A few years ago, I was approached to contribute to an anthology on LGBT fiction by Indian writers. I pointed out to the editor that my position was that of an ally and perhaps I was not the best person to contribute to the anthology. The reason for my hesitance is one that applies to much of my writing: the power to create narratives is immense and so those of us with the privilege to exercise this power must behave with responsibility. Marginalising voices, or erasing marginalised voices, is all too easy when wielding the pen and I have always been particularly careful about this issue of ethics.
However, after prolonged discussions, I was persuaded to contribute a short story, titled A Cup Full of Jasmine Oil. As an LGBT ally, I hoped that perhaps my story in the collection could contribute to the discussions around the issues facing LGBT community in India. For this reason, I set the story in an unnamed small Indian town, in a domestic space. At the time, and alongside the story, I was working on an academic paper on LGBT representations in popular Indian culture and had noticed that unlike western narratives where non-heteronormative relationships were located 'somewhere far beyond the domestic realm' and 'out there,' Indian tradition placed homo-eroticism squarely at the centre of the home. This idea formed the core of my short story.
Sadly, the anthology never materialised and after a while, the short story went to publication in The Drawbridge. It was in good company, with the issue carrying writing by Mario Vargas Llosa, Jose Saramago and Saadat Hasan Manto, amongst others.
Strangely, as has often happened with other pieces of my writing, the short story then took on a life of its own. I was invited to read it at a conference in Cologne, Germany in 2010. The reading gave rise to much debate, not only on aspects of hetero-normativity and its discontents but also on cultural ideas, postcoloniality, and art. In a further twist of the tale, the Orientalia Suecana journal of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, put together an issue devoted to writings and discussions from the panel. The issue is now available online in pdf format for download.
It contains a reprint of my short story, A Cup Full of Jasmine Oil.
More interesting (for me at least), is the inclusion in the issue of an experimental academic paper by Thomas de Bruijn. The essay "juxtaposes a reading of the story from a more conventional western perspective with an interpretation from the point of the Indian system of aesthetics based on rasa. From this double perspective, it discusses various stylistic and thematic aspects of the story. Diverging interpretations are presented in the role of the characters, the functionality of their characterization, and the use of description and suggestion to evoke the semantic framework of the story." The essay includes a discussion between Dr. De Bruijn and me on the two systems of interpretations and how they impact our understanding of literature.
I am particularly happy about this essay as it begins to address one of my political issues about cultural production and its study. For far too long, too much of academic production has disguised its "West as theory, East as object" politics as 'universalist.' By opening up literary discussion to non-Western theories, this essay begins to overturn this paradigm. In doing so, it also brings together my academic and creative writings.
While I have embedded the links to both the story and the essay in this post, am posting them here again:
Short Story: A Cup Full of Jasmine Oil
Reading and Q & A with Sunny Singh on A Cup Full of Jasmine Oil by Thomas de Bruijn.
Enjoy the reading. And do comment.