In the land of Kamasutra, we’ve come down to treat sex as a “no-let’s talk not about it” or “hush-shame on you” kind of topic and we refrain from talking about it among the people we grow up with, or even the closest in our families, unlike the western society where it might as well serve to be a topic for a dinner conversation. The problem is that we’ve been culturally conditioned to think of sex like it’s a taboo topic in India. To ‘go out’ or to ‘date’ for an Indian woman becomes out of question in a household that breeds arrange marriages and the ultimate Parvati-like Indian bahu’s notion of self, which causes women to ultimately deny their sexuality, let alone explore it, no matter to what age they stay unmarried to. For men who seek acceptance, they choose to remain closet hypocrites to when porn is mentioned when they’re around people. Nevertheless, poets and authors like Kalidasa, Amaru, Tagore and more have written freely about love and sex for generations in our country, although they have been discouraged for the same, but what happens when 5 writers and critics come together to address sex as a ‘political issue’ among an audience with vastly varying age difference?
The panel consisted of writers that have revolutionized writing about sex. Deepti Kapoor’s debut novel, ‘A Bad Character’, deals with the wildly afflicted sexual self of a woman in India, but how she isn’t afraid to talk about and seek what pleasures her, no matter what people think of her. She said that in a country where women refrain from even thinking about sex, let alone write about it, her novel, pushing on as many boundaries as it could, made her believe that writing about sex in this country is a political act. She came across pornography on a first hand basis at one of her friend’s, where they dug up some nasty foreign magazines of her brother’s. The thing that stood out to her after her book got published is that a lot of women came up to talk to her about these things and how they could relate to the things mentioned in her books. Through her book, the veil of a societal notion of ‘how a woman should think in India’ fell off.
Sarah Waters, being a lesbian, said that it was so hard to relate with any of the books that a man had written about sex, as it consisted of perfect bodies, perfect gestures, and subjected women to merely being an object who they sought pleasure from and completely neglected the woman’s side of the story, whereas sex is messy, it’s disastrous, it’s emotional and it isn’t just about two ‘perfect’ people having sex but more and to this, Nicholson Baker added that sex is funny, but being naked in videos isn’t. Prose can exhibit more emotions and sensitivity to a thing so beautiful and personal that videos will never do justice to. Sex is about two people sharing something and to treat is as a taboo, while being closet hypocrites is what we need to break forth and come out of.
In the Victorian age, as written in some fictional historical novels, even a glance, a smile or touch of a finger was treated erotically, but in an age so advanced, anything that goes against the set of social norms about erotica, is treated as absurd. Back in the days when ‘Lolita’ got published, critics debated about how outrageous an attempt it was to write about something so sensitive and Lolita’s instincts in the novel were altogether neglected, until now when people have started questioning her decisions.
Hanif Kureishi, writer of ‘My Beautiful Launderette’, and also a man who is capable of mixing up sex, drugs, psychotherapy and philosophy altogether to create a masterpiece like ‘Something To Tell You’ compared the east and the west’s ideologies about sex. He turned up on stage wearing a t-shirt with the colourful image of Shiva on it, while the air around him labelled him as the ‘rebel’ in the room. He said how outrageous it felt to write about two men kissing back in the day but how taboo it would rather be if he writes about perfect marriages now.
Kureishi has written books mocking the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism and during the talk, he said “one of the things radical Islam thinks about all the time is pleasure, but in a negative way; it seems when we’re living in a time of anti-pleasure fascism – Islam is a death cult of extreme fascism – we also have to have a resistance from the side of pleasure. It’s partly our duty to keep pleasure alive. In the present context – the love of sensuality, love of desire, our sexual love for one another seems to have become a political act. Remember that, every time you’re f******, you’re defying political Islam.”
In the end, Sarah said how women who write about sex end up being identified by it, but on the other hand, it is funny how writing about murder in her book never got her treated as a murderer. It is important to write about sex because we are creatures with the ability to have desires and to share them.
In an experiment in Japan, a female ape was put up in a room with a computer every day to test her memory which resulted in proving that an ape’s memory is far much better than a human being’s could ever be, but as she was put back in an environment consisting other apes, she refrained from sharing whatever she had learned, which tells us that we inhabit the ability to share ideas in a world that tries to cage them altogether too.
And it seems utterly absurd to live with a distorted identity or to hide the ‘forbidden’ self from expressing itself in a world where governments tell you where and with who you can have sex with and religions try to make you practice celibacy.
By- Jaya Singh