Minal Hajratwala is in Bangalore for a few weeks – we mostly know her as the editor for Queer Ink‘s forthcoming 2012 Queer Ink Anthology (also here). I cannot currently remember who took dreadful advantage of whom, but Vinay (the guy who runs-manages-GrandViziers Swabhava/Good As You ) spread the word and a bunch of us gathered to meet her today (actually, by the time this gets posted, yesterday) at the Swabhava office.
Hajratwala’s Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents explores her family’s
multigenerational movement across the world, contextualising her self against this century of transplantation and settlement. It’s won at least four awards (one of them a Lammy!). Hajratwala is currently in India for research for her next novel and for her poetry – more on those later.
It rained quite spitefully on the latecomers today, but we began (mostly) on time. Hajratwala read out an excerpt from Leaving India, a section pertaining to herself and her early adulthood – Feminism, Queerness (“Feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice.”) and the like. She’s not my favourite sort of reader – her tone remains too even – but she has a clear and soft voice. All in all, very pleasant.
- Hajratwala spent eight years (instead of the projected two) researching and writing this book. Her extended, very close-knit family is spread out over nine countries. She has thirty-five first cousins, and knows all their names – an impressive feat in and of itself. The book, in some senses, is her way of understanding the sheer scale of diaspora and finding a place for herself within it.
- Writing the novel changed her; it rebuilt her relationships with the family, allowed her time, conversation, communication with an older generation that would not necessarily spend time taking a young woman and her questions seriously. Diasporic narratives and histories have to encompass an extraordinary amount of movement: “It is the central trauma of our lives.” In some ways, it is the role of the queer family member, to have that displacement away and reconciliation back to the traditional family home – it gives the writer a dual, insider/outsider perspective.
- The section in Leaving India which is about herself was written first, and partly as a response to the “naked honesty” she was getting from the people she talked to. She came out to her extended family on a case by case basis, and for the most part all is well. (She did remind us that it’s easier to be proud of a “famous lesbian” in the family rather than a boring old “regular lesbian”.)
- Blogs! She likes blogs. (Who doesn’t?) They give you a personal space to write anything you choose, without an editor overseeing the process. You can control who sees your words and who doesn’t. It can be a space to have your private, intimate voice “connect to some bigger thing out there”. (She had contact with the damascusgaygirl hoaxer: See this and this.)
- The Queer Ink Anthology! Queer Ink is going to be one of the first queer publishing houses in South Asia, and this anthology is going to give us stories that haven’t been heard before. About ten percent of the submissions were in vernacular languages. (Queer Ink is looking for people interested in editing, design, writing, the like. Contact them! Say you want in!)