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Hand over the mic, please: Rainbow Lit Fest hopes to open new windows to themes of identity and diversity in the queer space

The festival logo

The festival logo   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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Rainbow Lit Fest, to be held next weekend in Delhi, hopes to stake claim to a space for the queer community, mostly left out by mainstream literature festivals

As we slip into the lit fest season this year, one more has been added to its growing list. ‘Rainbow Lit Fest: Queer & Inclusive’ hopes to open new windows to themes of identity and diversity in the growing queer space. The first edition of the festival will be held in south Delhi, December 7-8, at Gulmohar Park Club, where one of the early risings of the gay community was held in 2001.

Exciting mix

Sitting at the intersection of the alternate and the mainstream, Rainbow Lit Fest hopes to fill an important gap. Several lit fests later, Sharif Rangnekar, former journalist, communications consultant and queer rights advocate, realised that they were not doing justice to the wide gamut of queer themes. “The mic, in any case, is not in our hand. I found very few international queer lit festivals that could possibly feature my book, Straight To Normal. That’s when a close friend and publishing veteran, Dibakar Ghosh, suggested that it was time for India to have such a fest, and that I should organise it,” explains Rangnekar. As festival director, he and a small team that includes creative director Pankaj Malhotra of Epic India, put together the show through crowdfunding.

Over two days filled with discussions on literature, culture, history, and music and films, the festival will explore issues of gender and queerness through the voices of over 65 speakers and 36 artists and performers. On day 2, Nandita Das, the keynote speaker,

Poster for the band The Original Knock Offs.

Poster for the band The Original Knock Offs.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

will discuss ideas of inclusion and diversity. “The fact that we have Devdutt Pattanaik and Shubha Mudgal on the same stage or Urvashi Butalia defining feminism while queer people interpret it themselves is something for people to look forward to. Having a 12-member Manzil Mystics and a traditional Nizami Brothers perform alongside The Original Knock Offs — arguably India’s most diverse band — is what defines the fest,” says Rangnekar.

Also in the list is a mushaira, chaired by Parvez Alam, and a ‘Drag Story Hour’ for children by drag queen Lush Monsoon reading from the book, Elfie.

The panel discussions headlining the festival address the complexities of the themes. Explore ‘Queer and homosexual realities in religion, mythology and spirituality’ with Jerry Johnson, Sukhdeep Singh and Vikram E Kolkmannskog in conversation with Anuradha Sengupta; ‘The patriarch + the hetero-normative: living in a majoritarian world’, where Anjali Gopalan, Maya Sharma, Mukul Kesavan will be in conversation with Urvashi Butalia.

Finding our feet

There will be an exploration of ‘Who tells the story: An artist or a queer artist’ by authors Saikat Majumdar and Fahad Samar; screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal and Ryan Figueiredo, founder of Equal Asia Foundation, in conversation with actor Vivek

Poster of A Monsoon Date

Poster of A Monsoon Date   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Mansukhani. Besides, Srini Ramaswamy, Parmesh Sahani and Zainab Patel will discuss ‘The new interventions: workplace, business and technology’. A session with Devdutt Pattanaik, Menaka Guruswamy and Saif Mahmood will tackle ‘The strange relationship between literature and law,’ while Apurva Asrani will talk about his Bollywood journey in ‘From Aligarh to Made in Heaven’. A pivotal session titled ‘The battle against Section 377’ will feature prominent voices in the gay rights movement — Anjali Gopalan, Ashok Row Kavi and Anand Grover in conversation with Vivek Divan.

Unusual theme notwithstanding, how does Rainbow Lit Fest hope to stand out in the sea of lit fests? Says activist and author Maya Sharma, “This is a very young idea, in the sense that queer people are young, because we are just beginning to find our feet. Quite a few of us are in the shadows. The festival by including many different forms is truly literary in that sense.” Sharma will talk about the life of lesbian and marginalised women in India, both in urban and rural centres.

Non-binary conversations

Says Rangnekar, “Author Nemat Sadat will remind us what it is to be four times a minority in the U.S., till recently celebrated as a liberal nation. Devdutt will remind us how ancient literature dealt with queer themes. Anjali Gopalan, whose life and struggles for our community are well-known but not documented, will share with us what the 90s and early 2000s were like. There is the corpus of Urdu erotica that many may not know about. We will address that with the help of Saif Mahmood and Maaz Bin Bilal.”

Several interesting films are to be screened at the event, including Tanuja Chandra’s A Monsoon Date, a trans love story starring Konkona Sen Sharma. Chandra will be at the event. The other films to watch out for are the late Riyadh Wadia’s BOMgAY, acclaimed as the first gay film; Khwaish by Sumit Pawar, a silent gay love story that recently featured at the London Film Festival; and Ginger Beer by Anuja Pandey, poetry turned into film on identity.

The festival comes at just the right time, when non-binary conversations are finding ever larger audiences. “More than the timing, it’s the space we need to claim. We have been able to claim the streets to a certain extent. But there is still too little out there in terms of research and stories,” says Sharma. The Rainbow Lit Fest hopes it can help transform the queer landscape.

The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:42:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/hand-over-the-mic-please-rainbow-lit-fest-hopes-to-open-new-windows-to-themes-of-identity-and-diversity-in-the-queer-space/article30122318.ece

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