Harmless Hugs, though an anthology of queer tales told by amateur authors, deserves to be read in order to dispel the stereotypes regarding the LGBTQ community in India.
Harmless Hugs, an anthology, is a collaborative work of nine LGBTQ and ally writers hailing from different parts of India. There are nine nuanced stories in total, and each page reveals a tale of coming out, bullying, trans-lives, discrimination, asexuality, problems within the queer community, western as well as Indian views of homosexuality, and the closeted life of married people. The book was released on 11th December, 2016, at the Delhi International Queer Film Festival. The title, Harmless Hugs, is named after a Queer Collective of the same name.
The compilation has been edited by Sahil Verma, who curated diverse perspectives from writers belonging to all spectrums of sexuality, which makes each story different than the other. Though more than half the stories in this anthology are sad and depressing, this book can still be seen as a celebration of the LGBTQ-normative world.
Out of these stories is one titled ‘Dichotomy’, written by Yashraj Goswami, a Delhi based writer whose work has been published in Newslaundry and the Huffington Post. This hard-hitting tale is narrated by two personalities- one female and another male, of an unnamed queer boy who is struggling between his feminine soul, with which he identifies, and the socially accepted masculine demeanor which he is expected to cultivate. The conversations between the two sides sharply articulate the conflict of living a dual life- one inside the closet, the other outside it.
Another remarkable story that stayed with me, long after I finished reading the book, was ‘The Pink Wallpaper’ authored by Kush Sengupta. The story speaks to the heterosexual members of society in a language that they seem to understand, by interchanging the social standing of straight and gender nonconforming people. The imagery is vivid.
‘My Last Diwali as a Man’ by Avinash Matta talks about a very important, but hardly discussed issue of internalized transphobia, which lingers within the LGBTQ community. The fact that cis-gender homosexuals often mistreat intersex people, especially when they are in a romantic relationship, deserves attention.
The cover page of a book is not in sync with the content. The three people donning the cover are white, which is not the best choice for India’s first queer anthology. All the pieces are written by amateur authors and it shows in the unnecessarily long sentences and overused adjectives. However, despite the mediocre writing, every story manages to leave a mark and deserves to be told.
In India, there is clear insensitivity and ignorance towards gender nonconforming people. Attempts to educate people often suffer because of hard terminologies being added to the ever-increasing LGBTQI acronym. In this scenario, these simplistic stories convey the feelings and the functioning of the queer community with graceful ease. It is totally worth it to spend 155 rupees on this book.
Feature Image Credits: Notion Press