The queer community shines in the spoken word and music scene and this month, we gave you “Five Gaysis to Google”. But we were curious about who else was scratching their way through. So, we asked our community to discover some more performers and found four (more) out there making noise, being heard!
Sparsh Bajpai can sing Hindustani, Opera and even in Korean. You’d be hard-pressed to find a musician with as much vocal range (or speaking as many languages) as them. The LSR graduate (yes, that college with a cut-off of like, a 100% or something) is a recurring face in the theater and Hindustani/European classical music circuit across India. At 15, they began training in opera with Ms Situ Singh Buehler – the founder of the Lyric Ensemble of Delhi — and performed their first solo as Stephano in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, at the age of 17.
Sparsh identifies as queer and non-binary, a concept that many people still struggle to understand and their life has not been without challenges. But within the music scene, they note that it is easier. “Without wanting to sound like I’m stereotyping, the field of arts is full of queer people. And we all look out for each other. When it comes to the roles I play, the heteronormativity and cisnormativity doesn’t bother me because I see it as merely a role and not as an extension of myself. And keeping in mind the context, when these musicals we’re written there isn’t much one can complain about,” they say.
[In this video, they still refer to them as “her” but that’s wrong.]
Aastha Singh Raghuvanshi
Aspiring spoken word poet Astha Singh Raghuvanshi is a strong proponent of poetry as a tool for changing the world — and she doesn’t say this lightly. She’s seen it firsthand through her work with the Arts for Social Change India’s project, Slam Out Loud. She organises poetry workshops with children from marginalised communities, bringing spoken word to the grassroots. Still a student, she hopes to make poetry her life’s work.
Aastha is femme, so she admits it makes many things easier for her, because she doesn’t ‘look’ gay. “However, as an artist who voices queer issues, I do struggle with sharing my work… I find it hard to read out my poetry to family and friends, especially… in drawing room discussions amongst guests who are clearly homophobic.” Not to speak of young classrooms. “Mostly though, the relationship between my poetry and sexuality has been one of comfort and exploration. It’s been about finding myself and exploring the boundaries of what is and isn’t within the spectrum of gender and sexuality.”
Another versatile performer on our list, Arati Warrier is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and an award-winning American poet and performer. She’s been on five slam teams (as they’re called in the US) and has been published in Aerogram, Bustle, and the feminist So to Speak Journal. A member of the Malayalee diaspora of Austin, Texas, her work outlines the queer-desi-girl experience.
Coming out in a “log-kya-kahenge” kind of community was difficult, and not just for her mother. As a writer, she struggles with the perforation between the personal and political. “Every time, I write a poem that I want to share, I have to fight myself on whether or not this would hurt my mom. I sometimes must erase and rewrite myself into spaces (slams, stages, poetry magazines, websites etc.) because I worry about safety; my physical safety, my mom’s emotions, my family’s relationship with each other.” She outlines the aches of queer Desi-hood in her poem In Which The Author Regrets Coming Out to her Parents.
Knowing how much lonelier it can be in small-town India — and that much more difficult to reach — we were very pleased to hear from Anhad Bairagi, poet and aspiring filmmaker, currently pursuing a postgraduate diploma in Film Direction and Scriptwriting. He hails from the lower Himalayas, and grew up amidst great natural beauty and with the gifts of a sincere appreciation for beauty and kindness. He thinks and writes only in Hindi.
“Waise language sirf grammar ka jod tod nahi hai, ye life se judi hai or log us se. But sadly, bhasha se class jud gaye hain. But problem toh baraabar hai, infact jyada hai. Toh humari responsibility badh jaati un logo ke liye jinke paas awaaz nahi hai. Un ke liye agar main zariya ban saku baat pahuchane ka aur pride ka..lekin sab se pehle mein bhi usi prakriya ka hissa hoon. Toh mujhe zarurat hai saathiyon ki jin ke saath is qaaynaat ki khubsoorati ko, zindagi ke vistaar ko hum dekhen, samjhen, aur apne apne medium se duniya ke saamne rakhen..sammaan se…pride se.”
Attempted translation: “Language isn’t just about grammar. It’s bound by the rules of life, and people are bound by it. But sadly, language has become linked to class. The problem is equal, if not more intense (for non-English speakers) and so our responsibility towards those who cannot voice their opinions increases. I can become a medium to get across the message of pride, but first, I have to be a part of the process. I need friends with whom I can learn to understand the beauty of the universe and the expansion of life and use our respective mediums to bring it to the world, with pride.”