Book Review: The World That Belongs To Us Is A Chorus Of Queer Voices

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The World That Belongs To Us is an anthology of poetry edited by Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal. It aims to curate poetry written by queer people from South Asia. The anthology is a celebration of voices, diversity, and possibilities and consists of more than 80 poems from across South Asia, including diverse identities. Along with the editors, Angiras and Katyal, the book also features the work of translators who have translated poems from regional languages. Hence, the total number of contributors, including the poets, editors, and translators, is more than a hundred.

The preface of the book captures the trials and tribulations of the process of curating the poems, the identities to be included in the category of queer, and the challenges editors constantly faced because queer is a fluid category. Ultimately, a fluid category cannot be contained to a few identities and neither can the poetry which flows from them.

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Themes and Forms

An anthology of this kind runs the danger of being dominated by established voices in the Subcontinent. How does then a collection of voices strike this balance? It does so by including the established voices of Ruth Vanita, Vikram Seth, Hosang Merchant among others. The readers are serenaded by Seth’s famous poem All You Who Sleep Tonight, a poignant portrayal of loneliness. Asad Alvi’s haunting poem La pulsion de mort opens the anthology, with Faiz’s ‘ab yahan koi nahin koi nahin aaega’ capturing the lonely life of queer love.

The anthology also has voices from poets who are publishing for the first time. Some of the themes included are love, loneliness, desire, justice among many others. Poet Snehashish Das’ poem Everyone Says explores the intricate connections of identity with the personal and the political. It reads,

“For years my caste refused,

rebelled, fought for respect, how

could a dupatta bring them shame?

Why is a battle aflame

between honour and disgrace

in the folds of my dupatta?”

The poems are not constricted by forms. The readers get Seth’s rhyming prose, followed by free verse, poetry that reads like prose, rap, spoken word, and every other kind of writing that can be categorized as poetry. This book is best devoured in small doses. It made me pause many times, take a deep breath, and asked myself should I keep reading or is it time for a break?

The title is perhaps worth pondering over a little. The World That Belong To Us contrasts with Asad Alvi’s, “It is the impossibility of queer love,/the scholar say./For whom the only future carved /out is death.” Queer worlds are richer than love that is abruptly ended in death. It is steeped in contours of love, desire, identity, justice, and revolution. In this very subcontinent, love has been inextricably linked with revolution. To love has always been a revolutionary act especially in those worlds that belong to queer. It fills an important gap in love and understanding. We belong to the world and then there are worlds that belong to us touched by subjectivity and a rich tapestry of experiences. This anthology is an exploration of those secret inner worlds navigating labyrinths of love and living.

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Why It Matters?

The realm of literature has been dominated by privileged male voices marginalising all other voices. Slowly that trend is shifting. There is a demand for diverse voices, voices from the margins, and narratives that evoke empathy and understanding. The World That Belongs To Us has to be placed in this context of shifting tides. It brings to the forefront rarely heard voices, both from the world in which we inhabit and the worlds within us.

Image Credit: HarperCollins/ Unsplash

Priyanka Chakrabarty is an intern at SheThePeople.TV.