Interview : Author, Vivek Shraya

The idea of pleasing God with an act or object was curious to me growing up, especially when I would when I consider what these specific, pleasing actions and objects were. The first story I wrote for this project discusses how my parents didn’t cut my hair for my first two years of life because it was to be offered as a sacrifice to God. Cheekily, I called this story “God Loves Hair” and as the project developed, I knew that this would also be the title of the book.

VivekShrayaPress thumb Interview : Author, Vivek Shraya Now this lad needs no introduction. We have talked about his book. He has been featured as guest author. Is a little finicky with his words (editing and then re-editing, what else to make of it). And is an absolute hottie. Gee, if only I was a Gay man.

God Loves Hair – Funny title. What’s inspiration behind it?

The idea of pleasing God with an act or object was curious to me growing up, especially when I would when I consider what these specific, pleasing actions and objects were. The first story I wrote for this project discusses how my parents didn’t cut my hair for my first two years of life because it was to be offered as a sacrifice to God. Cheekily, I called this story “God Loves Hair” and as the project developed, I knew that this would also be the title of the book.

I think there is something queer, humorous and innocent about those words together which is very much in keeping with the voice and spirit of the book itself.

godishalfwomanhalfman1 thumb Interview : Author, Vivek Shraya

Why an illustrated book? (They’re beautiful illustrations, by the way!)

One of the original ideas for the book was to design and write it like a children’s book. This made a lot of sense because these were “coming of age” stories but also because I wanted to make something I didn’t have growing up, books that that featured children that looked like me, that celebrated Diwali, that ate dosa and sambar. To connect primarily with a child audience started to feel limiting in the writing itself, but we preserved the illustration element.

I am a huge fan of collaborative art because it allows both the artist and the audience to engage with the material through more than just one lens. Juliana really got inside each story, which comes across in her illustrations, the way they add this whole other layer of poignancy and richness to the text.

How much of the book is inspired from your own personal life and how much of it is poetic license?

When I first started writing, it felt really important for absolutely every detail to be truthful and fact. I thought that this was the only way to preserve the integrity of the experiences. But there were places where memory failed me and those gaps were noted in the writing. After sharing a draft with friends, who happened to be authors themselves (lucky me!), they suggested that a rich story isn’t one that is entirely true, but one that is well written, one where the author takes risks and woos the reader with detail. So while all the stories are all based on things that happened in my life, there are definitely moments where I expanded creatively.

How has your book been received in India? Have Indian publishing houses shown interest? Do you plan on coming down in the near future for book publicity?

Thus far I have received wonderful, generous feedback from Indian queer magazines such as The Queer Chronicle and Bombay Dost. I have also been discussing with Queer Ink the possibility of them carrying the book in India. I myself haven’t been to India since 1998 but dream of doing a reading there someday soon!

How have your parents reacted to the success of your book? The extended family?

I told my parents about the book very recently. It was a little awkward at first but now my mom has been regularly inquiring about the book/readings and googling “God Loves Hair” to check out the latest reviews. My family’s support has meant a lot because in a way, all we have is each other; we are pretty emotionally and geographically isolated from our extended family, who are mostly in India.

Future plans?

I just started writing songs for the first time in a year, which has been both exciting and exasperating. I am also keen on making a short video that addresses racism in the queer community.

If given an offer to write for a Commercial Queer Hindi film who would you pick from the current lot of actors to play lead hero?

I am in love with Hrithik Roshan. LOVE.

What would your advice be to young people struggling with their sexuality/identity?

Two points come to mind:

a) The Internet is your friend. Use it.

I think the world has changed a lot (in some ways) in the ten or so years since I came out. One of the most positive changes has been the advent of the internet and how it allows queer/questioning youth to connect with others as openly, as discreetly, as safely and as globally as they desire. I try to imagine being sixteen and finding a site dedicated to South Asian queers like Gaysi and it is mindblowing and totally helps to shatter that feeling that a lot of us grow up with: There is no one else like me.

b) Everybody thinks they know you better than you know yourself. They are wrong. Give yourself the time and space to figure out who you are.

I was always told I was gay. Even before I knew what “gay” meant or was fully aware of my attractions. And at some point, I believed this was true and went along with it because, aside from my budding interest in boys, this was also what everyone was regularly telling me. But this meant that any desire I had for women was deemed “misguided” or “confused” or “closeted.”

For me, the exciting part about being queer is the right to choose who we love and recognizing that those choices aren’t always going to, and most importantly, don’t need to fall neatly into one box.

Though you are Canada based, have things changed for you with the decriminalization of IPC 377 back in India?

The decriminalization of homosexuality in India has had a special relevance to me because it is where my roots are. While I recognize and am thankful for the privileges and rights I have here in Canada, I don’t think these can be fully celebrated until our queer/trans brothers and sisters around the world are granted the same rights.

*Note – Thank you, O my dearest Broom for helping out with the Questions*

About the author

MJ

Now 30, 100% shudh desi lesbian. Likes living large, and on the edge. Dislikes stagnation, fence sitting and hypocrites. Lives in a bubble of joy, with occasional lapses into drama queendom. Currently nursing a massive crush on actress Chitrangada Singh (kind of eerie, her resemblance to the late Smita Patil, don’t you think?). Aspires to build a fully functional support system for the Gaysi community in India. And most importantly, top the 'Hottest eligible desi-lezzie' list one bright sunny day.