Why Indian Women Need to Tell More Lust Stories

Love and Sex

Why Indian Women Need to Tell More Lust Stories

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I

was 17, when 50 Shades of Grey became an international sensation. Since our generation missed the whole Mills & Boons phase that tingled the spines and nether regions of the women before us, I was surprised to see, for the first time, women across the country reading something surreptitiously. On the local train in Mumbai, on Delhi buses, women drubbed the banality of the daily commute, but coyly covered their copies with inoffensive brown paper.

Back then, I presumed that the “erotica for women, by women” industry had finally been launched into public consciousness with the exploits of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Of course, unknown to my young mind, the rise of erotica for women, predated EL James considerably.

The earliest writings of female desire go back to 600 BC with the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote erotic poems about her desperate, burning desires, often for other woman.  Centuries after Sappho, authors like Anaïs Nin pioneered the genre in the modern world. Nin published memoirs of her own sexual explorations as well as erotic fictional short stories, becoming the first popular female erotica writer of our times. About the anthology Delta of Venus, for instance, written for a private collector, Nin anointed herself as the “Madam” of a “literary house of prostitution”.  

In the Indian subcontinent, the names are not that familiar – surprising, considering we’re the first to stake a claim to the Kama Sutra. Andal is perhaps the oldest evidence of erotica written by a woman even though she’s hardly a household name. The Tamil poet’s divine works, which talk about her desires of an intimate union with God, speak frankly about her sexual cravings and are often erotic. Indian authors like Aryanani, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, and Rosalyn D’Mello have further written notable pieces of erotic fiction and non-fiction that focus on the desires of the Indian woman, without reducing them to objects of desire. They are works that advocate a female perspective on desire, a narrative largely missing in the popular domain but sadly they’ve never been mainstreamed.

Author Jaya Misra’s debut novel, Kama: The Story of the Kama Sutra, hopes to do that. It is written as a piece of erotic literature that offers a fictional time machine into the life of the man who wrote the Kama Sutra: Vatsyayana. I have no idea if Misra intended Kama as feminist erotic literature, but it does advocate erotica with strong female characters and it doesn’t fail to give you that familiar tingle in all the right places.

Not only does erotica by women make for better reading, it also helps women across India realise that they have the right to be sexually active. And enjoy it.

As you travel with Vatsyayana to uncover the mysteries of sexual pleasure through his relationships, brothel encounters, or rebound escapades, you can’t help but be turned on by the women he meets on his journey. There are no ordinary women in Kama, to be bedded and forgotten. Each one is fierce, independent, and outspoken, be it the most sought after “ganika” Nayantara with an army of King Cobras or Queen Ratnavati with the bravery to endanger her life for love. Most importantly, every woman not only craves Vatsyayana’s time, they ensure they get it through skillful seduction and unabashed admission of their sexual desires. Misra simultaneously manages to make Vatsyayana every woman’s dream and each female character’s strength an inspiration.

But it’s not all about feminism. It is also pure erotica at work here. Each time Vatsyayana has sex with a woman, it is a beautiful orchestrated performance of mutual pleasure:

“They began kissing ferociously. He kisses her senseless, gently ripping off the tiny cloth holding her breasts…He ignited a well of passion which left her delirious with desire… She saw his eyes glaze and felt a sense of power. It gave her the courage to whisper, “Enter me.”

There is not a moment of guilt or shame in reading the pages of unadulterated erotica – but rather a sense of relief, albeit fictional, that someone understands how to write female characters, and sex scenes that give women due credit. It is sex writing at it’s very best.

Any good erotica writer, will elevate themselves from the status of a chronicler to a poet. They will weave sequences that understand your deepest desires, and make you wish that real people were like characters in the book. Unfortunately, sex writing has not proven easy for most authors who attempt it.

What you find, are penny dreadfuls littered with the fantasies of 16-year-old schoolboys who dream about busty supermodels under their blankets. The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards have nominations of authors every year who’ve written terrible sex scenes. And every year, the number of male nominations exceeds female nominations. Video pornography is populated with young boy fantasies of unrealistically voluptuous women, that most of my female friends find humorous rather than erotic. Which is perhaps why, some women, documented in episode 1 of the Netflix original Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, are attempting to bring a more feminist perspective into erotica by creating high-quality pornography aimed at women.

The rise of porn-by-women-for-women in both literature and film, is a welcome change in a country that is so squeamish about sex that we can’t even talk about it. Not only does erotica by women make for better reading, it also helps women across India realise that they have the right to be sexually active. And enjoy it.

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