Queeristan: The Roadmap to an Inclusive India

Queeristan is a one-stop book of inclusiveness in Corporate Culture! Parmesh Shahani’s second book is a treasure trove of knowledge and a reservoir of go-to materials when it comes to LGBTQ concerns. What makes it stand out are the possible solutions to the rising issues through the techniques of ‘cultural acupuncture’ and ‘jugaad resistance’. By these pioneering methods not only has the founder of Godrej Culture Lab normalised the presence of the community within Godrej but Shahani’s strong presence as a leader, speaker and media icon has helped in voicing the ideologies far and wide across the country and overseas, leading many to follow similar paths.

‘In our country [India] where the home itself is a space of identity erasure, the negotiation starts at workplace’. Queeristan beautifully portrays the two sides of the emotion called home – one where an individual is comfortably accepted, and the other, where the polarity of gender is coerced on them. For the former, a safe and continuous space with the same respect and freedom is provided by the workplace and for the latter; the workplace becomes the home, the family that every individual craves to live freely in. Thus, the workplace, where one spends almost eight to nine hours, probably more; 5-6 days a week needs to reinvent itself to be inclusive with amenities for the community. This includes recognition, comfort, support, exposure or anonymity, legal and medical provisions and awareness / leadership campaigns for the overall growth of the individual and the company.  ‘Ramkrishna Sinha from Pride Circle, a D&I Consultancy, put it… Generally, all benefits which are gendered, we need to look at un-gendering them.’

Loaded with surveys, statistics, citations, referral work and of course, Parmesh’s personal experiences, Queeristan gives the feeling of Parmesh speaking directly to the readers. It takes the form of a fluid narrative which cites the inception of the community (or to what it can be traced); to e over-the –years legal fight with the court for recognition; coupled with the concerns raised by the community with respect to equal opportunities at work; and most importantly to tentative solutions and techniques that can make the workplace,  a holistic environment for all.  Parmesh’s contemporary anecdotes and up-to –date methodologies make Queeristan really interesting, intriguing and definitely a guide which can be followed for building an experimental ground in the corporate sector. Of course, in the process of experimenting maybe newer policies and programs can be designed to enhance the cause being championed for.

Beginning with the company HR policies and specific parameters for the LGBTQ employees, to actively recruiting more LGBTQ employees, opens the minds of the employer towards the community. In this regard Godrej’s LOUD –Live Out Ur Dream Initiative is the best example of attracting newer talents to the company by giving them opportunities to showcase their talent, excel in it, be mentored with financial assistance and of course retain them long-term for the company. This apart, taking active part in job fairs helps in broadening the network and meeting probable recruits. This is also a remarkable platform to see how other corporates are engaging with the new pool of job-seekers as well as see with the growing number of companies taking part every time. Post recruitment, the company needs to make sure that the individuals are treated equally and any instance of discrimination is to be handled strictly by the management. Provision of policies; restrooms; psychological, medical and financial assistance are some of the ways to create an inclusive corporate culture. Regular events and briefings for the employees broaden their perspectives and helps in welcoming the community wholly to the company.  Trans-employees need to be given extra support in any which way they need it and the company should provide as much support as it can. The LGBTQ cause in the ergonomic culture would remain unfulfilled if not spoken about in public forums and media. Thus, the need of taking the cause to any lectures, workshops, conferences and festivals, grows stronger by the day.

Queeristan is incomplete without the mention of inspirational leaders from the community- Hoshang Merchant, Pawan Dhall, Sushant Divgikar a.k.a Rani koHEnur, Grace Banu, Dhiren Borisa, Radhika Piramal, Keshav Suri, Akhil Katyal, to name a few who have used their field of expertise- literature, academics, business, social activism, to spread awareness  for an inclusive society. With extensive research in this domain, Shahani has also listed down the various organisations working for the cause throughout India. It is an excellent repository of information and should you like to explore your association or volunteer with them, you can get in touch.

Parmesh Shahani , through Queeristan, writes an open letter to the HR, Business Heads, and higher management of companies to envision an inclusive and healthy workplace with equal benefits for all employees, devoid of discrimination. The LGBTQ community is a reservoir of talent and it needs to be incorporated within corporates for better productivity of the company as well as the growth of the individual. Queeristan is a role-model and a stepping stone for newer companies to broaden their visions and join hands in making the society a safe and inclusive place for all.

No. of Pages: 328

Publisher: Westland Business

Available on : Amazon / Flipkart / Audible

A Night in the Hills by Manav Kaul

Remember the song ‘Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani, Tenu Mahal Bana Doonga?’  Writer and Actor, Manav Kaul definitely knows how to build castles by triggering the reader’s imagination through visual imagery, and what best than stories from the serene hills to take the readers on a tour of words. A Night in the Hills is an anthology of eight short stories, each better than the other, depicting the rawness of life, love, friendship, infatuation, and desire. Kaul’s portrayal of human nature is apt to the point and illustriously depicts the fallacies of mankind. His anthology makes space for every age and emotion, making it relatable to a wide audience base. It is best to let the readers pick their favorite ones from an anthology where each story has its own charm and aura.

A Bunch of Old Letters: ‘Sandeshe Aate Hain , Humein Tarpate Hain. . .’ becomes the theme song for teenagers who are on the verge of experiencing first love. . .  by exchanging letters. Salim, Raju, and Sunil are best friends and share everything with each other. Trouble begins when Salim’s girlfriend proposes that her friend would like to write letters to Salim’s friend.  A game of writing proxy letters, elaborate white lies and sacrifice begins among the three of them. But would such short-lived love and comical tragedy win over the eternal bond of friendship that the three share?

Kaul’s positioning of the characters is quite unique. While Salim, Sunil and Raju are best of friends one cannot deny the class and religious differences between them. What is more astonishing is the fact when Salim’s girlfriend, Meenakshi talks about the existence of communal difference between them. This reveals how youngsters are sensitized towards communalism.  A Bunch of Old Letters defines friendship in its various aspects- being a true friend, being jealous of seeing a friend excel, imagining the feelings of the otherwise denied first love, going too far for a friend and the likes.  Like all relations, friendship has ups and downs but it is on the shoulders of the friends to resolve differences or not.

Itti and Uday: is the story of a mature yet complicated relationship. While Uday is married and has a child, Itti longs for true companionship and a productive relationship with Uday.  Would Itti remain a mistress to Uday? Will he be able to give her the space that she rightfully needs? Will Itti even want to continue a relationship so claustrophobic and hush-hushed?  The story of Itti is reflective of several liberal feminists who act according to their will. Mistakes are made by all, but very few have the strength to correct it over time.

The Copy Artist: Revealing the artistic mind of a copy artist, Kaul portrays the brilliance that is supressed in the visuals and hands of a copy artist. The mundane copying of emotionless images and objects makes a person mechanical and artistically cripple. But should one not acknowledge that a copy artist too is primarily an artist? Is this a feeling that gets supressed while working as a copier? Will the narrator be able to find his true call for art or succumb to the pressures of being a dull copier?

The Swallow:  Oftentimes, relationships hit stagnancy. Love is laidback and there is no trace of excitement. In fact, individuals often start suspecting each other of not giving enough space or time or even of infidelity. Companionship seems to fade and a long silence makes the relationship choked. What happens when a lady blames her partner of being ignorant about her presence and feelings, in a slipped moment of deviation during intimacy? Can anyone be really blamed if the thoughts travel to far and wide spaces like the swallow? Would someone innocent swallow such blames or try to explain the rationale behind the actions?

A Night in the Hills:  The titular story in the anthology is bound to give you chills; especially if you happen to love some thrills. When a tourist has to return to his guest house by walking through the dense dark forest, with a man who refuses to talk; strange thoughts start entering his mind. At times, he wants to run away from the man; while at other times he is sure the man would transform into a vampire and that would be his end.   At last, hope is rekindled when he sees lights in a faraway direction but then, the man disappears.  Did the man really turn into some creature of the night; or is it more than it meets the eye?

Five Grains of sugar: For Raju urf Rajkumar life has always been okay, okay?  A self-rated mediocre person who has very little to look forward to from life, except living with his mother; listening to Pundalik, the poet; talking to Radhey, the eccentrically imaginative sweeper; and scribbling messages on truck backs. But what is special about Raju is his self-invented game with the ants, through which he has the supreme control over them. When he is put in a false position of being a poet and asked to play with words rather than keeping quiet which he is good at; would any of his dearest ones come to his rescue? Kaul highlights the worth of underestimation through this tale and it is indeed a reminder for the readers that every individual, object, or phenomenon has its own significance in the world and should be given its due when the right time arrives.

Words and Their Picture: A narrative solely driven by visual imagery re-counts the poignant tale of a man who pursues his lost love with true dedication. Would he succeed in gaining the lost trust? The story portrays how the protagonist like many others, falls prey to the decisions of society and ‘simply lived out, with honesty, what was decided for me’. Words and Their Picture describe the emotion of distancing from a relationship that cannot be saved and yet hesitating to start a new one, in case it meets the same fate.

Tragedy: Divided into three parts, the story follows the life of Inder who is hospitalised at present due to ill health. He meets a beautiful girl in the adjoining room who is recuperating from jaundice. He wants to call her Parul till he comes to know that her name is Roshni.  The narrative shifts to the past where a young Inder falls in love with his singer-classmate Parul. Would economic and class differences unite the two souls? Was Inder experiencing the fantasy of teenage infatuation, or was it true love? Does Parul reciprocate his feelings? Most importantly, would Inder’s ‘good boy’ image allow him to take revolutionizing decisions about his life? The storyline yet again shifts to the present where Roshni and Inder make the better of each other’s company while at the hospital and recollects the horrors of Roshni’s past and her abusive step-father. Her personal experiences coupled with the absence of a father in her life, makes her fall for men beyond her reach. Is it a way of taking revenge or is it a way to compensate the lack of a father-figure in her life? Tragedy talks about some of the most complicated existing relationships in modern society along with the rationale behind them.

Manav’s brilliance as a writer is expressed through his works, especially through the use of modern sentiments, relationship vacuums, and vivid imagery to portray and supplement human feelings. A Night in the Hills is an absolute must-read if you love reading about human emotions, short stories, or love to see the world through the eyes of the writer.

No. of Pages: 224

Publisher: Westland

Available on : Flipkart / Amazon