Rainbow Literature Festival, an upcoming first-of-its-kind literary event focussing on the terms queer and inclusive, will take place here from December 7-8 and is all set to bring together different identities and sections of society to explore common ground. Set to take place at the Gulmohar Park Club in New Delhi, it sits at the intersection of the alternative and mainstream and will witness the amalgamation of different forms of expression. It will present sessions by over 75 exponents of prose, poetry, art, music, dance and cinema.
Journalist and communications professional, Sharif D. Rangnekar, who is directing the festival, opens up about it. He is the author of "Straight To Normal - My Life As A Gay Man", a book released earlier this year, the first memoir since the reading down of Section 377 last September.
We get a glimpse of your life and activism through your memoir 'Straight to Normal'. Please tell us how the book came about.
Rangnekar: I had thought of writing a book in 2013 and even signed a contract at that time but I was scared that it would expose my mother and my family and somehow could not write fiction. Also, In 2013 December the Supreme court had overturned the 2009 Delhi High Court order which effectively decriminalized us. So, I was definitely not going to attempt the book at that time.
What happened over the years and particularly in last year in 2018 was that I had broken away from the 9-5 regime, trying to get more and more active in the area of advocacy for our rights. Close to when I was turning 50, in August 2018 my mother came up to me and asked what had happened to the book and it's high time I write it. That was really the turning point when I decided that I have to write my story; my mother believed - and so did I - that it would help others. So when I returned from my 50th birthday, I got down writing the book from the end of September and finished writing it in 27 days. Essentially that is how came to happen.
Rainbow literature festival is probably the first of its kind India has seen. Why did you think of something like this?
Rangnekar: The Rainbow Lit Fest - Queer and Inclusive' was conceived pretty much in the middle of a conversation with a publishing veteran - Dibakar Ghosh - as we searched for international literature festivals that were queer-centric or part of larger alliances where queerness had a visible presence. We found hardly one or two of relevance and stature. This is when Dibakar felt I should put together one. He linked it with the fact that I curated events where expression was key be it through music, arts or talk under the platform Embrace: Music Justice Arts. What he also knew was that I was in the midst of depression and needed to refocus my life and I realize now that there was no better way than serving my community - something that always motivates me.
The thought though lies in the sub-text - Queer & Inclusive. We hold the mic, we invite others, we bring things together, sharing a space with a clear sense of equity and equality. The sub-text is also linked with common ground and if we are all human and humane, there is common ground and we should remind each other of that.
Does the festival aim to be a safe space for the queer literary expression?
Rangnekar: It is a space for inclusion in itself, it's also space where we have common ground to engage with various people from various walks of life and parts of society. It is Queer and Inclusive which means Queer has a larger say and inclusivity is not entirely ignored.
Rainbow is a word inclusive of many, many identities. Please tell how you curated the festival, in terms of representation.
Rangnekar: We have set up an advisory committee and engage with a variety of Queer groups as well as literary organizations to determine the topics and the speakers. The event at this point seeks to be inclusive as it's there on our website and attempts to be as inclusive and representative as possible with every passing year.
How much do safe spaces like these matter for people who might still be struggling to find a spot in society?
Rangnekar: This is a very complex matter. A queer-only space would probably allow a queer person to come out more easily than an event that is largely queer but also inclusive of others - the others being from the heterosexual world. Many queer people are likely to attend the Fest and will surely outnumber the rest but that doesn't mean they will all be entirely open and out as it is really where they are in their own journey of comfort, fears and general evolution. What such an event can do is give hope that we can sit together, speak up and out and discuss issues that matter too many.
The festival will be addressed by notable authors, filmmakers and activists, such as Devdutt Pattnaik, Nandita Das, Nemat Sadat and Onir, among several other distinguished personalities, sharing stories and ideas that will seek to stitch together a more informed narrative of diversity, existence and co-existence.
Tickets start from Rs 250 and are available on www.rainbowliteraturefestival.com