Two separate accounts of the sexual revolution that has swept the country.
The message is clear. There’s a rumble under the ground as a new avatar of India’s ancient Kama Sutra sweeps into town under the hot breath of freely available Internet porn and unbridled social media. It could be called the Randy Revolution.
The two authors — Ira Trivedi is the gifted insider and Sally Howard the ingénue outsider — have undertaken parallel journeys into the boudoirs and brothels, the making of dream girls and the good-time girls that haunt the interior landscape of the country. Reading their accounts — both very different, but tackling much of the same ground from Kashmir to Kanyakumari; Meghalaya to Mumbai, researching yokels and yonis — we cannot but ask ourselves: Is Vatsyayana the true Father of the nation? Or wonder whether the Kama Sutra has got more significance today than the Constitution of India?
It’s a “Yahoo!” moment all over again. This time round it’s going to shake the grass mats off the grime-spattered face of the Indian sub-continent because finally it’s happening right here in your own backyard. Not just as everyone hoped on a multiplex screen with larger-than-life prototypes cavorting in foreign locations, as though to underline the message that “Doing It” is a Western habit. And the dirty word here is “empowerment”. Not just of women, but just about everyone and their underprivileged aspirational wannabe under-age neighbour.
There’s so much going on under the sheets, in the fields and between the pages of these two books that I decided to use the term “yum-yum tree” to indicate all the pleasures of the flesh for which the subcontinent has been justly famous.
Let’s dispense with Sally first. She shakes the “yum-yum tree” with a brisk British Airways hostess-like efficiency. She brings her journalistic credentials and her East is East and West is West double vision. She actually carries a double along, a divorcee called Dimple, who is always at hand to add what we may call a native viewpoint. This is not meant to be a put-down. Dimple is a Delhi girl, who’s been through the gamut of arranged marriage, a disastrous first night, divorce and disillusionment. When we meet her, she is in her early thirties and well suited to be Sally shadow in all their adventures. When we last glimpse them, Dimple is kitted out in a “rainbow of gem-studded pink and teal” outfit, while Sally is in “a vibrant red dress and a pink-red dupatta” about to graduate as visitors to that ultimate fantasy, the great big Indian wedding scene.
It can’t be entirely Sally Howard’s fault that each chapter has been provocatively illustrated with “positions” from the Kama Sutra. These actually detract from her good intentions of getting a grip at who is actually climbing the yum-yum tree; and why in the age of Nirbhaya, there is so much rage and disillusionment with what Vatsyayana had declared would be and should be an elevating experience. With an equally gravid cover it seems to be destined to lurk in the recesses of the lonely back-packer waiting in deserted railways stations for the train to Khajuraho.
Trivedi, on the other hand, walks her talk, taking the reader into areas that have hitherto appeared only in documentaries, or as fiction and is candid enough to share her own history of love and confusion in a time of intense turmoil. She comes with an amazing set of credentials: written fiction, graduated from Wellesley College and Columbia University in the U.S. with a management degree, has been in relationships though none of these appear to be permanent. She also has memories of a Dadaji, who tells her that women have to be like chappati dough, soft and pliant. As she confesses in a chapter called “Love Revolution” she has become at 28, “unequivocally, by Dadaji’s standards, a hardened, deformed, inedible roti.”
However, do not be fazed by this put-down. She does the same circumambulations around the yum-yum tree, from a “Gosh-oh-Golly” opening number that has her wading through the blood and gore goat sacrifices taking place at the Kamakhya Devi temple in Guwahati to tracking down the nouveau Vatsyayanas dispensing their worldly wisdom in as many ways as there are ‘positions’ in his love manual. We get to meet the three K’s — Sudhir Kakar, Dr. Prakash Kothari and Ashok Row Kavi —who provide her with pithy quotes. They are just some of the many scholars and experts she has either met, or read and assimilated in her research. She backs these up with statistics that can only shock the reader.
Just one chapter alone “The Dark Side” that has been credited to Anjani Trivedi Kotwal should be enough to underline why Trivedi’s work must be required reading for anyone interested in what is happening to our society today.
Will we cut the tree, burn it with Constitutional diktats to protect the centuries-old hypocrisies that have been sanctioned by gender disparity, caste and communal compulsions and bury the aspirations of a whole new generation? With witnesses like Ira Trivedi, there is hope yet for the yum-yum tree!
The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys Through Modern India; Sally Howard, Tranquebar, Rs.395.
India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century; Ira Trivedi, Aleph Book Company, Rs.595.