The Usawa Newsletter June ‘24

    Election results, the Indian voter, and the Indian citizen

    By Smita Sahay

    The 2024 general elections were full of excitement on all sides. These were the second longest general elections ever in India. After seven phases of voting from the 19th of April to the 1st of June, the results on the 4thof June took everyone by surprise – the incumbent supporters went into shocked mourning because the BJP did not win by complete majority let alone sweep 400 seats; the INDIA bloc supporters celebrated because they came much closer to their target defying most expectations. And in a surprising twist there emerged two kingmakers who would define the Indian Parliament for the next five years, Chandrababu Naidu, TDP, and Nitish Kumar, JD(U).

    The afternoon of 4th of June, 2024 witnessed high drama as INC MP Jairam Ramesh advised PM Modi to, “take your bag and head to the Himalayas”; Axis My India CEO Pradeep Gupta burst into copious tears on live TV as it became clear that his ‘400 seats for BJP’ forecast had proven wrong by a huge margin; Sensex dropped drastically by 4,380 points; PM Modi won a historic third term.

    Much excitement either way. A historic election followed by historic election day results. Much excitement indeed.

    After a fortnight now that we are back to business as usual I request you to close your eyes and picture the Indian voter. Whose face comes to mind? And if you really would humor me, close your eyes once more and picture the Indian citizen whose well-being depends on the policies implemented by the government which will be formed by the winning coalition. 

    Here are some more details from the 2024 elections:

    Women comprised of only 9.6% candidates who contested elections, and 11% candidates who contested elections on a party ticket. There are only 73 women MPs in the 18th Lok Sabha, a mere 13.5% representation. This abysmal proportion after 77 years of independence is even lower than the 14.4% women representation in the last Lok Sabha. Out of these 73 women, 12 are Dalit and 6 are Adivasi women. There are no transgender MPs.

    The world average of women MPs is 27.6%, and the regional average in Asia is 21%. India ranks 140th in this list of 183 countries. Among our neighboring countries, Pakistan has 19% women MPs, Nepal 37.3%, and Bhutan 12%. (Source:

    On top of the low women participation, out of the 8,360 total contesting candidates in the last elections, 197 were accused of crimes against women. And of the 543 elected candidates 15 are accused of crimes against women. 10 of them belong to BJP, and one each from INC, SP and RJD. (Source: Behan Box)

    These numbers are especially abysmal given that 2024 saw the first elections after the historic Women’s Reservation Bill was passed, near unanimously, last year. The obvious roadblocks to the implementation of this Bill remain the next census and the subsequently planned delimitation. However, it is impossible not to wonder whether this seemingly major Bill is all hype and no real improvement given that its passing did not see an optimism or general sentiment in favor of improved inclusion even at the stage of the contesting of elections let alone converting that morale into improved representation in the Parliament.

    Taking a step back to take a look at the manifestos for 2024 of the major political parties one might notice that their agendas do not prioritize gender violence, gender parity and gender intersecting with caste with the expected sense of urgency in the face of India ranking very poorly on women related indices – 128th out of the 177 participating countries in the Women’s Peace and Security Index (source: India has emerged as the worst performing country in South Asia on the index of Son bias (number of boys born per 100 girls), and also ranks seventh in the world on incidents of political violence targeting women, thus in fact, faring even worse than conflict ridden countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. The GWIPS report goes on to explain that while in South Asia state forces are the largest source of political violence targeting women at 32%, within the region India recorded the highest number of incidents, many of which targeted women leaders in panchayats. 

    In spite of such bleak realities, it was impossible to not celebrate in unmitigated joy with Sanjana Jatav (Bharatpur) as she danced her graceful dance of victory; she was also three of the youngest MPs elected along with the 25 years old Dalit women Priya Saroj (Machhlishahr) and Shabhavi (Samastipur). Geniben Thakor won from Banaskantha, marking the first non-BJP victory in Gujarat in a decade. Mitali Bag, Dalit grassroots leader, an Anganwadi worker and teacher won from Arambagh, while Iqra Choudhry won from Kairana. Mahua Moitra, who was expelled from the Lok Sabha last year won from West Bengal’s Krishnanagar, actor turned politician, Kangana Ranaut won from Mandi. (Source: Behan Box)

    The World Economic Forum has announced that it will take 136 years to close the global gender gap. Given that the world average Gender Development Index (GDI) was 0.951 in 2022, while that of India was 0.838 (source:, how long do you think it would take to close the gender gap in India? 

    Now let’s go back to the faces of the Indian voter and the Indian citizen you saw in your mind’s eye. Do any of those faces belong to women? How many? Is the Indian voter and the Indian citizen always assumed to be a man? Shouldn’t the party manifestos be more focused on ensuring the safety and inclusion of half of India’s population? Should an Indian woman contest election against or alongside male candidates convicted of sexual violence against women? How should the female, Dalit, and transgender citizen of India vote? How should she aspire to become the beneficiary of the election results?

    When will you be home & Justice

    By Aditya Vikram


    for Ramchandra Siras

    There are no chairs for audience
    in the court room. You sit on the window sill
    at the back as someone argues
    for your rights. You are an outline
    in the afternoon light – rolling an affidavit
    to swat houseflies.


    When will you be home?

    My mother’s question
    is the threshold of our house.

    I leave like a thief. A tranny
    and other perishables in my bag.

    Whispers from the street, obstinate as dust,
    fly through tiny openings in walls –

    litter corners where no hands reach.

    She sweeps a pile every day. Termites hole

    through the house, making doors
    out of everything. My figure shrinks

    in old photographs, something eats words.
    The question, once plump, grows wrinkles.

    Her loneliness is another name
    for my queerness. Despite the onset of decay

    she keeps the house clean. When I am free
    she will only have these consolations.


    Aditya Vikram is a writer, translator, and emerging scholar from Lucknow, India. Their critical and creative literary work revolves around language and translation, queer formations, regional histories, and (post)colonial encounters. Recently awarded the ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship 2024 and the TAARIF Fellowship 2024, their poems and essays have been published by Goethe Institute, British Council, Agents of Ishq, and Gulmohur Quarterly, among others.

    Excerpt: The Remains of the Body

    By Saikat Majumdar

    Back when they were both in grade three, Avik had told Kaustav he had seen his brother do something very strange the night before.

    It was a Saturday afternoon, and they were lying in bed in Avik’s house, the place where Kaustav always found himself whenever the walls of his own house crushed him. Avik’s house was old and beautiful, always breaking and peeling off at the edges. Big, beautiful, clueless, just like Avik. No one seemed to know where the rooms were, spacious and messy holes that managed to hide from people every now and then. If you could find one of them at the right moment, whether it was Avik’s parents’ bedroom or the deserted old study next to the third-floor terrace, no one could find you till you decided to go looking for people.

    Lying on his parents’ bed, Avik had told Kaustav that very strange thing. ‘He started moving so fast like he was dancing in bed. The bed was shaking so bad that I woke up.’
              ‘Was he crying or something?’
              ‘I was terrified. I thought he was going to die.’
              ‘What time was it?’
    ‘I don’t know. Middle of the night?’
              ‘Did you call out to him?’
              ‘I tried to. But I don’t think he heard me. He kept on moving like crazy against the pillow. He was kind of groaning, and then he groaned kind of loud and stopped.’
    Avik’s older brother was not quite like other people. He was tall but looked spindly and under-nourished, and he rarely spoke to people. They didn’t know whether that strange thing he did that night was one of his nocturnal habits or one of those strange demands of growing up, the kind of demand to which only a boy like him had to give in. Sometimes his pyjamas were wet in the morning and Avik wanted to die of shame thinking he had to share his bed with his fourteen-year-old brother who peed in his clothes at night.

              ‘It’s like he’s like an animal or something, something creepy. But I don’t know what to tell my parents. I don’t want to.’

    Those days it felt that Avik and Kaustav shared a body. Every weird thought or feeling that came into one’s mind came to the other’s too, or if it didn’t, it had to be shared till the other person sensed it like his own feeling and they forgot who had felt it first. Kaustav didn’t want to talk about the chaotic, half-awake life of his parents who didn’t know where he was most of the day, parents who didn’t care about each other’s whereabouts. But in the end, he always told Avik.
    Avik was thoughtless and distracted like a child but he had a warm, earthen affection for the world, and love for Kaustav was a slow flame in his heart. Before him, Kaustav was a scared, scheming rat, and his speech was broken, mixed with lies which Avik always saw through, and asked him to cut the crap, while Avik spoke about the strange things he saw and felt, just like a baby, a big baby who had started to grow hair in hidden parts of his body, which made him very keen about those places. It had to happen as he was the kind of person who liked to pause under stairwells and sniff at odd smells because he had no real idea where to go. And he had to tell Kaustav all about it. Kaustav would snort in disgust, ask him to shut the fuck up. Avik went on like he hadn’t heard Kaustav say anything. Greedily, Kaustav gulped it all down.

    There was a light, floating expectation that Avik would become a doctor as his father was one. But it was a bit of a joke also as his father was really not much of a doctor even though he spent several hours of the day in the clinic attached to his house, where his friends gathered to chat, but patients rarely showed up. Avik had received his father’s feudal sociability which was now out of place—and this made him confused and aimless. Also, you had to ace exams to become a doctor, and while Avik got okay marks, no one would mistake him for being brilliant. An absurd sense of humour drew a crowd of friends but he had deep anxieties that he liked to push under the rug—that only Kaustav could bring out because Kaustav liked watching people, especially when they were confused. 

    Their feelings about Alpana, the maid who cooked and cleaned for Kaustav’s family and made nasty remarks about his father’s drunkenness, gave them shame for very different reasons. They were thirteen at that time. Alpana’s dark knees, Avik said, made him hot and hard, especially when she pulled up her sari to sit down with the pile of dirty dishes. How could he say that? Kaustav felt a disgust that he couldn’t quite admit. ‘That’s kind of sick,’ he said feebly. ‘The dark legs and the hard scrubbing,’ Avik said. ‘And have you seen her nails, they are crusty and gnarled.’ Kaustav wanted to say that he found dirty and smelly women disgusting, and all the maidservants were dark and smelly and dirty, and how could you get turned on by them, but a lump of shame choked his own throat and drowned the words. 

    But nobody could stop Avik. He was a child who wanted to suck and bite and crush his lollipop. ‘I want to follow her around when she mops the floors.’ Avik seemed unnerving at such moments but naked in his honesty, as if he had nothing to hide from Kaustav. He could even tell him that his own father, under all his laughter and good looks, barely made a living with all his pretence of a medical practice. He could bare all his confusion and his arousal, perhaps even pull down his pants and show him everything as he had nothing to hide from Kaustav. That thought was frightening and strangely comforting at the same time. Loving Avik was a like thing of nature, the air and the sun, a boy wide open like the elements, around Kaustav always, touching him but unpredictable, vulnerable to hurt, a crumbling decay. Avik would be very interested in watching Kaustav get aroused—he loved to punch and squeeze and make fun of him—but he was bored by the kind of girls that made Kaustav dreamy. 

    These were also the kind of girls who in college would want nothing to do with Avik, the big brawny brute who said offensive things and then became dead quiet, red and embarrassed and angry, wandering away. That’s when Kaustav wanted to hug and pull him back and shout to the world that Avik was a lovely, sweet boy who was a clumsy idiot. But Avik was hot and raging. The women who studied chemistry, he said, looked like they had crawled out of lab experiments gone wrong, while the sleek girls were all studying sociology with Kaustav and laughing at his slimy jokes and wrapping themselves around him like flags around a pole. But the boys’ bodies were tuned together and Kaustav immersed himself in women for the sake of both. 

    Avik listened to his stories and that was enough for him. Especially when Kaustav got to persuade his female classmates to let him touch them. Movie halls were great for such business, holding hands, toying with the fingers, sliding under the T-shirt and feeling the terrain, but what creeped Avik out were the stories of Kaustav getting naughty on the move, in taxis and occasionally in city buses, where he and the girl usually tried to find seats in the back where he could unzip the jeans and dig inside. Creeped out in a delicious, heart-popping way. ‘Man,’ Avik would pinch and slap Kaustav, ‘Your stories are getting too horny these days.’ His voice became hoarse, and Kaustav could almost feel Avik growing taller, harder, rapt-skinned. 

    Avik’s quick breathing did something to Kaustav. It was as if Avik trusted him with his body, as he trusted him with his life. It was an unlikely, brutal breathing, his football-pumped chest rising and falling, his eyes growing smaller, sleepier, as if his body was melting at the edges. Kaustav loved that body like he had loved no one, not his dazed parents who never kept track of his life, not the girls whose bodies felt creamy and restless in his hands. Despite his fidgety attention-span, Avik knew every inch of Kaustav’s life and never forgot a strand. Kaustav, too, started breathing heavily like Avik, and the hardness rose between his legs, at the thought of the beads of sweat that he knew had appeared everywhere on Avik, on his upper lip, flesh he knew without touching, from its language of helpless desire. 

    With all his offensive humour, Avik was shapeless with love. He couldn’t say no to people and fell in with all kinds of guys, particularly the rustic and unkempt ones with a brutal sense of life, with whom Kaustav wanted little to do. But only Kaustav could twist out some hidden truths from Avik, who couldn’t get away from Kaustav. He didn’t want to. Such truths had sealed their friendship.

    Excerpted with permission from The Remains of the Body by Saikat Majumdar (Penguin Random House India, 2024)


    Saikat Majumdar is the author of four novels: Silverfish, The Firebird/Play House, The Scent of God, acclaimed as one of the major queer novels to come out of India following the decriminalization of homosexuality, and most recently, The Middle Finger, a contemporary college campus novel that seeks to retell ancient myths.

    He has also published nonfiction and criticism, including the book Prose of the World, College: Pathways of Possibility—a widely read book on liberal education in India. He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Ashoka University and was a Fellow at the Wellesley College Humanities Center and the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study in South Africa.

    Author Photo! by TheWayfarerWrites is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Star Crossed Identities: Queer Communities and Astrology

    By Shashvathi S Hariharan

              Enter a room full of queers, and you will probably encounter a variety of zodiac-induced self-proclamations–– “I’m a Virgo, Capricorn rising, angular Mars—you’re gonna get it full force,” “I’m Saturn ruled,” “I can’t tell a story like a Libra tells a story!” Paradoxically, the queer reluctance to box oneself into an identity is underscored by David Halperin’s definition of queerness–“an identity without essence.” The queers believe all identities to be not fixed, but as fluid and dynamic. This perception holds not only for different people but within the same person at different times as well.

    Most queers know when Mercury is in retrograde and they know when not to reach out to their Pisces ex; they know their Big 3— their sun, moon, and rising signs.  If you bring up Geminis, they just might dramatically slide down the wall and break into loud sobs of rage, longing, or regret.

    Why do queers, then, who reject all essentialist theories of identity, (those expressed through binary oppositions – male/female, gay/straight) allow a mere zodiac sign assigned to them at birth such a privileged position within their circles? 

    Astrology is often, much like the queer community, fundamentally misunderstood by those outside the community; it is either perceived as pseudoscience or fortune telling, neither narrative truly capturing its nuances.  When one approaches astrology with a more emic perspective, it can be understood as the now widely utilized spiritual tool that helps many find meaning and purpose. 

    People who “believe” in astrology may not all share uniform belief systems, but they do share confidence in a world in which astrology is possible. They trust that a complex symbolic system correlated to planetary motions can effectively guide one’s spiritual development and help reveal one’s true self.

    Though starry-eyed and idealistic, it may be wholly inane, given the political atmosphere of institutionalized violence, mass incarceration, and governmental monitoring; the idea that celestial bodies and stars, rather than governmental organizations, employers, or landlords, may influence our collective destiny subjugates our earthly worries to the motion of the cosmos. 

    It is hard to imagine a world in which a person’s zodiac sign determines their social status, financial security, or personal safety— where Aries are most likely to make it big in Hollywood because of their tenth house or where Tauruses are systematically denied employment due to their South- lunar- node -induced lethargy. Astrology’s intervention in identity seems ideologically hollow. 

    Diwakar (he/him), Associate Secretary of SNU Queer Collective, lets out a hearty laugh when I ask him if he believes in astrology. “I think astrology is largely explained by the Barnum effect. I think people will accept almost any bogus personality feedback, and astrology plays the personal validation card well.” he shrugs. “Despite my belief, I do know a lot about astrology, I must admit!” Diwakar continues, “I know my Big 3 and I know which planets are in retrograde. Good enough to keep up with my friends who talk about astrology.” 

    Kevin Mutta (they/them), a student of English at Ashoka University, describes themself as a “pretty faithless person.” However, Co-Star, an astrology-themed social media app, is the first thing they check every midnight. “I do follow astrology to a very large extent,” they say, showing me their tarot deck with which they do readings for themself and their close friends. In a moment of doubt over a relationship, they turn to a tarot reading: “What the cards were saying was not necessarily the best thing ever, but just looking at them gave me so much reassurance.”

    Ray Baveja (they/them), who recently graduated from Ashoka University with a Major in English and a Minor in Creative Writing, takes on astrology as a much more casual endeavour– “I occasionally scroll through astrology accounts on Twitter, and I have Co-Star; I check it once in a while”.

    “These are the kind of things you would hear from a therapist, and they’re very comforting to people,” says Ray, referring to the language and vocabulary used in astrology apps like Co-Star. The app’s direct and soothing messaging nearly sounds like a mentor giving you life advice. In addition, the horoscope’s over-familiarity and assertiveness distinguish it from the majority of other astrological media.

    “The men I have seen engage with astrology are either queer or labelled ‘softboy’, which is interesting because it implies astrology almost comes naturally to women, without any label,” observes Ray.

    Astrology necessitates reflection and an awareness of emotions—two things that are typically associated with femininity. Thus, it carves out a safe space that is largely free from male interference for women and queer individuals, argues Mohan Rajagopal.

    Anecdotally, socially, and individually, the evidence for a queer astrological propensity seems – much like astrological logic – to be universally evident or even celestially fated.

    “In the Obama years, people liked astrology. In the Trump years, people need it,” explains Aliza Kelly, co-founder of the astrology-themed dating app Align. Astrology injects a sense of assurance into a political environment characterized by fear and the perils of state violence. It presents a resolutely relational and anticipatory frame — not necessarily optimistic, but an understanding that good things can still happen despite the sense of impending doom.

    Further, sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s data shows that people who believe in astrology are more likely to feel marginalized, to be associated with the counterculture (as defined in the 1970s), and to be women. Indeed, astrologers such as Deon Mitchell explain how astrology provides healing for individuals who have been let down by mainstream health and wellness systems. “There’s kind of this push in our society to be as helpful and productive as possible, and we don’t really take enough time and think about what we need. This is especially true for Black people, queer people, the disabled, and other oppressed groups.” 

    Astrologers like Johanna Hedva, Chani Nicholas, and Alice Sparkly Kat often posit astrology as a lifeline for queer people, people of color, and those dealing with chronic disease and disability; this reflects the idea of astrology as an auxiliary shelter.

    The pathologization of queerness makes queers hyper-visible as a twofold opposite, while also eliminating the social functioning of queer people. As a result, fear of an established identity carries lingering anxieties about being entrapped in labor or desire, which prescribes what queers should or must do and where they belong. Astrology offers a prescription to soothe these anxieties, through a unique “seekership” spirituality.

    A “seekership” spirituality, is one that affirms who we are and what gives us identity, purpose, and meaning to our existence while also providing a sense of agency and control. The “seeking” freedom allows people to construct their own, individualized spiritual narratives based on lived experience, as opposed to being tightly bound to one religious ideology and its long-standing customs. Contemporary astrology offers a qualitative shift from unquestioned belief to a more open, questing mood that is the result of a deep hunger for self-transformation that is both genuine and personally satisfying, especially for queers.

    It is important to keep in mind that, when it comes to queers and astrology, modern astrology is not merely a lucrative industry. As Theodor Adorno puts it, astrology is increasingly becoming a “culture industry,” one in which the mass creation of commercial media encourages passive consumption. From horoscopes in the twinned domains of romance and finance, to personalised birth chart readings, sandwiched with astrological memes, astrology’s consumer base is rapidly expanding, thanks to social media and digital platforms.

    Numerous astrological apps, such as Co-Star, Sanctuary, and Pattern, have been developed in the last few years with venture capital funding. For subscription fees and in-app purchases, these applications offer individualized and algorithmically generated astrological insight. As the vast amounts of wealth pouring into astrology increases, the boundaries between corporate power and independent astrologers are blurring; the incorporation of astrology into a potential billion-dollar market as writer Erin Griffith dubs “Big Zodiac,” seems imminent.

    Diwakar believes that the glut of astrology apps and the spike in sponsored horoscope listicles suggests that even astrology has fallen prey to capitalism. “Astrology is increasingly individualizing and commodifying self-care, and this can be particularly worrisome for queer people, as it exploits them to over-consume. It is no different from rainbow capitalism!” he asserts.

    Along with the rapid growth of venture capital-funded astrology apps, a small group of queer astrologers continue to advocate for the potentially transformative potential of astrological practice.

    Younger astrologers today are sensitive to gender identity and social justice issues, and are creatively applying astrology to encourage social change; there is a growing movement known as “queer astrology.” Queer astrology draws inspiration from queer theory, which is all about questioning, criticizing, destabilizing, undoing, and making the monolith of heteronormativity non-linear.

    So, what does queer astrology entail? “Queer astrology means being receptive to the hidden singularity and multiplicity in a given birthchart’s spacetime. All types of generalizations, including those in astrology, offer simple solutions. But none of us are known for our simple solutions. Each of us is open, varied, and complex. Queer astrology provides non-reductive readings of who and where a person is in life– after all, each chart is infinitely unique and non-binary,” explains Clarisse Monahan, a Soho House astrologer.

    Throughout history, astrology has been adapted to and evolved within the cultures in which it exists. The communities and sociality scaffolded through astrology have always played a major role in its adaptation and reinterpretation to the current cultural milieu. Yet another adaptation of the astrological movement by trans and queer people has ignited its contemporary resurgence. 

    The surging Big Zodiac may suggest that the language of the stars has fallen prey to capitalism, increasingly isolating and commercialising alternate forms of spirituality. However, for some, it does the opposite. For queer and trans people, it gives a language to experiences that contemporary society tends to consolidate under just one meaning. It enables them to imagine a world that sustains and cares for their lives.


    Shashvathi S Hariharan is a third year Economics student at Ashoka University. In her free time, she can be found singing, writing or taking long walks along the beach.


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    Hopes of Being a Young Queer in India

    By Nirjhar Gupta

    Growing up queer, while trying to find an identity and acceptance in the rich tapestry of India, I often switch between bouts of cynicism and optimism. In a queer rights movement that has seen its fair share of victories and setbacks, the road to full equality in this country is winding and often dark, but if I close my eyes and look at what lies ahead, I see a beacon in the darkness.

    Being a diverse and culturally rich nation, India has been struggling through the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ rights. Queer individuals have retreated behind the shadows of society, where deeply encultured social norms and conservative attitudes have historically processed them on the margins of society. But change, fortuitously, has come on the wings of queer activists and activists of all persuasions who through their energy and courage will not be abated.

    Much has been made of the decriminalization ruling on homosexuality by the Indian Supreme Court in the landmark Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India case, for good reason. It was a victory for justice and for what masses of people in concert could accomplish. But the struggle for true equality is not finished. This is, of course, a major first step of many in the larger process towards true liberation.

    I look to the future of the queer rights movement in India with a combination of hope and fear. The nation, on the one hand, is on the verge of a new way of acceptance and inclusivity. Pride parades are taking place in small towns and backward areas for example in 2023 in the municipality of Vasai- Virar, a one-day pride event was hosted and was attended by a multitude of people from all over Maharashtra, and it indicates a change in behaviour and opinions.

    Social Media also deserves credit here because it is one of the reasons for the voice of the LGBTQIA+ community being heard, as they succeeded in creating a community. Social media provides safe zones, at times, for our younger queer family, a place to find others like themselves, as they unite online through platforms that permit them the gate keys necessary to access information and support.

    However, beneath these two glimmers of hope are dark clouds on the horizon. Queer rights movements that fought for various equal rights have begun to face the gravest threat caused by the rise of right-wing conservatism as well as religious fundamentalism. Politicians peddle hate speech and divisive rhetoric, seeking to scapegoat marginalized communities for their gain.

    Meanwhile, the systemic discrimination and oppression of our queer brethren goes on unabated. Hate crimes which can include anything from verbal abuse to physical violence are a daily experience that contributes to the making of a society dominated by fear and insecurity. In society and the LGBTQIA+ community overall we see far higher levels of this hate specifically targeting the trans community. 

    The days on this journey, I know, will be troublesome, but my resolve is peaceful. I know the power of a movement and the force of solidarity as a young queer person myself. Change has to begin from the grassroots levels, from our homes, schools, and communities. It is our responsibility to break systems of hegemonic masculinity, tear down normative heterosexual structures, and work towards a society that is not exclusionary.

    One key component of that is the interactions and understanding provided by education. It is, therefore, the need of the hour to push for inclusive sex education in schools for the LGBTQIA+ community now so that the upcoming generations are aware and open to accepting variations. We also need to push for queer representation and visibility in media, arts, and entertainment, breaking stereotypes and showcasing queer storytelling in its fullest form. We must present the queer experience. By highlighting the diversity and depth of queer lives we can help move away from the narrow negative portrayal imposed by an oppressive society. 

    Solidarity is our greatest advantage. This means we must ally ourselves with other marginalised communities and understand that oppression is linked, uniting with those fighting their fight for justice and equality. Discrimination and oppression often share the same root whether it be based on race, caste, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status. For instance both the feminist movement and the queer movement share objectives such as advocating for autonomy and combating gender-based violence. The marginalization faced by Dalit individuals mirrors that experienced by individuals within our community. By coming to support one another and forge alliances each group can amplify its voice and receive mutual assistance. Solidarity entails showing up for one another offering support and resources when needed. When we stand together, we present a united front against the prevalent discrimination and prejudice in our society.

    Hope will never be silent ”– keeping in mind the words of LGBTQIA+ activist Harvey Milk we must keep raising our voices for a future where love conquers all and where living as your true authentic self without the fear of judgement is the only reality. The road to that future may be long and winding but it is lit by the unyielding spirits of all queer individuals and their allies. The future of the queer narrative in India lies in our resolve to advocate for inclusivity and stand in solidarity by challenging prejudice. As a witness and a participant in the ever-changing queer narrative in India, I hope to see a society where everyone is awarded with the dignity and respect they deserve. 


    Nirjhar Gupta is a lawyer based out of Delhi, India. In her free time, she is an avid reader, lover of all things culture, travel enthusiast and dog mom to Lucy. Nirjhar never shies away from trying new things and readily explores a beautiful blend of the law with her creativity, expressing them through her writing.

    Review: A Life Misspent

    By Kartik Chauhan

    A Life Misspent

    Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’

    Because if you walk into a room and notice what is missing from it, 

    It’s still there, isn’t it?

    The first poem I wrote that wasn’t about you 

    was still about you.

    – Caitlyn Siehl, What We Buried; from “A Letter To Love”

    First published in 1938 as Kulli Bhaat, A Life Misspent—translated by Satti Khanna—has been hailed as a lost classic of Hindi queer Literature. But is it?

    A Life Misspent is the autobiography of one of the most prominent Hindi poets of the Chhayavad movement, literally “shadowism”, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’. His poetry is informed by an engagement with the self, the omnipresence of nature, and intersecting through these elements, the connections of the mystic and spiritual. Some other major figures of the movement are Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant and, Mahadevi Verma. But it is Nirala who emerges as a progressive writer, who was unafraid to write about queer themes in his work. He also edited Matvala, a Hindi weekly headquartered in Calcutta, which is said to have published the first major same-sex short story in India in 1924: “Chocolate” by Pandey Bechan Sharma ‘Ugra’. 

    The ambition of the book is double-pronged. It is as much an autobiography of Nirala as it is a biography of Kulli Bhaat, an ordinary man from Dalmau, Nirala’s wife’s village, which had a lasting impact on the education and development of the poet’s understanding of literature, history, and life. In lieu of a dedication in the book, Nirala writes: “I could not find a worthy person among the eminences of Hindi letters to whom this book could be dedicated. Eminences who possessed individual qualities similar to Kulli’s seemed inadequate in comparison to the sum of Kulli’s character.” Naturally, one expects that Kulli must be a strong influence on Nirala.

    The book narrates the events after Nirala’s marriage at the age of thirteen, and how he navigated the tides of the plague-ridden, desolate 1920s as he came of age amid socio-political turbulence. The book introduces his wife, Manohara Devi, as a gentle and supportive but silent presence. Her family serves as a chorus to project all the social biases of religious differences and caste violence that continue to plague India even today. Nirala writes the book with a certain dispassionate distance; the episodes by themselves are snappy and scattered, as if he is observing them in retrospect. Which is not to say that the events are not related with care. In fact, Nirala writes about the select few events in the book in painstaking detail, with elaborate dialogue. The achievement of this slim novel is indeed this erratic narrative structure, which manages to sweep an incredibly vast canvas representing the intimate lives of a broken family and country.

    As an autobiographical novel, and a Künstlerroman at that, we must assume that each event relayed in this slim less-than-hundred-page narrative must have a special meaning for the author. The most remarkable, however, are the exchanges between two men: the author himself and Kulli Bhaat.

    The first meeting between Kulli and Nirala occurs almost by accident, as the latter is offered a ride home from the railway station in the former’s trap. Kulli looks at Nirala with a gaze that he does not recognize at first: “I did not recognize the gaze then; I do now. It is the sort of gaze bestowed upon an exceedingly beautiful woman at the height of her beauty.” Interestingly, Nirala feminizes himself in this description. But the gaze is not troubling. Rather, as it becomes clearer, it is this gaze that makes him real, even to himself. To love, as it is often said, is to be seen.

    Immediately after this meeting, however, when another is proposed by Kulli, Nirala’s mother-in-law offers a word of caution:

              ‘He is not a good man,’ Mother-in-law said gravely.

              ‘But he is a man, and therefore…’

              ‘I didn’t say he was a creature with horns. Only among men do we distinguish those who are good from those who are not.’

    Tellingly, the conversation skirts around masculinity. What defines a ‘good man’ in 1920s India? As Kulli appears on the scene after this exchange, he is described by his physical attributes and immaculate appearance: “Hair freshly oiled, a waistcoat over his muslin kurta, a cane, socks even in the heat of summer. A pale-faced supplicant. I remembered a line from Kalidasa for no reason: ‘Small talk from the lover like cooling breezes…’” Is this description deriving from a common gay stereotype? Is it appropriate for us to read the description from over a hundred years ago, with the scrutinous “politically correct” gaze of 2024? The next event in this scene suggests something in the affirmative.

    Nirala writes: “I was not averse to flattery then. I did not understand its hidden meaning. Nor did I have Kalidasa’s knowledge of sexual matters. Had I been wiser I would have dismissed Kulli instantly. I accepted the cardamom Kulli offered me for sweetening the breath.” By this point in the narrative, it has been hinted that Kulli is nurturing homoerotic tendencies for the 16-year-old Nirala. Kulli himself is tentatively 25 years old. It is interesting to see how Nirala figures that difference in the lines above. Had he known better, and had he been more experienced in sexual matters, he would have “dismissed Kulli instantly.” However, it is not the 16-year-old Nirala writing this narrative. By 1938, Nirala is in his 40s, so why is this retrospective innocence referred to?

    When they meet next, the dynamics remain unchanged, but the drama progresses. As Kulli answers Nirala’s questions about why the village folk treat him differently, he simply explains his situation as someone who lives alone, with “no wife and no children… I live to please myself, but this does not please my neighbours. If I have a weakness or two what is that to others? It’s my money that I spend.” Why indeed should his lifestyle be a matter of public discourse? In provincial Uttar Pradesh, the consequences of social dysfunction have always been adverse. In Kulli’s case, there is collective disgust and forced amnesia about his presumed perversions. But Kulli is glad to find a support system in Nirala, and seeing as he is not immediately disgusted by him, Kulli lays claim to the silent solidarity between them: “‘Fortunately there are people like you and me who aren’t intimidated by gossip-mongers,’ Kulli said. He offered me a paan tenderly, adding a little squeeze as our fingers brushed.” One feels the tension between the characters, which is undercut immediately by Nirala: “Just like a brother-in-law, I thought.” Kulli is unfazed, like the resilient chaser he is: “’How wonderfully the paan juice traces your lips,’ he said, ‘turning them into daggers.’”

    In their third meeting, the tension crescendos. “There was a large mirror on the wall hung with small garlands at each corner. He put his arm around my waist, and when we looked in the mirror we seemed to be garlanded even though we wore no flowers. I was pleased with the effect.” Critics have read this as a scene which represents an ambitious marriage between the two; initiated by exchanging flower garlands. That it happens in a mirror world, and is only possible in one, is a grim statement about the legal indifference towards queer rights and marriage equality, since time immemorial.

    As the men spend more time together, the scene becomes ripe with anticipation. “He wiggled towards me on the bed, then wiggled back. I wondered if he had taken ill. He cast a look of longing perhaps in my direction. ‘I had better lock the door.’ But his voice died even as he uttered these words.” Something compels Kulli to withdraw his advances. Nirala is curiously silent on the reasons. But in that moment, which he is—as it bears repeating—reporting after almost twenty-five years, his emotions are different. “I grew afraid, not of him but for him. I didn’t think that Kulli could injure me in any way, but I feared that his illness—for that is what it must be—would bring him harm.” For Nirala, the diagnosis is complete. Perhaps the scene has been garbled in his memory too, one cannot avoid the suspicion, since it is reported in this strange incompleteness. We never really access Nirala’s emotional response to the scene, except that he enjoys the attention. The conversation continues: “’I can use force if…’ and he wiggled towards me again. I burst out laughing. Kulli remained where he was, but he said indistinctly, like a person drowning in a well, ‘I love you.’ ‘I love you, too, I replied. ‘Come. Let’s go then,’ he said and drew himself to his full height.”

    After this meeting, an interval is posed in the autobiography, in which a few other events take place. Nirala loses his entire family in a tragic series of deaths due to the epidemic. Which makes this book one of the only documents of the time in India. The deaths are reported as in a stupor. Nirala leaves his well-paying jobs on whims, and decides to pursue more liberating but less lucrative interests like writing and editing. He becomes an eminent poet over time. His fame, as he writes, spreads “as rats fan out in a field of grain.” Fame, then, perhaps for him insinuates or foreshadows a pestilence. Even as he moves to Lucknow with the surviving members of his family, his nephews and two children, Dalmau calls him back. In one of the most visceral passages in the book, Nirala fawns over the beauty of this provincial town: “Scenes of Dalmau’s natural beauty would appear in my mind-the flow of the Ganga, the open riverbanks, the wide horizons. The strongest attraction was to Kulli. I could hear his affection calling out to me: Come back to Dalmau, come back.” 

    In the final meetings with Kulli, a deep sadness malingers in the narrative. “Kulli’s face looked bright, but his body was emaciated, as of a person in the evening of his life… He sat without moving. I had never seen him this quiet before. I sensed he was on an interior journey, having shown the world the path to follow…” In the duration apart from each other, both the men have managed to grow their life beyond their unresolved desires, but life has not been kind to either. Kulli lives with a Muslim woman and entertains Dalits in his household. His removal from the putrid world of caste and socio-religious hierarchies is three-fold. He has worked tirelessly for the freedom struggle and the Congress: “He pushed himself running from village to village in the heat, signing up members for the Congress Party.” But he remains an outsider, easily discarded in his sickness. In the final scenes of the book, Kulli is reduced to an acrimonious example of a life misspent. His lower body is rotting away because of a venereal disease. Nirala’s brother-in-law reports it with an uncanny joy found only in our social thirst for scandal concerning the Other, which exacerbates especially when it is implicitly tied to taboo. In this case, homosexuality.

              ‘The genital organ is missing.’


              ‘It wasted away, that’s what people say. Even if he survives, they say,

              what use will he be to his wife?’

    Why is it necessary for this final act of emasculation and castration to happen? Kulli dies a painful death, which is not reported in the narrative. As Nirala confesses:

              “When I learn of the passing of a dear person or fear their demise, I fall into a kind of
              stupor. I was in the sitting room when I heard Kulli was dead. I was in the sitting room
              when I was told his corpse had arrived in Dalmau. A social worker came to summon me
              two or three times. I was in the sitting room when the funeral procession set out. I said I
              was unable to join. People cremated him and returned. I was seated as before.”

    The repetitive yet static act of sitting creates a hypnotic effect. Kulli’s death is the final blow of misery in A Life Misspent. Pandits in Dalmau refuse to perform the rituals pertaining to last rites, and so Nirala himself must do them for this friend.

    How does the book perform as a queer classic? In A Life Misspent, attention is drawn to the missing. It is registered by the tangible presence of absence. If poetry is the art of suggestion—and Nirala is one of the keenest masters of the art—this book is the progeny of a master of that art at work. Nirala enjoys the flattery and misreads, or at least misrepresents, the truths from his life. In the end, this is a book about deeply buried secrets, which reveal themselves momentarily as sharp winds blow off their cover. “Because if you walk into a room and notice what is missing from it / It’s still there, isn’t it?” One of the last passages in the novel is stunning: “In their last days, Premchand and Jaishankar Prasad shared some confidences of their lives with me. I will keep their secrets safe. Making them public would only stir gossip and cause pain to the departed souls. Kulli, too, lived with a secret. Premchand and Jaishankar Prasad parted with their secret late.” Queer lives have always been secret, so perhaps even the suggestion of suspicion planted in our minds can restore their historic omnipresence. Raising more questions than offering answers can perhaps be the best way to do so. 


    Kartik Chauhan is a Delhi-based literary reviewer and writer.

    Sex, Poetry, Tantra and The World In-Between

    Kabir Deb: We usually do not go towards writing something unless there’s a reason or trigger involved. What, according to you, is the trigger that made you write poems? 

    Vikram Kolmannskog: Since early childhood, I have been fascinated by how a few words can hold great beauty and truth. For example, there are four simple words that I treasure: ‘no mud, no lotus’. These are the words of Zen master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh. When we look with interest and openness at ourselves and the world, we can come to some important insights; and sometimes these can be formulated in words – very often poetry – and become pointers for others. 

    Reading and writing poems can be quite similar to my meditation practices, and there is certainly a cross-fertilization between them. This is how The Garden Tantra (Red River, 2023) was written: spending time, with awareness, in my garden and surrounding forest, reading and writing poems, doing formal sitting meditation but also being with other animals, plants and minerals with interest and openness. 

    There can be a tension between first-order reality/experience and language, and I also practice letting go of words and appreciate silence. However, I can also enjoy working with this tension, and I can enjoy the experience of words and working with words. Poetry can include an appreciation of paradoxical and upside down truths, attention to sounds and form, and leave much silence and open space. In this way, it can get very close to what is true and beautiful – and sometimes the apparent separation may collapse entirely. One of the poems in The Garden Tantra is titled ‘I Write to Celebrate Life’ and includes the lines ‘There is air and rain and soil and sunshine in words / just as there is in leaves, // there is space inside and all around, / there is movement and sound.’


    KD: In the queer community, what is the basic condition of poetry? People, in general, do not subscribe to poetry unless they have an additional influence in their life. Is it the same when it comes to the poets of the queer community?

    VK: The queer community is very diverse, of course. Many great poets were and are queer, and it varies how much this shines through in their work. One anthology that I recommend is 100 Queer Poems (Vintage Publishing, 2022). 

    Personally, I have written some stories and poems during (and as part of) the mobilisation for queer rights in India and many were published in Indian queer magazines such as Gaylaxy. I am also active in a queer artist collective in Norway called Pride Art, and more recently I wrote the poem ‘He’s So Gay’ (included in The Garden Tantra) in response to a terror attack on Oslo Pride in 2022. ‘He’s so gay’ is a common insult, but I am turning it on its head in this praise poem. The anaphora includes ‘He’s so gay / he picks flowers / with his eyes’ and ‘He’s so gay / he feels divine pride, / knowing everyone and everything / everywhere is divine’. It is important to find some recognition in a story or poem, to have your identity and experience validated, not least for those of us who are regularly marginalised and oppressed. This has been important to me. Queer literature certainly speaks to me in a special way. 

    I believe queer, literary platforms such as Gaylaxy and The Rainbow Lit Fest are tremendously important. During the last Rainbow Lit Fest in December, I felt so free and happy and at home. A friend and I are also making a small contribution through Mohini Books, a queer-centric publisher. Our latest book, Queers in Quarantine, is an anthology of poems, stories, essays, and more, and can be downloaded for free at Finally, I also want to mention the anthology The World That Belongs To Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia (HarperCollins India, 2020).

    Having said all this, I am happy that others who do not identify as queer also read and appreciate my work. I certainly read and appreciate poems by both queer and straight people. We are all human, after all; not that different, though the particularities of our longing, loving and heartbreak differ somewhat. I believe all good literature deals with the complexity of life and can potentially be enriching to everyone. 


    KD: In our society, we have seen people coming out of the box to write erotic poems layered with metaphors. You, on the other hand, write about the silhouette of our body like it is. What do you think made you go through this path which is a double-edged sword?

    VK: I really dislike the flowery ways of writing about sex. I welcome good metaphors and images. But often I suspect there is shame and other concerns dictating the writing rather than poetic considerations.

    I’ve written several erotic stories and poems in the past, but my latest book, Rhyheim: A Porn Poem (Broken Sleep Books, 2024), is my most explicit work. It has definitely been a process for me. I have had – and still have – some shame related to sex. Sex is after all a main reason why we queers were – and still are – considered sinful, criminal, sick or dirty. While I still may feel some shame, I try to bring awareness to it and make an active choice: I don’t want to be governed by a shame that is damaging to our growth and pleasure. Courage means that I may still feel some shame and fear but I keep writing and publishing erotic work. I believe awareness and courage are important virtues for an artist to cultivate.

    However, it is often difficult to clearly distinguish between healthy boundaries and oppressive shame since societal shame permeates our body-mind-hearts. What feels too intimate and personal to share? How much is this influenced by societal shaming? This is a constant consideration for me, and I don’t claim that I am always right in my choices. In Rhyheim, I am very explicit and also self-disclosing, even using my own name and loosely drawing upon intimate experiences with my husband. I should say that my husband has of course read and consented to this. The fact that my husband too is very relaxed about sex has definitely helped me a lot. 


    KD: Rhyheim: A Porn Poem is a tale of love told through the lens of graphic sex. What was the first thought that came into your mind before you took the decision to write the book and get it published?

    VK: I think it was during the pandemic that I first came across the Black American porn star Rhyheim Shabazz. His entire body, including cock, is absolutely delicious, but what really caught my attention was how his films include so much more than fucking. And even in the fucking, he seems to truly pay attention to the other person(s). I discussed this with a friend, and joked that I should write a praise for him. And then I actually started on a poem – and it soon turned into a book-length poem. I didn’t think too much about getting it published. When UK-based Broken Sleep Books was enthusiastic and wanted to publish it almost without edits, my first reaction was to become quite anxious. It is, as I have mentioned, very explicit and I self-disclose quite a lot. But the publisher’s enthusiasm was supportive, and I do believe it is a good poem. Here is a glimpse of the intensity and gentleness I notice between Rhyheim and another porn star: 

    ‘Dark honeycomb-like clouds form
    Over, inside and all around 
    Drops on his awesome face shining
    Brilliant black cock crashing
    Veins flashing
    Rhy lifts him up
    Puts him down 
    Stretches his long arm and places
    A pillow under his head’

    KD: Tantra addresses spirituality through practice which relies on our body. Your book ‘The Garden Tantra’ functions around the body too. What made you choose the title? And what is the objective behind documenting the human body?

    VK: A split that is quite typical in many cultures is to see ourselves, our essence, as separate from nature. We also do that in spirituality and religion. According to many if not most traditions, humans and the divine are somehow different from and above nature, and liberation means transcendence. In contrast, I practice a very material, embodied spirituality, drawing on Zen, Bhakti, and Tantra. This is reflected in The Garden Tantra as well as much of my other work. Spatial metaphors are often used when talking about the divine. For example, God is often seen as above, and higher often means better. In the poem ‘Locating Souls’, I write,

    ‘Perhaps there is not a soul
    in the brain. Perhaps in the heart.

    One place is certain.
    Remove your shoes and be aware

    here where the pressure is high
    yet you remain so very sensitive,

    here where you find the grassy, gritty origins 
    of humility and humanity.

    Vira Vikram knows. Only those who are still lost
    discriminate between high and low.’

    I was unsure about using the word ‘Tantra’ in the book title. For some in India, the association is first and foremost black magic. For most people in the west, it means a form of sexual practice. And then there are what one could call the traditional or classical Tantric practitioners. For these practitioners, Tantra is a wisdom tradition and approach found in several religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. The word can also refer to some of the texts in this tradition. Etymologically, it can mean instrument (tra) for expansion (tan). There are a few reasons why I ended up using the term in the title of a poem and the collection as a whole. One reason is that the book is, as mentioned, influenced by Tantric practices and wisdom, and hopefully the garden poems can be instruments for expansion. Another reason is that it rhymes a little with ‘garden’, and poets trust sound as much as anything else.


    Vikram Kolmannskog is a writer, psychotherapist, and fulltime professor of Gestalt psychology. He has a mixed heritage with a Norwegian father and a mother born in Kenya to Gujarati parents. He lives outside Oslo together with his husband Daniel. Among his publications are The Empty Chair: Tales from Gestalt Therapy (Routledge, 2018), Taste and See: A Queer Prayer (Mohini Books, 2018), Lord of the Senses: Stories (Team Angelica, 2019), Becoming Buddha: Meditations (Mohini Books, 2021), and The Garden Tantra (Red River, 2023), and Rhyheim: A Porn Poem (Broken Sleep Books, 2024).

    Anantha Literary Festival

    What does a festival of poetry hope to achieve? In the literal mushrooming of in-person poetry and literary festivals, what are the chances that an online poetry festival will have takers? And who will listen? Who will view? Especially in the post-covid era when the malls are back to bursting capacity, frenzied shopping sprees capture the imagination and there is so much to do than log in and listen to poetry….these and worse were the doubts that I harboured in my mind as I pondered over the wisdom of announcing yet another festival. is a site for poetry that I set up in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and what struck a chord with the readership was the attention to detail that was paid to every submission- the editorials took care to ensure the poets and their work in as much totality was covered and the results were some really great narratives and poems that the site could be proud of. There is more to come from samyuktapoetry this year! On the first anniversary of the site, I received a suggestion that we could run a small festival, just at least to boost the site. The name of the festival was a no-brainer- Anantha- meaning unending and also a reference to the old name of Thiruvananthapuram- the city where the festival and the site and I are based. The first edition of the festival ran for seven days, I made some errors in scheduling, but I made more friends. Learnt a few lessons- like leave some breathing space, to think is not to have done- the thing has to be actually done! The second year, the festival ran on for ten days. The errors were few and we gathered more friends. Friends who took some of the weight off my shoulders, who hosted sessions cheerfully, expecting nothing in return and giving it their all. The third year, we did not have the festival. I thought maybe we were done. But like John Donne, we were not done, “because I have more”.

    In 2024, on a whim and a prayer, I just put out a small feeler, just a post on Facebook asking, “let’s go again? Anantha 2024?” The response was encouraging to say the least.

    I put out an open call for participation, like every year. And the responses came in. Generously, familiarly- like hailing an old friend, some a little timidly, hesitantly – but they were there. And like seeds waiting for rain to fall, so were the friends of Anantha- my co-organisers, Soni Somarajan, Kashiana Singh, Mandakini Pachauri, Shobhana Kumar, Aswin Vijayan- who came in with their suggestions, their ideas and above all, their presence. Soni is the one who elevates this festival every year! He comes up with a set of names and says, “go on, ask them if they will come.” He never stops- like an artist fashioning a delicate glass vase, he keeps thinking and working and pushing me and the results are always lovely. Kashiana brings in these brilliant panels and this year, Mandakini and Shikha Malviya too came up with some lovely round tables on climate, history and activism.

    I have often felt a stifling lack of diversity in festivals- and hence it was imperative that Anantha be different. The open call for participation gave everyone a fighting chance to be able to participate and most importantly, be heard. And that meant, the festival this year, ran for fourteen days- from 19 June to 1 July 2024. Some working days saw four or five sessions and weekends had up to seven or eight. There was a total of fifty-nine sessions involving nearly 175 poets (excluding multiple appearances).

    There were sessions where people read their own poems- including poetry panels by sites such as Usawa, sessions where the poems of other poets were read, books were launched, books launched earlier were discussed under the Spotlight section, The Bombay Literary Magazine had an interesting session called Query the Crow- where they took questions regarding their submission and editorial process, introspective panels, Roundtables where there were deliberations on the technical and ethical aspects of what it means to be an editor, one on one conversations with poets like Sukrita Paul Kumar, Mani Rao, Jerry Pinto, Rahul Soni, Anisur Rahman, AJ Thomas and Masterclasses by personalities like Omkar Bhatkar. We also had two sessions of readings titled In Memoriam in honour of Jayanta Mahapatra.

    I am often asked how this festival is pulled off. How it is that I can sit there year after year, day after day, hour after hour, controlling the video, listening, speaking, intervening? – the answer to that is, truly, I don’t know. I must confess, every year, just before the start of the first session of the first day, I ask myself if I should have done this- if this is even doable- but the minute the event goes live and I say, “Hello everybody and welcome to Anantha”, all doubts vanish. And then when I see the love the poetry community gives the festival, the respect it garners and the viewership it enjoys, it makes everything worthwhile. Kerala had some of the most violent rains during the precise days of the festival. The festering, sweltering summer was replaced by really moody rains and each session began with a silent prayer to the electricity gods to please hold on. For once, my prayers were answered. Unfailingly.

    I often feel that Anantha has a life of its own. That it manifests. Because how else it is that without any money, with just a laptop and a stable internet connection, something like this is made possible? It is the goodwill above all, and the willingness of people to attend. Some of the conversations with poets on this platform have been beautifully open- emotional, honest and which have knocked aside the fences of defensiveness that we so often build up. There were focused discussions that examined poetry at its most personal and political. The spirit of volunteering that Anantha has gathered moves me every time. People write in asking- “How can we help?”- and make time to internalize the idea of respect and attention to detail that are the hallmarks of the festival. And as for me, I am happy that Anantha has so many co-parents!
    If I am asked what Anantha’s legacy will be, I would say that it is the sense of community that it is capable of building. A lot of people have met on this platform and have gone on to do some wonderful work together. The most important thing is that each poet- whether they are award winners or rank first timers- are seen and heard. Are welcomed with a lot of love and respect. So, do come to Anantha next year. And catch the recordings of the previous sessions at . Just find your space and settle down.


    Sonya J. Nair
    Festival Director (so they tell me)