And there is no tool better equipped to box imagination in – or to liberate it – than language. I grew up in a family of six people and four languages. We also moved around quite a lot. Between code switching at home and learning a new dialect with every move to a different city, I learned the power of language pretty quickly. So it was no surprise when I started poking my nose in my parents’ book collection as a child. Always being the new kid in school and being bullied constantly only made me retreat into my books even more.
Not the best idea—according to my teachers, at least. Books can plant the darnedest ideas in your head. They can suggest your school textbooks are sexist and problematic. They can tell you it’s okay—gasp—even healthy, to be your full queer self. They can instill in you a revolutionary zeal. My books got me in quite a lot of trouble—trouble I took as a sign that I was doing something right.
Language is power harnessed through story. I learned this lesson as a 9 year old. Visiting my Nani (maternal grandmother) during the summer holidays, I sat in her lap on the living room sofa while she talked to some of her friends who were visiting. True to Desi form, they were talking in a delectable mix of Hindi and Punjabi, switching from one language to the other with grace of a dancer. So when it came to contributing to the conversation, I did my best to mirror their finesse. When they had left, I remember my Nani admonishing me. “You go to an English-medium school and speak English so well. Why were you talking in Hindi?” Like so many middle-class Desi families, my parents had encouraged me to learn English in a quest for social mobility. And it was that conversation with my Nani that made me realize the social capital that came with being a fluent English speaker – the doors it could open and the access to could give you in the formerly colonized world.
English quickly became my primary language of expression. It was the language where I found my identity as a nonbinary queer woman. It was also a legacy of the colonial violence that separated by grandparents from their ancestral lands. I was proud to be articulate in a language that could never articulate its own violence upon my lived reality. I turned to poetry to try to bend the language into articulating its own colonial violence – though I had no clue that that’s what I was trying to do. To further understand my complicated relationship with the language, I travelled to the US to pursue my BA in English and Sociology.
Washington College, particularly the pedagogical brilliance of Drs. Kimberly Andrews and Alisha Knight, allowed me to come into my own as a writer and a thinker. It was also where I discovered my passion for editing. Over the years, I’ve harnessed that passion into working with emerging writers who don’t necessarily have access to a creative writing workshop. To that end, I founded Palimpsest—a writers collective focused on honing our craft in community with each other. I also serve as an editor at Oyster River Pages, where I inaugurated the Emerging Voices in Poetry program as well as ORP Schools— our creative writing workshops. In addition, I am Managing Editor and Poetry Editor at The Winnow – a magazine dedicated to highlighting the work of queer creatives. These are all an attempt to create spaces that center the stories of historically-excluded folks.
There is no ecstasy greater than finding a story that disrupts, enhances, and challenges the trends at any given time and place. And no honor greater than working with the writer to help them achieve precise muscularity of language as they tell their story.