Some context for this blog post: I am a cis queer woman who lives in Bengaluru. I am a bookworm, and so there is a large danger that all I blog about will be books, authors, and adaptations of books!
Despite these credentials, I didn’t go to the Bangalore Literature Festival on the 13th and 14th of December. The risk of COVID, the general exhaustion of this whole year, the feeling of “is this worth it” worked strongly in me – as it has for so many of us.
But I did watch the beautiful conversation between Vasudendhra and Rheea Mukherjee. Vasudendhra is well known in Kannada circles as an actor and artist, and his novel Mohanaswamy made waves in queer reading circles as a work of gay desire and life written for the mainstream and not merely within activist literary circles. Rheea Mukherjee’s The Body Myth was released in early 2019, charting grief, mental and physical wellness, queer and anarchic love.
Titled “Body and Soul”, the discussion between Rheea Mukherjee and Vasudendhra was a delight. Sometimes these discussions can be a bit rigid, or by-the-numbers. Here you see two people who reach out to share with each other, to listen to each other. They give each other space to speak, they listen to each other, and they speak in turn with a sincere desire to engage (not just be in the limelight). You can listen to the whole discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJPyalkoY2E
Mukherjee and Vasudendhra speak about the body, the right to desire, the right to express desire, and who gets to have and express those desires. Where does identity come in, where does desire come from? How do we understand these two things when they meet, and how do we talk to the broader world about these fundamental beautiful truths?
As I listened to them speak, I also thought about how lucky we are to have them at all. Rheea Mukherjeee’s The Body Myth was first published in the US by an independent publisher. It made waves as a novel to read for the year, and without that huge push, it might not have received the publishing deal and promotion it did in India later. Vasudendhra was an established figure in the arts before he published Mohanaswamy, which had been published in bits and pieces of short stories and essays earlier.
The Bangalore Literature Festival this year focussed on Bangalore-based writers for the most part. We were incredibly fortunate to see two writers from and for the queer world here. There are several Bangalorean queer poets and dramatists and writers in the city, mostly seen in queer spaces for the arts, or in spaces where queerness is not highlighted. Several of these artists are in activist circles, and their speech is for a cause, for our cause, to bring us into the light in our many-fold humanity.
There is an extraordinary beauty in art that speaks to our larger goals and agenda and causes – the art with a heart, art with principle. We see it during the large protests against oppression, capitalism marginalisation and communal tyranny. We see it during Pride March (for those of us lucky enough to live in cities with a Pride March!). Art that starts in protest is glorious; but what the Literature Festival as a space celebrates is also the art itself, the craft, the care, the expression, the idea. Art is the protest in the velvet glove, the call to arms with pens and paint bushes and chisel. Listening to Rheea Mukherjee and Vasudendhra, I was comforted in the reminder that we are beautiful outside of the struggle as we beautiful within it. We have the right to exist, to have the stage, to be seen.
I wish us all a good year ahead – whether we are careful with our identities or recklessly open, I wish for you to feel safe, and seen.