Love, Lust And Erotica In Literature: Beyond The Lecherous And Voyeuristic

Posted on May 22, 2014 in Media

By Medha Roy Chowdhury:

“To her, the man’s body was an instrument to be played on, to explore to its innermost depths, finding its responsive chords and building upon them, using her own body to help create exquisite harmonies.”– Sidney Sheldon.

A recollection of childhood days brought to mind the absence of Sidney Sheldon novels from the school library. Not to mention, a friend refused to take up the books as they were ‘lewd’ and would ‘corrupt’ her. What value does the brilliance of plot, sheer resolve of the female protagonist, have? One must be at arm’s length to such audacious literary creations, I was hinted by her. Then there were those who seemed to read only those passages describing sex. It is drilled into young minds right from childhood, Sex, Erotica, Lust; one shall refrain from it all.

mastram-posterMastram: The contemporary directorial debut of Akhilesh Jaiswal’s much controversial film premiered in the Mumbai Film Festival in October 2013. Mastram primarily a fictional biography has been critiqued as being solely fit for carnal devouring and mental fornication. More than just a pornographic pulp fiction, it is a meditative insight into the sordid melancholia of a porn writer’s psyche. The evidence is blatant, as the original body of works of Mastram were purely erotic, artistic to an extent, and undoubtedly not filthy, coupled by the lack of lecherous objectification of women. The author’s narrations of coitus have been aesthetically projected in its cinematic namesake. Jaiswal claims that the impetus for the Indian ‘Shakespeare of sleaze’ stemmed from the long-standing curiosity about the forbidden anatomy of the opposite gender. The author Mastram is yet cloaked in the ambiguity of identity.

Erotica Elsewhere: The trickle that erotic is in the Indian literary canon, when pitted against the flood of Mills and Boon that sells like hot cakes abroad, showcases a penchant for the narratives of intercourse. Steig Larsson’s gritty yet bestselling translation of the ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy captures unexpected erotica and murky violence. A must read in itself, the bad girl Lisbeth Slander has been streaked with resoluteness and explored as a sexual fantasy for males.The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E.L.James, gives ample evidence of the viral popularity of erotic fiction. The significance and flavour of this ‘hot’ genre is far moved from pornography and gives vent to the sexual cravings of the female sweeping across bondage, submission, sadism, discipline, masochism and dominance.

Love And Lust In Indian Fiction: Concept of the ‘Rasa’ in Natya Sastra; religious works by Kalidasa; ‘Geet Govindam’ by Jayadev are laudable examples of such ancient Indian creations. Tinted with erotica about unbridled sexual urges, the ‘Kamasutra’ of Vatsyayana, a celebration of love, sex and uninhibited passion was written in medieval India. In a nation where the promiscuous Savita Bhabhi has proved to spark controversial debates owing to the setting of the Indian subcontinent, the conviction that “Lust is the True Foundation of Love” compels Mohan Kumar, the millionaire protagonist of ‘The Company of Women’, a novel by Khushwant Singh to share his bed along with his manhood. Looked upon as immoral, the bold passion- play of Tagore, ‘Chokher Bali’ evokes gasps and reactions that accuse it of having flouted tradition of the widows as being fit to renounce their sexual passions. The novel compels a second thought into the explicit dogma of traditions besides delving deep into reaches of the erotic love-making, often a shocking reality if spoken of in the broad daylight.

Patriarchal Repressive Culture: The philosophical acceptance of sexual yearning has been asphyxiated by equating sex and sensual eroticism to that of the sinful and guilty. While reading more into this arena of prose what I noticed was a dearth of sexual narratives in vernacular literature. Sexual candour in women has been looked upon as transgression of societal norms thereby curtailing metaphors and allusions suffused with raw sexuality. Often treated as amorous deterioration of morals, graphic erotic imagery has been staunchly discouraged.

A passage from the novel Silverfish, by Saikat Majumdar: “…the soft tresses fell under the steel of the scissors…I heard a Brahmin pundit say years later that meat and fish, and spicy ingredients like onion and garlic only raised body heat, boiled one’s lusts, that which should be dead for widows, whether they be twelve or eighty. Their (the widow’s) hair was chopped to make them ugly to men, and their lean, watery diets kept them at peace with themselves, the desires asleep for the rest of their cursed life.” This does put into perspective, the squeamishness relegated to sex, the hushed tones that are adopted while discussing these subjects of taboo. The paucity of erotic description in Indian literature is hence explained. Needless to say, the movie ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ did make most of us disturbingly uncomfortable in our seats. Unabashed, ‘Chacha’ in Mastaram, introduces the scandalized protagonist Rajaram to the salacious and cagey universe of soft pornography and ‘literotica’. It is all pervasive, yet confronts denial and vehement disapproval. The deep-rooted hypocrisy lies in its shaming, silencing and later succumbing to conspiratorial consumption of the same.

A beacon of hope is the efforts made by Random House in replenishing the body of erotic anthology that is not pornographic, but speaks of the love-making as the ecstatic, pleasurable and definitely not sinful. Kamala Das’s ‘Padmavati, the Harlot and Other Stories’, ‘The Quilt n Other Stories’ by Ismat Chugtai, ‘Starry Nights’ by Shobaa De, ‘Delta of Venus’ by Anais Nin, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D.H.Lawrence, dauntless works of Manto, and ‘Nana’ by Emily Zola shed light on the narrow repressive notion challenging this legitimate genre.