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Tamil, Muslim, queer: A new webcomic is making waves on Tumblr

Two gay, Muslim roommates live in Chennai and are in love with each other.

Saboor is an upbeat connoisseur of flowers. Jameel is a grumpy Bharatnatyam dancer. The two are roommates in Chennai. They also happen to be in love with each other. This is Puu, (Flower, in Tamil), a new webcomic on Tumblr, a microblogging website.

The artist behind it is Akshay Varaham, 19, an art school student in California. Varaham lived in Chennai before he shifted to the United States at the age of two. He identifies as queer and as an interfaith activist.

“Chennai is where I was born and is pretty much one of the only places in India that I’ve repeatedly visited,” he wrote in an email to “I’d much rather work with what’s familiar with me since I’ll have to reference street names, things like Mambalam and T Nagar, add in local pop culture references into the story as it progresses.”

A promotional image for the comic. Image credit: Akshay Varaham
A promotional image for the comic. Image credit: Akshay Varaham

The comic is characterised by its muted palette and rough lines. Varaham churns out a chapter a week, each containing four pages. The story is in early stages yet and characters are still being introduced.

A significant inspiration for Varaham is Rebecca Sugar’s animated television series Steven Universe, a show that has gained a reputation for its sensitive treatment of LGBT characters.

“I absolutely adore that series because of its approach to LGBT+ characters and how complex they are,” he said.

Varaham himself identifies as queer, but found few satisfactory depictions of either gender fluidity or even homosexuality in existing popular culture in South Asia. The films and novels he found that did refer to homosexuality, spoke only of gay men and their heterosexual companions, “ignoring a whole spectrum of queer identities”.

Also in the series are Noor and Alamu, both lesbians, one of whom is married and neighbour to Jameel and Saboor. With both sets of characters, Varaham said he tried to steer away from stereotypical, hyper-sexualised depictions. Neither Jameel nor Saboor are conventional “manly” men and neither Noor nor Alamu are conventionally attractive.

Alamu and Noor. Image credit: Akshay Varaham
Alamu and Noor. Image credit: Akshay Varaham

Inspired by Islam  

Many of the characters so far have been Muslim. This, Varaham said, was deliberate.

“I made them so because I haven’t seen much positive representation of Islam and Muslims in a lot of media, namely in Indian and Western media,” he explained.

Varaham identifies as an interfaith activist. He began to learn about Sufism when he was in high school, which is when the idea for the character of Jameel first occurred to him. Jameel was initially meant to be a whirling dervish who danced to cope with the death of his lover, Saboor, Varaham explained. Far from being as open as he is now, Saboor initially had a dark and tragic back story of having been framed as a terrorist.

In the end, Varaham decided to stay away from that entire trope.

“[The initial storyline] recycled the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope that a lot of popular media engages in, where LGBT+ characters often end up dying as part of the story,” Varaham wrote in an email to “It didn’t help my own mental health either – since I’m a queer person myself – to kill Saboor off. And that’s where I had to rethink the whole story.”

Varaham rewrote Saboor to his current boisterous self, but with a traumatic childhood stemming from being a Hindu Brahmin child who now identifies with Islam. Jameel is someone who is reticent by nature, not tragedy. A budding romance is hinted at between the two.

Image credit: Akshay Varaham
Image credit: Akshay Varaham

Varaham’s other art is informed by this exploration of Sufism and Islam. One of his sketches is of Chellapillai, a form of Krishna, and Thulukka Nachiyar, a Muslim woman who is said to have fallen in love with his statue and followed it all the way from Delhi to Srirangam in Thiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. He learnt the basics of the story from his Tamil Iyengar family and researched it when he grew older.

“Most of my art is inspired by Hindu mythology and Islamic spirituality,” Varaham said. “Since I engage in a lot of interfaith activism, Thulukka Nachiyar and Chellapillai’s story has always been a big inspiration for me.”

Thulukka Nachiyar. Image credit: Akshay Varaham
Thulukka Nachiyar. Image credit: Akshay Varaham
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It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

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Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.