Wednesday, September 16, 2009
This one's personal.
Back in the late 1990s, a friend in publishing asked me to scan the manuscript of an anthology of Indian erotica. It was a magnificent anthology, accurate in all respects, containing excerpts from every key ancient and medieval Indian manuscript on the subject--the Koka Shastra, the Ananga Ranga and of course, the Kama Sutra (non pop-up version).
It was also the least erotic book I have had the honour of reading. As I ploughed through the grimly earnest taxonomy and the stern injunctions of our ancients, what came through was the sense of sex as yet another social duty and domestic chore to be studied alongside the granary yield figures or the household accounts. Indians had the answer to the population problem in their own backyard--if we taught the ancient erotic shastras in school, burdening young minds with the 15 different kinds of permissible fingernail marks you can leave on your lover's body and the correct occasion on which to make the cry of the peacock as opposed to the moan of the jungle cat, no one would ever have sex again in this country.
Years passed, I joined publishing briefly, and one of the first things I heard was that Ruchir Joshi was doing a contemporary erotica anthology for a rival house. My colleagues and I suppressed a moan (the low moan of the twice-kicked street dog, not the full-throated moan of the langur at dusk, if you're wondering) and came to terms with our jealousy--it was the right editor/ author for the right book at the right time. Chiki Sarkar at Random House did a superb job of setting the book on its way, but for various reasons, the book moved on from Random, and we at Tranquebar were lucky enough to get it.
Electric Feather is out; the launch is at the serendipitously named Love Hotel, Ai, tomorrow (17th September) at 7 pm (Delhi, MGF Mall--please RSVP Tranquebar if you'd like to attend); and I'm very happy that Tranquebar brought the project to term despite my departure.
Because of the zealousness of the moral police in India, and their touching insistence on peering into the bedrooms of the rest of us, we've had an odd gap in Indian writing. There is bad literary sex (Indians find themselves nominated for the Bad Sex award on a routine basis), Ye Ancient Indian sex as diligently classified by the dry quills of the sages of the past, any erotic sting drawn by time, and oceans of bad Bhabhi Porn. Contemporary lust, and love, and all those many in-between shades, has been left in a dusty file marked "Not For Public Consumption", and as authors from Paromita Vohra to Samit Basu, Jeet Thayil to Sonia Jabbar, Ruchir himself to Abeer Hoque prove, what is in there is rich, and alive, and filled with a kind of crackling electricity. Of all the books that I commissioned or that came to me as gifts at Tranquebar, this is the one I'm most pleased to see in print. Read it, preferably in bed.