From the west coast of the USA, he sketches the voice of the queer minorities back home. Going by the pen name ‘Hiranya’, he explores the precincts of sexuality and gender through his web comic Puu, available on Tumblr. Hiranya wants people to open their minds to controversial issues and start initiating discussions rather than shunning them. He feels it would make the society more tolerant in the future and act like a catalyst for progress.
“The comic is about two men — Saboor and Jameel — who share a room in a flat in Chennai. Saboor is loud and energetic while Jameel is quiet and grumpy. The story revolves around how they slowly fall in love,” explains Hiranya. It may be a controversial topic in India, but he isn’t affected by it. “Instead of keeping it in my head, I decided to write it down and draw it out,” he says.
A few of the plot devices used in Puu are inspired from Madho Laal Hussein, a story of Punjabi Sufi saint who falls in love with a Brahmin man during Akbar’s reign. The comic goes in pace with the current affairs, which includes the references to the sickness and eventual death of a Chief Minister. “The rest is my imagination” he says.
The comic comes out altogether as the voice of the minorities and the marginalised. The inclusion of Islam is “most certainly deliberate,” says Hiranya, as LGBTQ Muslims are excluded not only from their religion but also from the western countries. The artist has made both the main characters Muslims to create a space for these people.
Though the comic web-series has a huge fan base from the West, it receives more positive feedback and encouragement from Indians and the Indian diaspora. “I realised that the reason we never hear about LGBTQ Indians is because they have such a hard time coming out of the closet. So, I wanted to make a story that’s encouraging to them,” Hiranya smiles.
Flowers play a significant role in the series — and the comic is named Puu (Flower), as one of the protagonists, Saboor, is fond of flowers, and the strips are vividly filled with them. Breaking barriers, Hiranya explains, “Masculinity isn’t often associated with gentle and tender things, so I wanted this story to go against that and show two male characters who can be soft and sweet. Associating men with things like blossoms breaks down the unhealthy notions of masculinity, such as the idea that men have to be cold and unfeeling.”
Hiranya’s friends have been incredibly supportive, and they’ve grown to love the characters and story. He now intends to put the entire comic up online and then make a paid print version of it. He is also planning another webcomic that is centered on the South Asian community in the US. Since the focus of the story would be on food, he promises that it would be a whole lot of fun....