As a queer person, I have always had eccentric tastes. My unusual attraction towards boys and obsession to dig my nose into the open pages of a book always raised eyebrows. I always wanted to discuss the nuances of my love for literature with an equally enthusiastic person. I wanted this fellow hobby-mate to not just discuss the plot lines and writing style of the books but also understand how the poignance and the joys of the stories relate with my experiences as a gay man; I needed a queer person. I got myself enrolled in various book clubs but around Mumbai Pride 2020, I stumbled upon a poster about ‘Queer Booklovers Meet’. I was the first person to reach the venue, even before the organizers. After they arrived, we waited for a while for more people to turn up to only realize that there is no one else coming. What followed that evening was a shared banter for literature and catharsis as queer individuals. That’s how the current admins of the Mumbai Queerati met. With new people joining us, our family of queer readers grew and soon we had 20 active members. We would meet in coffee shops across the city – once every month. Just like any other book club, we also decide upon reading the ‘Book of the Month’ and discuss queer characters, queer literature and some of the most talked about books.
How we grew
Soon after, the pandemic entered our lives and pushed us to confide ourselves at our homes. That’s when we realized that we don’t need to be physically at the same place to share our love for the written word; we started conducting our book club meets virtually. In such meetings, we hosted celebrated queer authors who discussed their books like Ruth Vanita – Same Sex Love in India, Parmesh Sahani – Queeristan, Raja Rao - The Boyfriend, Sharif Rangnekar – Straight to Normal and Vivek Tejuja – So Now You Know. We also collaborated with other queer literature collectives in India and conducted a joint virtual session with Queer Reads Bangalore and Orniman Quilt. Although the purpose of the book club has been to get queer readers together and encourage queer individuals to read, we embraced allies and people with penchant for queer literature. Ekta, who runs a book club in Mumbai and is an ally, says “There is never a Mumbai Queerati meet where I’ve walked out without some great recommendations in queer literature. I enjoy queer literature a lot. However, understanding the highs and lows of queer lives, personally.” Another Queeratian Abhay (requested for a pseudonym) who joined us virtually from Kolkata said “Even in the confines on my small room, I used to feel at home during the virtual sessions. Reading the ‘Book of the Month’, discussing the book, and sharing perspectives kept me mentally afloat during the tough lockdown days”. Many readers used to write blogs and short stories on taboo topics. The book club created a safe space for them to share and read their creation in an open forum. Many Queeratians brought a lot of non-readers to these virtual meets, who got inspired and started reading books as per the recommendation of voracious readers. One of the new readers mentioned “A Queeratian recommended Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar to me. That story moved me a lot. I started reading more queer stories since then.”
How we thrive beyond the purpose
According to a study by Just Like Us on Growing up Queer 2022, Seven in 10 (68%) LGBT+ young people said that they feel lonely, compared with half (49%) of non-LGBT+ young people. Interest groups hold the power to uplift the mental health of queer individuals and act like a support group through shared catharsis. The Mumbai Queerati transcended it's purpose, built a sense of community and provides a safe space for queer individuals through various innovative activities. As the pandemic subsided, we started conducting in-person meets. One such interesting meet was conducted at the residence of a Queeratian Kalpak. The theme of this meet was ‘Read between the lines’ wherein members will pitch their favorite books by reading a passage, recollecting an associated memory, or recommending why one should read it. He recollects this meet as “a lovely evening with a packed room and interesting, free flowing conversations and book monologues”. Another member Ketan adds “One of my most cherished memories with the Mumbai Queerati is the Shakespeare monologue that I performed in one of the meets. It was my first book club meet ever. Speaking about literature to a room-full of literature lovers helped boost my confidence!”
The Mumbai Queerati has created a platform for forming emotional and intellectual connections - beyond labels and helped it’s members to move together strongerthan before. Admin Guruprasad says “It is a melting pot for readers and writers to experience different genres, authors, and storytelling styles. It helps understand the queer culture and its trends through the undercurrents and hints that the stories and books discuss. It is overwhelming to see that we can be more inclusive and get more people to read books”.