In a small town along the banks of the Narmada River, a young, queer boy found his voice twice. First, in the white spaces of poetry and later, in fighting for the rights of the queer community. Today, Aditya Tiwari is using his narrative to blur the lines between fact and fiction, working towards creating a world where hope is the driving force. As he unfolded the pages of his forthcoming book, ELLE sat down to talk with him about all things poetry, activism and growing into his own.
ELLE: What drew you to poetry – an art form that you have often referred to as ‘breathing fresh air’?
Aditya Tiwari (AT): As poets, we often express ourselves in very few words. Sometimes, we hide behind words and metaphors, articulating what we may not say to a friend or a family member nonchalantly. As a result, I always tell people that poetry is not open telling, rather it is oblique. Through it, one can come out and hide at the same time.
I started my poetry journey in 2017. Back in those days, Tumblr used to be really popular. So, similar to any other young person, I started a blog and would write on there for hours. Even then, however, I had never envisioned that I would end up as a poet. Growing up in Jabalpur, a city in Madhya Pradesh, I was told a lot of things that I don’t believe young, queer people should ever be told. The crux of it boiled down to, ‘You can’t be anything’. Through it all, I lived up to my creative core. I would listen to the world, but I would always do what I wanted in life. So, somewhere or the other, I think I found my way to poetry, both through and because of my experiences.
ELLE: How do you think your upbringing in Jabalpur shaped your career trajectory as a poet?
AT: In school, I remember getting massively bullied, which forced me to constantly change schools from time to time. Nevertheless, it was through changing schools that I met this wider queer community in parks and cultures that existed in the pre-social media phase.
Back in those days, in 2017, Rupi Kaur used to be really popular. I stumbled upon her poetry and thought “Oh, this is quite interesting.” What’s more is that at the time, I was also dealing with heartbreak, so I—somewhere along the lines—resonated with it. Following suit, I started writing in a very similar fashion on Tumblr. I remember, one of my friends even read my blog and asked me if I had ever thought of publishing my work. Later, it was she who compelled me to put my work out there. More than anything, I was intrigued, so I thought I’ll do it as a fun thing. I compiled my existing work into a document titled “April is Lush” and that was, the beginning of my beautiful journey.
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ELLE: Your forthcoming book of poems ‘Lilac Dreams and Bruises’ is highly-anticipated. Could you tell us about this collection and the inspiration behind it?
AT: I’ve carried that book with me for three years now. It delves into love, loss and queer politics. The book is about self-expression, which is raw, spontaneous and has a smattering of political ideas on themes of religion, sexuality, love, grief and world politics. I believe this book is about manifesting the possibility of hope, desire and dreams for queer people.
ELLE: What about your anthology ‘Over The Rainbow: India’s Queer Heroes’? Where did that story begin?
AT: This year, I have spoken a lot about how we—as a generation—are failing young, queer children in India. As a result, I am working with The Juggernaut on a book, which is almost ready. Over the course of the last 25 years, India has witnessed great leaps in the LGBTQIA+ movement. As a result, there are ever-increasing queer people in high-achieving fields like arts, literature, sports and otherwise. Therefore, in this anthology, I have handpicked 15 of India’s queer heroes, who have paved the way for the next generation to flourish through their activism and the courage to be open about their sexuality. We are hoping for its release to coincide with the Supreme Court verdict on same-sex marriage.
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ELLE: Is there something you hope people walk away from the book with?
AT: Our community is about caring for and supporting each other. So, if we look at the queer movement in India, we will realise that it is far more diverse than we give it credit for. We have such a vast diversity of intersecting identities that make up one person, and I want more and more young people to know about our world and history, and not feel alone. Many people write to me through social media about their ordeal in society being queer. I want this book to reach them.
ELLE: Is there something you would like to say to the young, queer people of India who are hoping for a bigger, brighter and bolder tomorrow?
AT: Never stop believing in yourself. Never give up on your dreams, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Growing up, I was told that I’d do nothing or I’d be nothing. But I never stopped trusting my inner voice. My impact may not have been felt widely, but at least I know where it has been felt.