The launch in the city of Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s book Sita’s Curse — The Language of Desire, laid bare the truth about sexual socialism and our society

“She had eyes the colour of rain — the most soulful pair of eyes, I had ever seen and also the saddest,” says author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, talking about the inspiration for her feminist erotic novel, Sita’s Curse —The Language of Desire which was released in the city recently.

It was in another life, in another city, in another world that she first encountered this woman who she refers to as the hero of her novel, “I used to be a journalist in Bombay and would travel by cab to work every day. On my way, I would pass by this chawl in Byculla and my cab would always slow down as it went through that area. That was when I first noticed her. She wasn’t glamorous the way Bollywood makes women out to be, but she was beautiful,” says the 36-year-old author.

Perhaps it was her sheer radiance amidst the sordidness and squalor of her surroundings that made the memory so potent but Sreemoyee could never forget her, “I would look out for her every day— there was something so captivating about her. I assumed that she was Gujarati because she wore her saree seedha-pallu style, I knew she was married because she wore a mangalsutra but that was all I knew. Sometimes she would be on the phone, sometimes she would be feeding her parrot; sometimes she would be drying her long, tousled dark hair. She was the most sensual, exotic creature I had ever seen.”

Then the July 26th floods happened and everything changed, “I was a victim of the floods myself, was trapped in office, contracted leptospirosis after wading through filthy water to reach home and was ill for many days,” she says. “When I resumed work again, I looked out for her but I never saw her again. I am just a vessel, a medium through which her story can be told.”

Sita’s Curse (Hachette Rs. 350), the product of that experience, tells the story of a beautiful, sensuous woman, Mrs. Meera Patel, who is trapped in a soulless marriage for nearly 20 years. The book chronicles her choices, her emotional upheavals, the discovery of her own physicality and the coming into her own as both a person and a woman. It also raises questions on issues such as the sexual politics of Indian households, the primordial connect between religion and sexuality, marital rape and women’s empowerment.

The book, excerpts of which were read out at the launch, certainly seemed to be appreciated by the mostly woman audience of the Duchess Club who had gathered in Hotel Savera for the event. Also present were dancer Anita Ratnam who released the book, artist Thejo Menon and journalist and activist Apsara Reddy while the panel discussion that followed the launch was moderated by theatre personality, Prema Venkat.

According to Anita, “Erotica is a vital part of our culture — in fact cliché though it may be India is the very birthplace of it. We have myriad references to it in our art, literature, dance and music. Take, for instance, the 12th century poet Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda that constantly refers to the physical aspect of love between Krishna and his consort Radha.”

Closer home, we have the work of the Tamil poetess Andal whose work was, “soaked in erotica,” as Sreemoyee says. Yet when plans to stage the Vagina Monologues were made in Chennai, a huge uproar was created, “I don’t see why they make such a big fuss over a small patch of skin,” laughs Anita.

Perhaps the reaction stems from, as Sreemoyee believes, the inability to accept female sexuality as an inherent, intrinsic part of her being. But as Apsara says, “Why are we apologetic about our desire? Why is the prevailing sentiment this — do what you want but don’t talk about it?”

Sreemoyee adds, “Desire is such a natural thing — why should we assume it is derelict or dirty?  I think it empowers women and induces a degree of sexual socialism. Every single human being has the right to be free — to explore their sexuality and make their own choices — sexual or otherwise.”

Thejo Menon agrees, “As an artist I believe in the freedom of expression. As someone who comes from a matrilineal society, I believe in male-female equality and paint from that perspective.”

At the end of the day, however the message is far beyond the sexually explicit parts of the novel, “I am using the sexual body as a medium to tell a message,” says Sreemoyee. “I want my readers to experience Meera and reclaim their true selves through her.”