It is not often that one comes across an inclusive love story. It’s even rarer to find 11 such tales, especially when all 11 of them are the realities of very different and very real people. Like a certain blurb says, there is no such thing as the love that dare not speak its name, and Penguin Random House India’s Senior Commissioning Editor Manasi Subramaniam, and the authors Dhrubo Jyoti, Anushree Majumdar, Sangeeta, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, Maroosha Muzaffar, Shrayana Bhattacharya, D, S, Preeti Vangani, Nidhi Goyal and Nadika Nadja manage to do just that. Eleven Ways to Love: Essays is a collection of 11 remarkable essays that widen the frame of reference: transgender romance; body image issues; race relations; disability; polyamory; class differences; queer love; long distance; caste; loneliness; the single life; the bad boy syndrome . . . and so much more. SheThePeople.TV converses with the editor, Manasi Subramaniam, about the book.

Manasi had always wanted to commission a book about more inclusive and intersectional representations of love. That is how Eleven Ways to Love: Essays came about. The idea had always existed in her head although she hadn’t known which format or style she would like to see it represented in. Luckily for us readers, Manasi Subramaniam came across some terrific romance non-fiction in her general reading and it struck her, that a collection of essays, deeply personal ones, could fill the void of a book like Eleven Ways to Love – in a way that a single book which focused on a single story could not.

Luckily for us readers, Manasi Subramaniam came across some terrific romance non-fiction in her general reading and it struck her, that a collection of essays, deeply personal ones, could fill the void of a book like Eleven Ways to Love – in a way that a single book which focused on a single story could not.

 Eleven Ways to Love: Essays is a unique collection of essays. So, how did Manasi find the 11 writers? Almost all of these writers were ones whose work she had been reading and following. Sharanya Manivannan, who has written the intricate, reflective and beautiful poems which grace the page before each essay that they introduce and accompany, was someone who Manasi knew would respond mindfully to the cross-section of writing. Sharanya can be found questioning and illustrating, through her poems, how to make a story more inclusive. She expands on the notion of what a “happily ever after” means. When this ideal is rarely met even in the most normative of partnerships, she asks – What if our definitions included aloneness, amicable breakups, co-parenting with friends and other original paradigms for loving?

When this ideal is rarely met even in the most normative of partnerships, she asks – What if our definitions included aloneness, amicable breakups, co-parenting with friends and other original paradigms for loving?

Manasi needed to hear about romantic stories from sources whom might be perceived to be unlikely heroes and heroines.  It seemed to her that in this day and age, as the world becomes smaller and simultaneously more diverse, the notions of romance still remain coloured by what popular art and literature show us. Her idea of an intersectional and inclusive love story is, in her own words, “The greatest common human experience. It means that no one can be excluded from its representation.”

It took Manasi some time to decide on the sequence but she finally did – piecing the essays together so as to be read at one stretch or dipped into every so often, in an order she thought would provoke curiosity. All she said to her designer Penguin India’s design head Gunjan Ahlawat was that she wanted the cover to avoid anything to representational. The result is for all to see and Manasi is immensely proud of the book’s cover.

“Love is always going to be political – meaning it is always going to be tainted with class, caste, race and gender dynamics.” says S.

According to S, the author of the essay Where Are My Lesbians?, “Love is always going to be political – meaning it is always going to be tainted with class, caste, race and gender dynamics. When I think of intersectional and inclusive love, I think of the decisions we make and must constantly make to fight these dynamics. My greatest love stories lie in the friends and family I have found within the Queer Community, who’ve given me permission to fuck up, and who’ve taught me to analyse the space I occupy and whom I choose to share that with, who’ve helped me continue asking myself ‘What is at stake here?’. For me, representation lies not so much in seeing who I love – although that is certainly appreciated – but in how we love. I yearn for writing by and for queer folks, where there isn’t just one queer character but someone who is seen as having other queer friends. Where everyone understands we live in a country where Dalit and Muslim bodies are being killed every day, so the Queer Community’s primary narrative at the moment isn’t really related to Section 377. Representation means representation for everyone – every single person, every single community and every form of love.”

 Manasi is counting on the masses. People love to hear love stories, and the acceptance for a book that celebrates love in the diversity and representation that Eleven Ways to Love: Essays does, is just not a worry.

“…romance is a riot against identity politics in India. -Shrayana Bhattacharya

 Shrayana Bhattacharya, the author of the essay The Aristoprats, thinks that romance is a riot against identity politics in India. Spectacular stories of courage and defiance always make her believe in love as a spiritual antidote to injustice, social partitions and inequality. Despite the differences in our bodies, histories and backgrounds, she believes that we are all united in our messy quest for self-acceptance, belonging and human connection. The feelings of heartbreak and longing have no gender or nationality, and desire does not exclusively plague a fit or fat body. Loneliness bears no caste name. And to Shrayana, such acts of solidarity are true love stories. A love story is when we decide to stand together – respecting and acknowledging our differences – yet dwelling on our shared human-ness.

 Eleven Ways to Love: Essays, edited by Manasi Subramaniam, has been published by Penguin Random House (Viking) India. It is priced at Rs. 499 and is available online and in bookstores.

Feature Image Credit: Penguin Random House India.

Also Read: Shreya Sen-Handley On Writing About Her Body And Its Imperfections

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