Between the covers
By Express News Service - HYDERABAD
07th June 2012 10:40 AM
In 2009, writer Ruchir Joshi approached Tranquebar to publish an erotica anthology that he had been putting together for another publishing house, which didn’t work out. Little did the editorial team at Tranquebar know that they were about to start a trend of sorts when they agreed to publish the book. “Joshi had brought together some of our most talented contemporary writers and asked them to write in a genre that one would not usually associate with them. It was an edgy, fun collection of stories and we were thrilled to have it on our list,” says Deepthi Talwar, in-house editor for Electric Feather - The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories and also for the upcoming second edition. Electric Feather was reviewed, covered extensively, and sold rather well. Its success prompted the publishers to unleash a slew of books based on this genre like The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II, Close, Too Close, Urmila Deshpande’s Slither and Blue: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka. “There’s always been a demand for sensual literature. And we have a history of it in India; take for instance, Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhavam. So I do think it’s a genre that will only become more popular. Worldwide, too,” Talwar says.
With books like Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James toppling veterans off bestseller lists worldwide for both its erotic plot and explicit sex scenes, Talwar is probably right about a global trend of telling stories from the body’s perspective. But has writing in the erotic genre become a trend in India? Nisha Susan, writer and creator of the effective 2009 'Pink Chaddi' campaign, feels that more than a trend, this is a genre that is challenging to write in. “A lot of young and contemporary writers in India today find it fun to contribute to an erotic anthology because it is like a genre-fiction challenge for them,’’ she says. Susan herself wrote a short story called The Broadband and the Bookslut for a Zubaan anthology previously, which she didn’t intend as erotica but the theme was sexual in nature.
Shalini Krishnan, in-house editor for Close, Too Close says that there has never really been a lack of demand for erotic, sensual literature, poetry, songs, or art here, or abroad. The issue is how mainstream and acceptable it is. “In that context, yes, there does seem to be a general increase in the acceptability of specifically written erotic material in mainstream Indian society (art, music and poetry have always had at least a foot in the door via classical pieces),” she says. Krishnan has seen as many male as female contributors in Tranquebar’s anthologies on erotica. “I think there is a tendency to fixate on the idea of women writing erotica because it’s still considered somewhat ‘edgy’ for a woman to be open about her own sexual desires, much less talk frankly about what could turn her on,’’ she adds. There is also a larger movement that is being spearheaded by writers like M Svairini ( a nom de plume) who blogs about sexual experiences and desires at Shameless Yonis, where like-minded individuals meet.
What’s in a name
While the genre is erotica, some writers want to keep their identities a secret or prefer to write under a nom de plume - a contrary action, since writing in this genre is often viewed as a liberating experience. One reason, Talwar observes, is that a writer might not want to be slotted in a particular genre.
From a queer perspective, Krishnan says, “So many queer people do face real and present threats if their orientation is revealed - or even suspected, and we decided that we would let people who wanted to contribute under a pseudonym or retain some degree of anonymity by using only a part of their full name, do so.”
The enchantress of Delhi
For Delhi-based writer and art critic Roselyn Dmello, writing erotica was more incidental than planned. “When I started my blog (wanderlustingfeet.wordpress.com) in 2007, I was just beginning to discover and experiment with language. I found I veered naturally towards the confessional mode,” she tells us. Friends and mentors, who read her writing made her realise that she was actually writing in the erotica genre. “I find that erotica, as a genre, is extremely understated. There is so much potential for subversion and word-play,” she says. Dmello is currently editing an anthology of erotica by women called Venus Flytrap, to be published by Zubaan, that attempts to trace a lineage across generations. So there’s writing by pre-modern voices like Meera Bhai and Akka Mahadevi (saint poets), Ksetrayya and Muddupalani (courtesans), contemporary voices like the late Kamala Das, and some like Mridula Garg, Tishani Doshi and a writer who goes by the name of M Svairini ( Svairini in Sanskrit roughly translates to a liberated woman). From bridal mysticism to adultery and sexual disappointment (as experienced and written by Das in her autobiography My Story), you will find diverse themes. And how does she differentiate erotica from porn? “In my opinion, there’s a thick border strung with barbed wire that separates erotica from porn. Erotica is about process, and language dictates that process. Porn has always been about effect,” says the writer, who is working on her first novel, A Handbook For A Lover. Dmello says that she doesn’t see herself as consciously writing erotica. “It’s just that my language tends to be inclined towards the sensuous and the epicurean. I’m not really interested in sex. I’m more curious about the ontology of desire,” she says.
Venus Flytrap is to be published by Zubaan. Details: zubaanbooks.com
Other side of the story
For queer women, Meenu and Shruti (they prefer to call themselves by their first names), finding erotica that reflected their desires five years ago was an impossibility. The only queer erotica available were the ones written about and by Westerners. “Erotica as a genre has personally interested us. In terms of contemporary queer erotica, a lot of what is available is published in and is about the West and we wanted to read more queer erotica from the non-Western context,” says Meenu, who works in the field of women’s and sexual rights at a Delhi NGO. “Within erotica, queerness has not been available in the public domain too readily though it has existed and been shared quietly. So, Close, Too Close is an attempt to bring out those sexy, simmering writings and art,” she adds. The duo started off by sending out an open call for submissions to queer lists, literary groups and blogs in India and the South Asian diaspora. To their surprise, they found contributors not only from India but also Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Shruti, who works as a counsellor in Mumbai, feels that it is important to document and write about queer people’s desires, simply because queer sexuality is rarely seen in a positive light in the public domain. Close, Too Close - The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica is published by Tranquebar.
Details: facebook. com/closetooclose
Art of dirty talking
First-time erotica novelist Aranyani (a pseudonym that translates into the goddess of forests and animals) began dabbling in the genre while on vacation. She reminisces, “The genre chose me. I had not written erotica before but on that one vacation, I decided that I wanted to write for a few hours each day and see what happened. On one routine day, after wandering in the vegetable market all morning, I came home, and my first story, Stolen, was born.” Her upcoming debut book, soon to-be published by the Aleph Book Company, is called Tamil Summer and Other Erotic Tales and is a collection of short stories populated by women protagonists, delving into their erotic lives with adventures, questions and conflicts. Commenting on the reaction that might ensue post the release of her book, the 37-year-old, who originally hails from South India, says that it all depends on the reader. “My intention is not to scandalise but to break some of the taboos in language that limit our experience of the erotic,” she says. The book, a collection of short stories, takes a rather sensual and graphic approach to bodily pleasures. Instead of silk bed covers and lace underwear, you will find sweaty thighs, ample bottoms and naked desire here. According to Aranyani, erotica is about breathing, feeling, thinking humans and their sensual and sexual experiences, while pornography is about sexualised experiences that stand apart from the humans who have them. Reluctant to reveal her identity, Aranyani reasons, “In India, where family and social circles overlaps, the decision to go public with a book of erotica is not considered a personal decision as it would perhaps be in the West.’’ But she admits that anonymity helps erotica writers maximise time for what they love - their writing. Tamil Summer and Other Erotic Tales will be published by Aleph Book Company in January/February 2013. Details: alephbookcompany.com
(with inputs from Reshma Iqbal)
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