April 3-4: University of Pune. Poet, writer, and activist: Dr. Raj Rao

On Thursday, April 3, I took an auto-rickshaw, one of the ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, affectionately known as “tuk-tuks,” Tuk tukwhich 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.banyan-avenue




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.

R. Raj Rao

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.

Also, at his blog:  http://thewhistlingwoods.blogspot.in/2013/02/project-bolo-r-raj-rao-on-sexuality-and.html#!/2013/02/project-bolo-r-raj-rao-on-sexuality-and.html.

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


3 thoughts on “April 3-4: University of Pune. Poet, writer, and activist: Dr. Raj Rao

  1. Michael, I’ve been reading your blog avidly. It’s giving me a sense of homesickness for Mother India. It sounds like you are going to have a rich and productive time in Pune. I’m going to see if I can get my hand’s on some of Raj Rao’s work; my friend Harjant Gill is a visual anthropologist at Towson Univ and has been making films about the queer experience in the Sikh community in Punjab. I’ve been following his work.

    Your scam incident sounds awful. I managed to go almost my whole 4 weeks without a scam — my vaguely Asian appearance gave me a free pass sometimes, and other times I haggled like a wolf. On the very last day of my stay, during my very last outing, a tuk-tuk driver took me three miles out of the way to his friend’s shop instead of the one I had asked to go to, and when I got mad, he demanded 4 times the fare to take me back to my starting point. I guess a trip to India is not complete without a scam. Thanks for sharing your stories

    • Thanks, Joy. Those little scams are sort of part of the fun! Can’t wait to see you in Pune! When do you come to India? So crazy we have both developed this love of Mother India!

  2. Hahaha, Michael…laughed out loud (as they say) about the tuk-tuk comment! On the plus side, rickshaw drivers are blessed with magnificent spatial awareness and an unconcerned attitude to life and death which I try to emulate not altogether successfully!
    By the way, our son is now at UMass, so we were excited to hear that Dr. Chandrani Chatterjee spent a semester there a couple of years ago.

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