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It is a same-sex love story, says writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar about ‘controversial’ short-story

Author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar   | Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, 34, has been the target of a recent online campaign that accuses him of portraying Adivasis in a bad light in his works. Mr. Shekhar is himself an Adivasi, belonging to the Santhal tribe. The protest against him also went offline on Friday when a group of people took out a march against him in Pakur town where he lives.

A winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2015 for the debut novel ‘The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey’, Mr. Shekhar’s 2015 collection of short stories ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Fiction 2016. He is a medical doctor attached to an Additional Primary Health Centre in the Pakur district of Jharkhand.

You have been accused of objectifying Santhali women, and of being a porn writer.

They mean to say that sex itself is wrong. I do not think that there are guidelines that exist for when a writer deals with some subjects.

I am surprised that this story [part of the collection Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II] — one in which I have tried to break free — should be used against me. It is a same-sex love story. It is a taboo-breaking, liberating, story — at least for me. I see it as a study into social dynamics in Jharkhand, because there are two communities involved. I have tried to study this; I have tried to see what goes on inside a Santhal protagonist when he is having sex with a Kurmi guy. [Names an online critic] does not notice the heartbreak that comes at the end, the person only notices the sex.

That interview [for which I have been criticised] was given in the context of the erotica which I wrote. I still remember what I wrote in that interview. I said that it was full-fledged porn, with an exclamation mark. It was supposed to be a sarcastic reference, a joke. It was an explicit story; almost as good as porn: porn, with a story. In fact, I enjoy writing about sex. It makes me happy. It is a stress-buster [chuckles]. You put all your concerns away and go with the flow and try to break free. They accuse me of titillating the reader. There is no turn-on in this. It is a turn-off. My God, there is a woman who behaves like a robot, there is a man who is using her [in the short story November Is The Month of Migrations]. How can you be titillated by that, man?

Is sex a taboo subject in Santhali popular culture?

Not at all. There is this song which I used in [my novel, The Mysterious Ailment of...] Rupi Baskey. It talks of an old buffalo stuck in quicksand. It is about to die and the vultures are drooling at it. The second part of the song talks about a woman blooming like a flower and young men drooling at her. There is sexual innuendo in this. Also, Santhal society gives agency to both men and women in matters of sex. In a society which is already so open, how can you not acknowledge sex? I am the doctor in Pakur jail. There are so many young boys — 18, 20 years old — there because they were in relationships with girls, whose families file rape charges against them.

How do you respond to the accusation that you have been selling Santhali culture to outsiders? Does this tap into Santhali fears about dikus, the exploitative outsiders?

I think the fact that I have written in English and not in a tribal language or Hindi has ticked off a lot of people.

I am not sure [if the same criticism would have been levelled if I wrote in Ol Chiki script] but I can say this: it would have been as open, as explicit as it is in English. Whether people like it or not.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 4:30:10 AM |

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