Ira Trivedi talks about her new book and the changing sexual mores of Indian youth.
For 28-year-old Ira Trivedi, India in Love (published by Aleph Book Company) is her fourth published work. It is also a marked departure from her earlier frothy fiction. It took her over four years to compile a comprehensive document about the changing sexual and marital behaviour of Indian youth. As the book traverses ancient history, sociological influences, societal demands, it walks the road of hard research, academic views, chatty interviews and ends with a personal narrative. Sometimes catering to the lowest common denominator and sometimes to the keen researcher, Ira has produced a 380-page tome that endeavours to tell you what is happening in the sphere of love, sex and marriage in the cities, small towns and villages of India. Here, according to her, a sexual revolution is unfolding in unique ways. Excerpts from an interview.
Your first three books were fiction. Why did you move to non-fiction, to researching sexuality and marriage?
I have always had a bit of an analytical background. I went to business school. I studied economics. So while fiction comes very naturally to me, I really enjoyed the non-fiction process, which is very systematic — data, research, finding patterns, doing interviews, doing analysis, looking at statistics. I had done some journalistic pieces. When I went to my editor David Davidar, he suggested I do this book. It took me around a year to create a proposal. I had to see if I had material for a book. I found there was so much out there on the subject, but no one had put it together. I realised this book needed to be written.
The cover makes the book seem like a candy-floss Valentine’s Day offering, instead of a serious work on sexuality and marriage. Why?
Earlier the book had a pink cover and I got it changed to white but I don't know why you feel that way. About the marketing, I feel that being young and a woman who has written fiction, it is taken that way. I started out at 19 and wrote my first book on a beauty pageant. I can’t tell you how many of those impressions I have had to fight in the past decade.
What was the response of young people to questions on sexuality, marriage and their relationships?
I don’t think I would have been able to write this book had I been a middle aged man. The fact that I was a young woman helped. Everyone was so open; I never had problems with young people. I had problems with academics, especially Indian academics, who did not want to talk to me.
You have looked at how women are changing their perspective on sexuality and taking their own decisions. Do you feel that the rise in violence against women has something to do with a backlash against this?
Absolutely. I feel that the khap panchayat verdicts, the violence against women, the ruling on Section 377, intolerance towards Wendy Doniger’s books… it is all a backlash. As a young person who wrote about the sexual revolution, I think it has reached the stage of visible changes. We have reached a climax and there is an even greater climax yet to come.
You have devoted a lot of space to homosexuality and its place in the Kamasutra and spoken to people fighting for gender rights. Do you feel the ruling on Section 377 is a regressive step?
Yes, it is a hindrance. But I don’t think the sexual revolution can be stopped. The last few years of homosexuality being legal has given people the confidence to go ahead. The sexual revolution will only go forward, come what may, to smaller towns and more people. It is already happening.
You have looked at India’s ancient sexual history in great detail and found that eroticism and moralism existed side by side. In your interaction with young people, particularly Prayag, who reappears several times in the book, they speak of good girls and bad girls. Have things really changed?
Things are changing and that is the confusion in Prayag’s life. Though he started out on this note, we see that he is surrounded by empowered women and keeps changing his perceptions. In India, it is difficult for men to cope with women. Women as a gender are always evolving. Men are more difficult, they are like amoeba; it is harder for them to keep up. But they have to... slowly the Indian man is being made to keep up with the Indian woman.
Are you afraid of your book stirring up a controversy?
I have been part of so many controversies… you can’t be afraid as a writer. I am a young woman living in a conservative, patriarchal society. Sometimes I am asked why I have written a raunchy book all about sex, and I tell them to read my book. It is not raunchy; it is not about sex, but about a much bigger sociological phenomenon. The problem is people don’t read the book.