In the sealed-off basement of New Delhi’s American Center, two very queer bookshelves have appeared. The art surrounding them is queer, too – find here the merged, unclothed vulvas of two female bodies, the photograph of a middle-aged man sitting on the lap of a giant MK Gandhi statue, and two dozen others. A few people are poring over the books when we arrive like there’s no tomorrow.
There will be tomorrows for at least the next fortnight, while this pop-up library of nearly 100 books by Bi-Collective Delhi is parked here. Many of the books are about bisexuality, meant as handbooks for young LGBTQI+ persons and those questioning their gender and sexual identity. “Erasure is a huge problem that bisexuals face, so to have even a list of books on bi and LGBT issues is important,” says Sukhmehak, aged 21.
Sukhmehak and nine others (the youngest of whom is a 16-year-old pan-sexual person) at the tiny volunteer group, Bi-Collective Delhi, put together this collection through gifts and grants over the last year. The idea for a library came about because - well, what do you do when you want to read a book? “I started by writing to libraries in Delhi to find literature on bisexuality, but, there was hardly anything available,” says 28 year-old Navdeep Sharma, one of Bi-Collective’s founding members.
With a little reaching out, they received their first set of books, journals and reports as gifts from the American Institute of Bisexuality and the Bisexual Resource centre, Boston. “The idea is to make available what is not easily available or visible,” Sharma explains. “With books, cost is quite a barrier to accessibility, unlike audio-visual material on the internet.”
Their current catalogue is a mix of fiction, non-fiction, film screenplays, reports, journals, and brochures. (NB: Some of these – The Bisexuality Report and Bisexual Invisibility – are also available online.) For readers intimidated by thick books, brochures on mental health for bisexual persons, mixed-orientation marriages, how to be an ally, handbooks for questioners (‘I Think I Might Be Bisexual’ – find out what’s next!), are lightweight treasures.
The collective itself was online-only until very recently. They’re still so small they can’t offer to let you borrow their books, or provide works in languages other than English. However, to reach more people, the library will also have a day’s stay at Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place after this. Eventually, they’re working to house it in a permanent location. And if you have a book about sexuality in a South Asian language, please: “We’re seeking donations,” Sharma says.
We say hi to Pavel Sagolsem, 31, who stayed welded to a chair at the mini-library’s reading table through the wine-and-cheese reception for the inaugural of the queer art show running along-side. “I am reading a book that is about the natural course of a queer relationship, unlike the usual sensationalist themes of violence and AIDS,” Sagolsem, who identifies as a genderqueer person, explains. “The readings here are also a myth-buster to the idea that bisexual people are fluid or indecisive.”
This is just what the Collective wants: for younger people to know they’re seen and represented in literature. “It gives a sense of relief to know we’re not alone,” says Sharma. A physical space also feels important. Unlike huddling over a laptop, as Sukhmehak says, “a physical library gives the better experience of coming together and reading”. To coming out and coming together.
Getting there: The Bi-Collective’s Library pops up, June 26-July 8, Tuesday- Saturday, 11am-5pm, at the American Center, 24, KG Marg. Photo ID is compulsory.
Accessibility: Ramp and elevator for wheelchair access both available.
PS. In other library news, the amazing Community Library Project is having a fundraiser this weekend and has 1800 fantastic books to give away: go!
Akshita Nagpal is a multimedia journalist based in New Delhi.
Wake up to daily updates on what to eat/shop/do in your city