess guarded by her devotee, a terrifying Sorcerer. With each chapter opening with an illustration by Raghava KK, the novel becomes a particularly engaging read.

z5edit - Unbroken by Nandhika Nambi (Duckbill, 2017): The YA fiction space has witnessed a growing number of teen authors and Unbroken goes into that list with Nambi writing it in the six month gap between finishing school and joining medical college. A couple of years later, Nambi who had already self-published two novels, sent out Unbroken to publishers with Duckbill eventually taking on the novel. The story engages with some important issues around disability with the protagonist Akriti, confined to a wheelchair following an accident. The story follows her interactions with her brother, parents, and friends and her constantly feeling as though confined to a prison surrounded by them all with nowhere to escape.

So far 2017 has also seen a large number of international books in the YA category depicting the South Asian experience. With us living increasingly global lives, you might find these titles in literature of the Indian diaspora relatable and I have picked one of them for this list.

z7edit- Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel (Cinco Puntos Press, 2016): Rani Patel in Full Effect is the first young adult novel by Sonia Patel, a US-based psychiatrist who works with children and adults. Rani is a daughter of Gujarati immigrants living on a Hawaiian island often feeling isolated and unhappy. Her only comfort is when performing hip hop. Through Hawaiian, Hawaiian pidgin, Gujarati as well as hip-hop slang, Rani tells you her tale filled with themes of insecurities, love, and incest. This is set against a narrative that includes her parents failing marriage and an older man who is interested in Rani and eventually leads her to an underground hip hop crew.

I grew up on a generous share of Roald Dahls and Judy Blumes and after rapidly making my way through the children’s titles in my school library and local bookstore, I graduated to general fiction without really engaging with the fiction category written solely for teenagers. I am now making up for lost time and consistently add YA fiction to my reading list. Here are two upcoming YA novels that I am particularly looking forward to.

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 - You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (FSG Books for Young Readers, release date 12th Sept 2017): Perkins has written numerous novels in the YA category with South Asian characters like Bamboo People and Secret Keeper. Her upcoming YA novel tells the story of one Indian-American family through teen voices spanning across three generations. The themes tackled through the lives of these five women include cultural identity, a biracial love affair, and environmental activism could appeal to a large audience.

z10edit- Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (First Second, release date 3rd Oct 2017): Chanani is an Indian American artist and illustrator and her upcoming graphic novel will explore what it means to engage with the two identities and culture through her young protagonist Pri. Through the discovery of a magic pashmina owned by her mother, Pri finds out about her mother’s past, her life in India, who her father is and why her mother left him behind. Considering that only few graphic novels engage with these particular themes, this could add some diversity to your reading list.

Many adults confess to reading in the YA genre, so don’t let being older than early twenties stop you from picking up one of these titles the next time you are at a bookstore!

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