On Thursday, April 3, I took an auto-rickshaw, one of the ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, affectionately known as “tuk-tuks,” which Ralph Nader I’m sure would classify, as he did the Ford Pinto, as, “unsafe at any speed.” No seat belts or other safety features, open to fumes, but excellent for weaving in and out of traffic and very, very cheap.
It was just 10 minutes or so to the University of Pune, an amazing sprawling campus, not so much open with grassy lawns and quads, at least the part I visited, but spread out in a great woods or jungle of banyan trees, monkey pod trees and others.
At the English Department I met Dr. Raj Rao, a wonderful poet, novelist, biographer and leading Indian gay rights activist, as well as being head of the department. I’d been very much anticipating meeting him.
He has published several books of poetry, one, “BomGay,” was made into India’s first gay film; his novel, “The Boyfriend,” was India’s first openly gay novel, and he also published a biography of the seminal Mumbai poet Nissim Ezekiel. He has a new novel forthcoming, “Lady Lolita’s Lover.”
You can check his work out on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/ProfDrRajRao.
He has published several critical pieces about the recent Supreme Court decision which overturned a Delhi court decision which had found a law criminalizing homosexuality to be unconstitutional–thus allowing the government to criminalize homosexuality, once again.
We had a very good chat, and another the following day. I immediately felt both a poet-writer’s and a brotherly connection to him. We may travel together to Dehu to see the site and shrine of the seventeenth-century Marathi poet, Tukaram, a place I’ve been wanting to visit, if the heat lets up a bit.
I was also fortunate enough to spend time with Lecturer Dr. Chandrani Chatterjee, a specialist in translation studies and women’s literature and a former Fulbright scholar herself, who spent a semester at U Mass a couple of years ago. Very gracious and cordial, she is organizing a series of interdisciplinary talks on campus, and has invited me to give a talk in a couple of weeks.
I feel very fortunate to have made these connections and friendships!
Next installment: Visiting the Ashram of my Spiritual Teacher