Edited by Minal Hajratwala, “Out! Stories from the New Queer India” is a collection of 30 stories that are from diverse sections of the country and gathered from all over the country—even the diaspora. These are the stories of contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in India who came out after the Section 377 ruling in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, which decriminalised homosexuality.
Minal Hajratwala is an author. Her book, “Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents,” won a Pen USA Award, an Asian American Writers Workshop Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and a California Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Saroyan International Writing Prize. Hajratwala spent an academic year in Mumbai researching a novel while also writing poems about the unicorns of the ancient Indus Valley. She is a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and a writing coach.
Out! Stories from the New Queer India is one of the few Indian books that includes the whole spectrum of the queer community, not just focusing on one segment. There are stories of gay men, lesbians, bisexual men and women, as well as transgender people. The stories are not limited to one theme, but every short story features at least one queer person. One’s identity, one’s interaction and negotiation with society, family dynamics, pop culture, romance, relationships, mortality, and politics are among the subjects explored in this anthology.
The short stories also cover topics that are particularly specific to the community, such as coming out, gender stereotypes, and so on. Despite their differences, these stories have one thing in common: they are expressions of hitherto untold lives. Published by Queer Ink, this book also has two artists, Nandita Das and Chitra Palekar, about their work as LGBT allies and activists.
One thought provoking story was by Milind Wani, “A Small-Town Girl.” It was the story of Jhanvi, an urban, English-speaking journalist who looked at the dead bodies of Shampa and Suparna. They were two poor young village girls who drank poison together in a paddy field in rural Bengal. They die in each other’s arms, and Jhanvi wonders, “Do people stop being who they are when they die?” The two girls, who are cousins, fell in love with each other. Their family and community punished them for it by forcibly marrying off the younger Suparna. They also made sure the older one, Shampa, the “corrupting” one, was not allowed to meet the helpless young lover.
The journalist Jhanvi confronts the bodies that are unclaimed and rejected by the village even after death. While in her own life, Jhanvi’s lover, a female scholar, abandons her. While reading the lover’s polite but shrewd rejection note: “Sophisticated people are often nicer to you when leaving you than when loving you,” Jhanvi’s own class difference with her lost lover hurts her heart.
Written by the LGBTQ community’s storytellers and a few emerging writers, some of the stories are fascinating, moving, and some outright hilarious. It is a glimpse beyond the closet doors and straight into the lives and dreams of India’s most “minuscule minority”.