A 19-year-old’s take on LGBTQ issues and religion through his month-old web comic series.
Saboor and Jameel make for unlikely roommates. The moody Jameel finds himself irked by Saboor’s love for flowers, his tendency to laugh at his own jokes and his loud snoring at night. However their love story forms one of the three tracks of Puu, a web comic series on Tumblr by 19-year-old Akshay Varaham.
Set in Chennai, the comic also has two subplots—one revolving around a Brahmin woman who is secretly in a relationship with a Muslim woman and the other, a transwoman’s journey. Talking about the use of religion, concept of isolation and queer rights, Varaham says,“A big reason for including religion in the story is because a lot of people think that LGBTQ people are all about sex and thrashing Indian morals and etc. However, most of us are just quiet, regular people. We can be religious too – and that’s why my characters belong to specific religions,” says Varaham. One episode where Saboor wails in his sleep, dreaming about his father thrashing him is particularly poignant. The Tamil-origin art student based in California is a closet trans man himself and says, “I feel closest to Saboor because his family has been abusive to him like mine has been to me. My parents are the most homophobic people I have met. It was devastating to see the people who had loved you all your life suddenly hate you for who you are, for something you can’t control.”
To those who find solace in his caricatures, he says, “I want my readers to know that you can be Indian and LGBTQ; there’s nothing contradictory about being both. It will get better in the future for people like us.” He has another web comic planned which will be set in the USA, addressing racism and imperialism.
— Lavanya Lakshminarayanan