The Lion And Antler: An Interview with Shaleen Rakesh

Shaleen Rakesh is an author and activist based in New Delhi, India and has been at the forefront of the gender and sexuality movement in the country for the last twenty years.

He currently works as Director at the India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi. Shaleen is Editor with the independent publishing house OpenWord in New Delhi. He has been writing a queer poetry column called The Bling Diary for hillelle.org for the last one year. His poems have been published in (PANK), Bricolage, Pink Collective and the Paper darts magazine. His book Narrow Little World is currently scheduled for release. The Lion and Antler is his first collection of poems.

Shaleen Rakesh

Q1. Did you know you wanted to write poetry when you were in school?

A1. When I was in school, I would go cycling in and around the slums of New Delhi all by myself. I used to look at the poor children and the women bringing water back for their makeshift home. I remember on such occasions a trembling sensation, a call to things greater than what the immediate moment held. Sometimes I would write about it. It was vague but I wanted to explain it in detail.

What could have given you the physical and intellectual sense of eternity?

Who could situate this urban landscape in some kind of continuity (also concrete) which would be the immensity of space and especially time? The best way to imagine this was to think of a bird that would come by once every century and pick up something from this slum in its beak.This way of imagining things it would seem, allowed me to see that slum and myself in a different
dimension. And this, to me was the beginning of the poetic journey inside me.

Q2. So for you, solitude is your first experience?

A2. First and long, continuing experience…It lasted not only during the first part of my childhood. It was always there. Until I was twenty, and later.As a child, I never had dreams of escape, or paradise. Very early on, perhaps around the age of ten, or even earlier, my dream was to write. Why was salvation there? I do not know.

Q3. What about boys?

A3. I used to think of them a lot. They held a major part of my imagination. I used to imagine of the day I would be able to have a proper relationship with them. In India, it was not something one could speak about- boys loving other boys. But they interested me above everything else.

Q4. Did you, early on, also feel differences from other school friends at that early age?

A4. There were differences. To begin with I was the son of celebrity writer. Then, I was fat, very fat. And queer though nobody had realised that about me at the time. Also, I came from a middle class background while everyone else was rich at school. I don’t know if others saw me differently but I has certainly come from elsewhere.

Q5. Could you try and find a few landmarks to help us to understand how you found your means of expression in poetry?

A5. I always knew I would write, and I was interested from a very early age in the written word: stories, recitations. Recitations were the poems of Gulzar and Mirza Ghalib. I used to find their lines quite extraordinary. There was in their expression a mixture of the bizarre and the grandiose but written in a language of everyday parlance. It created a fantastic poetic impression on me! I knew then that I wanted to use the language of recitations- particularly because I come from India, where there is a strong tradition of oral recitation.

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