Mayuri Deka
Photo courtesy: Anubhav Deka

Mayuri Deka speaks three languages, but she dreams and writes in her mother tongue – Assamese. She writes poems on discrimination and identity politics, on being queer and the struggles that revolve around it. But most importantly, Mayuri writes poems of love – a word and a feeling which is political and revolutionary to the queer community, as much as it is emotional.   

Deka’s poems have been published on various platforms in Assam and have garnered widespread attention in the recent past. Mayuri Deka is one of the very few writers from the region whose works have introduced the larger Assamese audience to the struggles of queer people through poetry.

Deka’s writings have been path-breaking: she seeks as well as gives emotional refuge to people who have experienced a dehumanising gaze alongside discrimination at any point in their lives. 

“I used to write my poems in English, but I gradually started writing in Assamese to convey my emotions to my mother, who could read and understand my poems in her mother tongue more comfortably. It’s been cathartic to see her follow my works, which are also letters to her in some way or the other”, said Deka.

While social media provided Mayuri Deka with the first platform to share her work with others, the widespread appreciation and acceptance made her a well-known name among the writers and literary critics of Assam. Deka will publish her first collection of poems titled Andhaar Kothalir Duwaar Bhangi (Breaking out the dark room’s Door) in July 2021. She previously edited another anthology titled Queerspace, released at the 33rd Guwahati Book Fair, 2020.

“My tryst with poetry started at a young age. I became an alibi to my aunt and her friends and wrote love notes for them on their insistence, which they would then pass on to their partners. I have always been such a romantic that I was writing love poems for other people at the age of ten”, said Deka with a chuckle. 

Photo courtesy: Nandini Handique

But in these love notes were also hidden the emotions of a young queer person who learnt to hide from the rest of the world very efficiently for a long period.  

“I used to read voraciously as a child because I didn’t find the essential meaning of friendship with anyone that I was spending time with,” sighed Deka. 

Deka would submerge herself in the Assamese renditions of Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky and Karl Marx, collected by her parents. Deka believes she acquired the knack of reading from her parents. But seldom did she find any mention of gay or queer characters in any of the books she read, whether in Assamese or English.

“Books were certainly an escape from all of it, they were helping me hone my skills which help me a lot now when I write. But I used to be very disappointed in the absence of any queer character in the books. Reading Mamoni Raisom Goswami’s Uday Bhanur Choritro was probably the first time I came across the effortless mention of a queer character- without much hue and cry about it”, claimed Deka.

Seeing and understanding literature through the queer lens has been a revelation not only for Deka but also for many other readers who have felt the lack of inclusivity, particularly in Assamese literature for quite some time now. While Sahitya Akademi Award recipient and celebrated writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami included a queer aspect to her story in Uday Bhanur Choritro, published in 1989; a storyline as such was not otherwise found in the other writings from Assam.

In the same vein, another story titled Nukuwa Kahini by writer Sanjib Pol Deka navigated the grey lines of suppressed sexuality and age difference, which was published in the August 2020 edition of the Assamese magazine Satsori.   

It is only now that a handful of writers and activists, including Mayuri Deka are writing and fighting for their space and recognition in literature. And it is an outcome of this constant effort that people are reading about the stories of queer people – stories of love that everyone experiences in their lives and stories of struggle and discrimination, which makes the lives of queer people stand out from many others. 

“I came out to my family only in 2017. Not that they were not aware of it already but I took my time and the journey before this had not been easy”, said Deka, before moving on to some personal anecdotes of discrimination in her college as well as her workplace. This also gets reflected in several of Deka’s works. 

Deka graduated from Assam’s Jorhat Engineering College (JEC) with a BTech degree in Civil Engineering and joined Assam Engineering College (AEC) for a Masters degree in the same. She taught at a few private universities until she resigned from her full-time job as an assistant professor in 2019 and began her career as a full-time poet and activist.   

“My experience as a resident at JEC was probably one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I was being made to feel guilty for being a gay woman and that will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I suppressed a lot of emotions while studying there. But by the time I started working, I chose not to hide from the rest of the world anymore. It was about time”.

When Deka joined a private university to teach Civil engineering, she felt pressured to follow heteronormative dress codes which Deka doesn’t associate with. She had to resist such guidelines being laid out by the authorities – often subverting them but also unfortunately at times giving in to their demands of the gender binary.

“I have never voluntarily worn clothes that the world expects a woman to wear, I am very much comfortable in a pair of trousers, T-shirts, shirts and yet associate myself with the female gender. But if you put me in clothes which are worn by women, I feel like I am cross-dressing. And it triggers a lot of stress and discomfort”, said Deka.  

And while gender orientation and sexuality are mutually exclusive from one another, a prejudiced society finds it all the more difficult to understand and accept these ‘complexities’. 

Mayuri Deka’s poems have been widely accepted by the readers because hers are personal tales that talk about the family’s hesitation(s) in acceptance, emancipation from the draconian shackles of Section 377, and of course, the warmth of a lover that makes it all worth it. 

“I don’t think the response to my work would have made me feel this good had I not started writing in Assamese. It almost feels like coming home. So many young people write to me telling me how much they could relate to it. It’s overwhelming sometimes. It also overshadows all the bullying and harsh criticism that comes along, said Deka.

And when asked what the literary circle in Assam needs to do to accommodate more inclusivity into it, Deka said, “It’s a long way to go. But at least it has started somewhere. It needs to be discussed more. Our stories should be part of literature, which will be read by people like any other stories.”  

Mayuri Deka’s poems are a testimony to every human emotion that one feels – only with the added aspect of identity politics which is questioned by the family, the society and the state. But Deka doesn’t shy away from discussing and expressing the difficulties that a queer person navigates through life, regardless of one’s privileges of education and acceptance from family. 

The media in Assam, despite claiming acceptance of the LGBTQIAP+ movement, has more often than not caused harm to it through their wrongful and stereotypical portrayals of the community in their stories. And while the fourth pillar of democracy has unfortunately re-assured these stereotypes, a strong wave of criticism has also nonetheless surfaced.  

The gloom of discrimination is a constant, and Deka along with many other vocal queer activists from Assam have stood tall against it, putting it across to everyone that the identity of pride cannot be put to shame by anyone anymore.  

Mayuri Deka helps young people who are afraid to come out to their families as well as to society. She exchanges poems written by young queer people who have found refuge in literature – just like she once did, while also finding her ways in life and tackling issues that come up against her identity as a queer woman. When asked to share a poem for this piece, one that could reflect her identity as a poet and a proud LGBTQIAP+ activist in its best way, Mayuri says,

“There might be one.”

Our Love Will Grow (By Mayuri Deka)

From the files of 377

To the freedom of rainbow

Our love will grow.

I will braid your hair

You will shave my head

From the stories of our hair

From black to grey

Our love will grow.

Remember the line hotels in khanapara and Nongpoh

From Police bazar to Paltan bazar

Our love will grow.

My mother cries for me

Your dad scolds you for being you

But from your heart to my soul 

Our love will grow.

Friends laugh at your back

Relatives spit on my name

But from their hatred to 

Our commitment

Our love will grow. 

From the files of 377

To the colors of rainbow

Our love will grow.  

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