There’s a nice write-up in NXG, The Hindu today about last weekend’s queer poetry reading. You can read it here.
I like how the writer begins the article by noting how the reading seemed to be a safe space – the same thought occurred to me while I was there, and in the days since I have also pondered over whether to write about it too. It was more than just the fact that I know the organizers and the Pride movement in Chennai well — the vast majority of the audience were new faces. Still, there was a good underlying energy, a welcoming one, that I rarely sense at readings here.
Perhaps I should explain my context. Somewhere early in my publishing career, I got stuck with the tag of being a writer of “erotic” poetry, a label I view with discomfort. Now, I have nothing against erotica. I love it. I have nothing against sex either. What I do have a problem with is reductionism. Erotica by its nature is intended to titillate. My work, by and large, isn’t. Anyone with a little sensitivity who looks over my body of supposedly erotic work should see neuroses, longing, loss. If they see a horny woman poking at her keyboard with sticky fingers, that’s their own oversight. A woman can be horny, complicated, desireless, wounded, surrendering, conquering in different lights. So can a man. If you choose only to see her in one light, then you’re missing out on a whole lot.
What this has come to mean is that I have become defensive (as you may have gathered from the paragraph above, even). In India, or at least in Chennai, I limit what I share at readings. Look, I don’t mean to come off like a snob, but we’re an awfully perverted bunch, don’t you think? So, so as to avoid various unpleasantries, I limit what I share. It frustrates me. I like to have fun at readings. I like to feel free, to play with the audience, to laugh. I like, above all, to be honest.
In this sense, Mozhiudal was one of the safest spaces I’ve read at in Chennai. To me, the very notion of a queer reading is based on the acceptance that sexuality is complex and varied, and is vital to our experience of the world – exactly the sort of basis that removes all need for apologies and excuses. Remember this: sexuality as opposed to sex alone. I opened with what I think of as my lightest piece, and without question the most beloved among my fans, “Poem”, and moved on to more risque work, pieces like “Possession” and “Holding The Man”. Reading the last one in particular, I was struck by how its motifs of arrest and secrecy were, perhaps, rather reminiscent of the queer experience, even though the people in my poem are a heterosexual couple. And also my explicitly queer work – “Hibiscus”, “Linea Negra” – and then looping back to my other much-misconstrued crowd-pleaser, “How To Eat A Wolf”. Not once did I feel like I had gone too far, or become too vulnerable. The last poem I shared, in two voices with Aniruddhan Vasudevan, was my translation of Subramanya Bharati’s “Suttum Vizhi”. How was this a queer work, or a sexual one? Maybe because Bharati would certainly have been no homophobe; in death he certainly has lent his voice to the Pride movement. Maybe because from the tongue and pen of another woman, my transcreated lines – “woman precious as the eye, my love fills me with turbulence” – turn vaguely subversive. Or maybe because this is what it comes down to in the end — love, loss and longing. The human heart. The body and its blood.