Shopping for groceries
with someone you love
Smelling the froth of
freshly brewed café au lait
Watching a couple embracing
in the misty fog
Reading the lines of a book
that was recommended by a lover
Rereading your lover’s old
letter and poems
Being kissed by the sun on a
particularly cold morning
Discovering a crumpled note in an old, discarded,
unwashed pair of jeans
Striking off a pending task
from your to-do list
Burning the mouth while eating
coz it just tastes so darn good!
Catching up on a conversation with an old friend
just from where we last left
Recalling the lyrics of an old song that had
gotten lost in the memory lanes
Seeing your mother smile
as you make a fresh, new cooking mistake
Looking at your reflection on the mirror
as you apply cherry red lipstick
When I was working on finalizing my dissertation topic during my Masters, I was quite apprehensive about what I would choose. I knew that the topic I was about to choose would eventually be something that I would be voluntarily giving two years of my life to. It had to be exciting, interesting, and maybe even controversial to keep me glued and engaged. Sex was an obvious answer that fulfilled all these criteria. And since I had graduated specializing in literature in English, erotic literature emerged as an option I was more than happy to pursue.
While I knew that it is contemporary erotica that I wanted to focus on, the reason for stressing on writing that was recent was to test how much I could relate to the contextual realities. It is only after I finalized my area of research that I began hunting for writings around sex, preferably fictional writings, in English language emerging from South Asian countries. Of course, it was much more difficult than I had imagined. This wasn’t romance or tragedy or even tragicomedy. This was erotica coming from a land that looked at sex as a tabooed, sinful and hushed subject. Of course, this is also the land that gave us the ‘Kama Sutra’ and the Khajuraho temples. It is this hypocrisy in allowing some and dismissing other manifestations of the erotic that I sought to address through my research. And my first hurdle began in looking for the texts.
A visit to the bookstore resulted in judgmental looks, sniffed remarks and, eventually, ‘Fifty Shades…’. Some bookstores proudly offered me newer translations and versions of ‘Kama Sutra’ again, while some others simply refused to entertain my preposterous demand. A simple Google search came to my rescue. I discovered Tranquebar Press whose four volumes of erotica had emerged in recent years*. Each of these anthologies consisted of fictional pieces penned by writers from South Asia. I was relieved as well as surprised at its easy presence and access on the web but complete ignorance among bookstores (I am talking about two years ago, maybe things have changed now). I ordered all four volumes online and I was more than happy to devour them for the (ostensible) purpose of conducting research. While the genre of erotica is burdened by several challenges — not being seen as ‘literary’ enough, charged of being cheap, trashy and pornographic (the thin line between what gets constructed as erotic and acceptable, and, pornographic and dismissive remains a crucial question to explore), accused of objectifying its characters, especially women—the books that I read as part of my thesis writing were both brave exceptions and happy clichés.
While conducting my research, I divided these stories on the basis of themes. But the one theme and aspect that I had a keen eye for was that of sexual fantasies and the kinds of sexual fantasies that these fictional worlds not only allowed but also gratified in a justified manner. Interestingly enough, ‘Blue’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka, which doesn’t claim to be heterosexual (and neither is), has scope for sexual experimentation and fantasies only in those stories that move out of hetero normativity. Marti’s ‘Room 1716’ is the story that describes lesbian fantasies of the protagonist, while also incorporating the use of a vibrator (a sex toy) to enhance the sexual experience—a privilege otherwise not given to other heterosexual couples in this anthology. Again, it is in ‘Me and Ms J’, a story about lesbian desire, where the protagonist fantasies a sexual relationship with her teacher. Sexual fidelity takes a hike in Shehan Karunatilaka’s Veysee which is a story about a married man who seeks sexual pleasure with a sex worker. There isn’t much light thrown as to why he seeks sex outside marriage but the story does present a view of Sri Lankan society and its perception around sex. The country is represented as one where sex is available ‘freely’ only if you possess good looks, good money and power. Of course, sexual fantasies are not limited to the realm of the man. In ‘Undercover’, Ameena Hussein narrates the story of a married woman trapped in a physically and mentally unsatisfying marriage. This story brings in the element of sex as an avenue of escape when coupled with exploring sexual desire outside marriage.
In ‘Blue’, sexual fantasy is linked to either homosexuality or tasting the forbidden (in the case of ‘Undercover’ and ‘Veysee’). ‘Close, Too Close’ (The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica), on the other hand, gives immense space to fantasies. Perhaps in keeping with the stereotypes associated with the queer world being bold, daring and experimental (the flip-side being unnatural, shameful and confused), ‘Close, Too Close’ has employed and given space for several sexual fantasies, including using a vibrator, dreaming of intercourse with a minor boy (inter-generational sex), queer games, conference sex and threesomes. Perhaps, unconventionality and varied fantasies go well with the definition of what it means to be ‘queer’ – weird. People play queer games (‘All in the game’), a middle-aged gay man –fantasises about having sex with an underage Kashmiri boy (‘Dreams and Desires in Srinagar’), two women engage in conference sex (‘Conference Sex’), a gay man and a straight feminist (as she calls herself) engage in a threesome with a seemingly heterosexual guy (‘Screwing with Excess’).
In ‘Alchemy’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II, ‘Mouth’ by M. Svairini explores the many sexual fantasies, including those that may be categorized as queer, set in the context of sexual role play and orgy. Stylistically, the story stands out in its use of several literary tools like analogy and personification. Participants involved in the orgy are all named after specific erogenous zones like the mouth, the cunt, the cock and the ass. The choice of the body part is extremely interesting and perhaps even deliberate in being both accurate and ambiguous at the same time.
In ‘Electric Feather’, The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories, Sheba Karim’s ‘Heavenly Ornaments’ explores the shame and dangers associated with being public or open about one’s sexuality or sexual desires. This shame gets doubled if it is that of a woman and more so if that of a single, deserted or divorced woman. Concepts of purity and impurity are highlighted. Another story that was striking was ‘The First Time’ by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s that traces the coming of age of its protagonist, Aditya, a twenty-seven-year-old advertising executive, who goes through a journey of sexual discovery. It narrates the journey of its protagonist from his dorm days, when he accidentally enters a room of two boys helping each other masturbate. Disturbing as it may have been to him, Aditya longed to replicate what he just saw as the pleasure that he observed in the two boys seemed genuine and true. However, later, he understands, through watching porn, that masturbation was not the only way of attaining sexual ecstasy. The story is not only significant in foregrounding sex education and sexual education; it also highlights the importance of one’s peers in shaping (almost permanently) one’s attitude towards sex.
It is interesting to note, here, how something deemed as private and intimate is actually shaped in one of the most public and open fashions – in peer group discussions, by hearing about it from friends and acquaintances and by observation in popular culture and social media. This is exactly why this genre gains importance. Erotic literature serves a culturally and socially significant role not necessarily in opening up sexual possibilities for its readers but by giving that required space for the reader to embrace and be comfortable with his/her sexual desires – something that is otherwise openly denied in accordance with social dictums. Erotica may or may not question normative ideas about sex and sexual experimentation. However, in its very act of talking about sex in the most direct and detailed manner in a deeply prudish and hypocritical world, it plays a transgressive role.
*The anthologies I studied were as follows:
- Joshi, Ruchir ed. Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press, 2009.
- Hussain, Ameena ed. Blue: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2011.
- Karim, Sheba ed. Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2012.
- Meenu and Shruti ed. Close, Too Close: The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica. New Delhi: Tranquebar Press 2012.
All these texts have published erotic stories in the form of prose, poetry and graphic art. The contributors are from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
I don’t want gifts on specific occasions that you mark on your calendar. No birthdays, anniversaries, couple days, valentine’s day, lover’s day, women’s days. I don’t want you to be subscribing to the cliché.
I don’t want you telling me my that my cleavage is showing. Or that I need to show some cleavage. Or that my legs are unwaxed. Or that my lipstick colour is too “out there”. I don’t want you to be telling me what suits my body and what doesn’t. Sure, I want your opinion. Sure, your views matter to me. But I don’t want you to be my moral police. I don’t want unasked and destructive criticism.
I don’t want you to be writing poetry about my perfect eyes, my perfect lips, my perfect breasts, my perfect waist. My body isn’t perfect. Neither am I. And nor are you. I don’t want a perfect life with you. It doesn’t exist. And I don’t want to be chasing something that does not exist.
There will be times when I wouldn’t want to drink with you. I don’t want to dance a dance with you. I don’t want to dine with you. I don’t want to go to a club wearing “appropriate clothes”. There might be days when I wouldn’t want to be accompanying you anywhere. And that ought to be okay. I don’t want you to be clinging on to me every single time. I have a life. With you. And without you, too.
I don’t want to spend sleepless nights apart wondering what the hell did I do wrong. I don’t want to reach that stage of our relationship where I spend every night making a list of things that could have happened differently if only.…
I don’t want to think about the “If only…” scenario. I don’t want unfinished sentences. I don’t want those three dots at the end of an unwanted thought.
I don’t want to spend mornings craving for a fuck. And blaming my PMS for my unpredictable cravings. I don’t want to blame my vagina or my uterus for my mood swings.
I don’t want to stare at the ceiling and count the cracks on the wall while you are busy working.
I don’t want to hear your rants about life being unsatisfactory, especially when you claim I am a significant part of it.
I don’t want you to be thinking I have too many wants. And if you do, I don’t want to care that you think so.
I don’t want to justify why I wrote this.
In a few hours, I will turn 26. Anything extraordinary about it? Not really. But I am not just a 26-year-old woman. I am a single, 26-year-old woman. I am also educationally qualified, happily employed, doing work that makes me happy and satisfied, in a happy relationship with my friends and family, financially independent, ostensibly in control of my life, content with whatever I have achieved so far. Anything wrong in this picture? But, of course. I am single. Unmarried. Uncared for. Unattended. Unbelievably stupid to be shying away from the pure bliss of marital life.
This post isn’t a rant against marriage. Or one against people who are married or choose to get married. This post is a reflection on how much societal pricking of one’s unmarried status exists even as you achieve greater heights of success and satisfaction. Got a promotion? Well, career can wait, marriage won’t. Got an increment? That’s fine but no one marries a woman who earns more than the man. You finished your PhD? Finally. You better get married; who marries an overly qualified bride? You are attending your best friend’s wedding? Wow. What a hypocrite! You are dating someone? Hmmm. When do we get to hear the wedding bells? You broke up? Oh dear, he was the never the right person for you. Shall we venture into letsgetmarried.com now?
No matter what you do, what you achieve, what you derive pleasure out of, no marriage certificate means no happiness. That’s what our society would have us believe. Of course this pressure to get married and “settled” operates differently for men and women. But it’s present nevertheless and manifests itself in myriad ways. The way marriage, its centrality and its grave importance is presented, one is never allowed to enjoy any other achievement without any guilt. Every time I have paused to reflect on something praiseworthy in my life, I have also been forced to embrace the stark reality of my spinsterhood.
I have been, interestingly, involved in the curation and execution of a soon-to-be launched campaign against early and forced marriage that will be run by the girls at Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), an organization where I work, learn and unlearn from. FAT has been working on teaching young girls from disadvantaged families photography and filmmaking so they can use their technical skills to run and anchor a campaign of their own, using the film that they direct and produce. These girls’ realities are very different than mine: they are daughters of domestic workers, construction workers, who wake at 4 in the morning and struggle to get educated in schools and colleges. I, on the other hand, am an upper caste, middle class, literate and educated woman of the 21st century. However, what binds us together is the same society whose products we all are. The same pressure. A different manifestation. That I feel the same pressure that a 19-year-old girl from an urban poor settlement faces is testimony to the fact how penetrative the matrimonial market has become.
Perhaps, I would also like to see myself married someday. Someone I truely care about and have chosen to spend the rest of my life with. Maybe in a less pressurizing and more prideful way. But I am very much against coercion. If I am 19 and wish to get married, I have every right to do so. Just like being 26 and not wanting to get married. It might to obvious to state this but let’s reiterate the fact that no one can tell if we’re ready to get married. Except our selves. Let’s respect choice. Let’s bless a couple who wants to be together despite or in spite of their backgrounds. Let’s celebrate individuals who are happy to be ticking the ‘Single/Unmarried’ box on official forms. Let’s break boundaries. Let’s be revolutionary. Let us honour the one thing we have always denied people. Choice. Freedom. Agency. The simple right to be ourselves. :-)
I want to spend the day weaving words with you. I don’t care if they are gigantic words like “procrastinate” or tiny ones like “too”. I don’t care if they are long sentences or empty and incomplete phrases. We must weave words together. Words sprayed randomly across pages in different colours and moods.
I want to hear the gossip at your workplace. I have bored you enough with my work stories; I now desire to hear yours. Who is pregnant? Who is dating whom? Who is likely to get a promotion? When is the next appraisal? I want to hear about it all.
I want to eat a dish cooked by you. I want to witness how you prepare to make it. I want to see you in a bright coloured apron and see you grin at me as you wipe tears from your eyes while chopping onions. I want to see you work doubly hard on garnishing the dish that you make. And I want to see the eagerness in your eyes as I take the first bite.
I want our house to be never lacking of fresh fruits and vegetables. I want to see you bargain at the grocery store as you pick and choose items for our kitchen.
I want to have never-ending discussions around topics that irk you and me. I want to engage in a debate where we lay bare our politics and grapple with it.
I want to argue with you on mundane and everyday things: which earring to wear, which jacket to buy, which book to donate, which book to keep, which biscuit to buy, what kind of milk to purchase everyday, which song to hum and whose turn is it to clean the toilet today.
I want to sing a song we both like under a hot shower.
I want to write an ode to the white hair on your chin beard. And read it out to you in bed.
I want to hear you moan more often. Louder. Longer. Sharper. And I want to be the cause for the moans.
I want to be hugged and held in bed every single night that we spend together. Until we naturally drift apart.
I want to kiss you till eternity. And never find a reason to stop.
Inspired from this post.
Read What I Don’t Want
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 45 trips to carry that many people.
There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying than figuring out the way in an alien city. Personally, I have lived and survived in six cities so far and each city has been challenging in its own way. But the day I helped a fellow foreigner find his way, I remember giving myself a little pat on my back. There’s a certain pride in answering: “Oh, R K Studio? Walk straight. Take a left and then a right. It’s right next to so-and-so building,” to a lost pedestrian/driver. Finding out the way in Prague was a little different, of course. Firstly, I was there for a limited period of time and wasn’t going to be living there for long. And secondly, I was prepared in the best possible way I could. I had maps of the city and print outs of the city’s metro and tram stops. But just how prepared can you be in an alien city? It’s certainly easier in a cosmopolitan city like Prague as almost everyone understands English (the local language of the city being Czech). But for someone like me who can never figure our routes and always gets lost (especially after sunset), this was a challenge that I feared. While Prague is much “safer” than several other cities with the roads and lanes usually buzzing with people, I knew I’d hate the clueless look on my face and the feeling of helplessness in my heart every time I’d be on the street on my own. I had figured out everything—walk for 0.8 km from hostel to the metro station. Take metro line B and get down four stops later. Take the right exit and then walk 300 meters more. By my sharp calculation, I should have reached the venue in 20 minutes. I reached the conference venue in 60 minutes instead. The initial 0.8 km turned into 2.8 km as I kept encircling the same spot somehow! And though I got down at the right stop, I ended up taking the wrong exit and started walking in the opposite direction. By the time I could muster enough courage to ask a local, I had already made three mistakes and was running late by over 15 minutes! Thankfully, predicting my dismal performance, I did leave the hostel way earlier as I knew something like this would happen. And I did not want to arrive at the venue fashionably late and being “so Indian” about it. This was Day 1 and I had enough backup plans. Personally, when I am walking on the road in an alien city, my hesitation in asking a fellow local is not about what its consequences might be—Can I trust a stranger? Would he/she even know the route? Does he/she look like a local? It’s more about what the perceptions might be—Would he/she think I am lost? Would he/she judge me for my poor understanding of routes? Is he/she silently laughing at my hapless state? And that’s what stops me from taking help, or rather, asking for help when I am lost.
After my carefully executed pilot, I took the risk of leaving hostel a little later on Day 2. Since I had made the mistake of encircling the same spot previously, I knew which turn not to take. I took the right exit. Reached the venue on time. One mission accomplished. Day 2 was the day of my paper presentation. So, there were other fears and insecurities that demanded attention. I had heard enough speakers by Day 2 and had got an idea about the variety of content people were bringing to the table and the kind of critique and questions to expect. Since I was going to be presenting a paper on something so specific and regional—21st century South Asian erotic literature—I realized I had a certain epistemic privilege. In a room full of people from all over the world, I was the only Indian who had read literature emerging from the Indian subcontinent. And that gave the much needed edge to a nervous 25-year-old MA in a room full of 40-plus PhDs and research scholars. I presented my paper to a really interested and engaged audience that looked eager to know more about English writings around sex and sexuality coming from a region struggling with the demands of its customs, cultures and traditions. It was a fantastic experience of sharing insights of a society and culture that I represented, familiarizing others to it and looking at it together with an objective eye. The participants enjoyed hearing what I had to say and I was more than happy with the content that I presented and the comments that I generated. Another fear of feeling an inferiority complex conquered. Mission two accomplished. By Day 3, I had somewhat become a pro. On the last day of the conference, I took the same route back, this time reaching back to my hostel from the venue in a record 15 minutes. No unwanted detours. No wrong exits. No wrong turns. No wrong purchasing of the metro ticket (yup! I did that too once). And no encircling the same spot. I entered the hostel with a big grin on my face. I dumped my handbag on my bed. Had a glassful of water. And played the entire three days in my head. I knew I had achieved and won a lot of things in the last few eventful weeks. Got selected to present a paper to a global audience. Planned the whole solo trip alone. Financed it entirely with the help of my well-wishers. Handled all the expenses on my own without splurging anything extra anywhere. Gave the presentation. Interacted with a well-read and welcoming group of academics. But none of these made me feel as proud of myself as this: I learned how to use public transport in an alien city and did not get lost. Mission three accomplished.
Read Part I here