Prowling the aisles of a local book shop, you’d be hard pressed to find titles by queer authors. Or at least openly queer authors. Credit where it’s due, though. Independent efforts at compiling resources have taken off. There’s the Bi Collective Library in New Delhi and “Tilt” in Ahmedabad, to name a few. And I recently heard that the capital city is getting its very first Queer Literature Festival!
I’m inclined to think that there may soon be an LGBTQIA+ section at book shops, snuggled between, say, ‘Biographies’ and ‘Bestsellers’.
And Aditya Tiwari’s first book, “April is Lush”, will be on its shelves.
Favouring free-verse poetry, and (dare I say?) giving us a little bit of early-20th-century Imagism, Tiwari is candid throughout the book. This is an extremely personal collection of poems, and central to it is the experience of love and loss.
Now a theme like that can be very difficult to tackle—given just how done-to-death it is. And also our general numbness to The Great Emotions. But I think Tiwari manages to rework it into something new, and very visceral.
Here’s a couple of examples:
But this collection is also about the poet’s position as a young gay person in the world.
The crossover between Tiwari’s personal experiences and his work becomes evident in “April is Lush”. The 21-year-old works with The Humsafar Trust as a Likho Citizen Journalism Fellow. His goal? “To find more authentic queer voices and give them the right knowledge and platform where they could feel safe and not misquoted by anyone.”
He tells me just how frequently the words and voices of queer Indians become like bits of Play-Doh in other people’s hands. “Non-queer people, who don’t understand the community, and write end up being biased and misleading,” he says.
An independently published book of poems, for Tiwari, and for so many other queer authors, is then perhaps the safest bet when it comes to (mis)representation?
That said, Tiwari’s book contains a poem written from the perspective of a trans woman. And moving as it is, I can’t help but wonder about the sudden shift in voice. When I quiz the poet about it, his answer surprised me. The choice, he tells me, is driven by relatability. “Trans women are often told by some people that they are not women, snatching away their existence. Effeminate gay men are also told that they are not women by the same people. You don’t have to be a woman in order to be feminine and your femininity does not have to be attached to womanhood in order to be validated.”
And speaking of gender, he has plenty of poems about women, their power to destroy, their power to create – and it all comes from a sense of awe. “In my life, women have played an important role,” he says, while talking about his strongest support system – the women around him. “They never questioned my existence, when so many other people do.”
Aditya Tiwari lists many names when I ask about his favourite poets—Alok Vaid-Menon, Rupi Kaur, Najwa Zebian, Ocean Vuong, and Hoshang Merchant. The influences on his work are fun to pick out.
He has a flagrant disregard for ‘The Rules’, sending poem titles to the bottom of the page. Capitalisation is discarded à la bell hooks. And sequence or chronology have fallen sloppy dead. And after all, why not? The rules of Form are, for this poet, only as important or sensible as the rules of a heterosexist world.
There are parts where poems on opposite pages have conversations with each other. There is sadness, elation, doubt, triumph. It’s not unlike overhearing two people sitting behind you at a coffee shop. Sometimes, you may even root for one of them.
“April is Lush” is a book about pain, liltingly written.
And sometimes, that kind of thing really hits the spot.