India has always been known as a land of diversity — it is home to a host of different cultures, traditions, religions, languages and customs. Ira Trivedi, however, has found one of the threads that unifies its billion-strong (and growing) population — the sexual homogenisation of its urban youth.
“I found there was absolutely no difference between Mumbai or Chennai, or Delhi or Bangalore, when it came to the Indian youth,” said Ira at the Chennai book launch of India in Love (published by Aleph Book Company). “No separation between the North, East, West or South.”
With a title like India in Love, one would think the book would be all sunshine, roses and butterflies. Ira, however, takes a hard-hitting look at the sexual revolution that has swept the country. “I was shocked at the magnitude of change. Over the past five years, the divorce rate in Kerala has shot up by 300 per cent, in Tamil Nadu by 150 per cent, and abortion rates all over the country have gone up overwhelmingly.”
This, however, is only part of the fallout from the revolution. Ira has quoted studies, cultural experts and historians, travelled all over the country and conducted over 600 interviews over four years to compile the book. “It scarred me,” she said. “But there were so many lovely things I saw and heard, magnificent stories that just ought to be told.”
After staying abroad for a while, she came back to India and found things more chaotic and tumultuous than they were in the United States. Ira met several people having girlfriends or boyfriends on the side, despite being very seriously on the marriage mart. Hypocrisy was the norm. “Sex and sexuality in India has always been very hypocritical. For example, we have a song like ‘Baby Doll’ picturised on Sunny Leone — a bona fide porn star in the U.S. — and nobody here has a problem with little girls dancing to it.”
India in Love takes a look at love, marriage and sexuality in India from the point of view of students, office-goers, marriage brokers, astrologers, qazis, lawyers, relationship counsellors, ‘love commandos’, parents, young brides and grooms, married couples, live-in couples, sex workers, singletons, and myriad other people. “It was a conscious choice to focus on the urban Indian,” said Ira. She wanted to know the minds of the ones who moved into cities shaking off the dust of small towns from their feet forever, those who were going to stick around seamlessly blending into the urban Indian landscape of the future.
While she often felt like a voyeur during the writing of the book, she was surprised at how open and brave people were when it came to sharing their stories and their names. “It will not be easy for me to go back to fiction now. Despite fiction having deep meaning in our lives, the non-fiction journey is braver — I conducted sting operations, was threatened by khap panchayats, went to brothels, got thrown out of places, and in the process, became a far better writer.”
The book was released by actor Priya Anand, who lived abroad for a long time before coming back to try her luck in the movies. “Moving back to India is a bigger culture shock than moving from here to the U.S.,” she said. When you live abroad, you try to hold on to Indian traditions. But when you return, you see people here are much more ‘modern’ than you thought, and the concept of ‘love-cum-arranged’ marriage is funny.”
Film director Sharadha Ramanathan, who was in conversation with Ira and Priya, said that she felt society was currently going through a samudra manthan. “All the ugliness in society is being revealed and the biggest casualty is the woman’s sensuality. It’s an anthropological zoo out there,” she said.