Tag Archives: sexuality

Kama Sutra Lost

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd June 2013.

My mom has thrown away my Kamasutra book. Atleast, I think that is what happened to it.

I remember the first time she came upon it. We were in my room, cleaning out my closet. She insisted on helping me. I didn’t really have a lot to hide at the time, as most of what was hidden was on my laptop, but there was a bright, pink thong. And, that book.

She came upon the piece of lingerie first.

“What is this?” she held it up with her thumb and fore finger, as if afraid of getting tainted.

“A thong?” I shrugged.

“Why do you wear this? Does it even cover anything?” she shook it in my face.

I had never actually worn it but had bought it on a whim, with other underwear. Those 3 for 25 sales.

“Well, if I don’t wear it now, when should I wear it then? At your age?” I said, in jest.

She shook her head, and kept it back where she had found it.

A few minutes later, she chanced upon my Kamasutra book.

“And, what is this?!” she sounded pissed.

“A book,” I felt a little guilty for even owning it at the time.

“Why?”

“It was on sale,” I said, sheepish.

Well, to be honest, it had been on sale. I had walked into a bookstore and there it had been, on the “sale” table. It wasn’t even an actual sex manual. More like a large coffee table book with paintings of naked limbs in hues of dark, passionate red.

“So, you bought it?” she demanded.

“Well, I bought it for the paintings,” I finally admitted.

This time she looked skeptical, flipped through the erotic paintings, gave a grunt of a half satisfactory “hmph” before putting it back in the crevice I had created specifically for the book.

That was six years ago.

In those six years, we had moved to a new house. I had acquired new shelves for my many more books, including anthologies of erotica, some of which I displayed openly on my shelves. Some of which I had even offered to her, saying, “read this!”. She hasn’t taken up on my offer yet.

So today, with the heavy downpour outside, I remembered those paintings. I wondered who the artist(s) had been. A burning desire to know came upon me. It took hold of me till I gave up what I had been doing and went to look for it. But the book… well, the book was gone.

Books don’t just disappear, I reasoned as I searched everywhere. It couldn’t have just grown a pair of legs, and walked out of the house. It couldn’t have been stolen, the sheer size and colour (it has a Tide safedi type white cover) a deterrent. I know I didn’t lend it to anyone. Then where was it?

I remembered that the book had been kept aside with many of my excess books till my dad had installed the new shelves. Since I had been away from the house, living in another city at the time, my parents had filled the shelves with those excess books. The shelves were located in my “writing room” (as I called it) in the basement.

I went down. I switched on the lights. I perused my shelves. The book was not there.

I sighed. I had looked everywhere. There was only one explanation for it.

“Did you throw away my Kamasutra book?” I asked my mom when she came back that evening.

What book?” she looked confused.

I patiently described the book. The details of her aversion on her first encounter with it.

“So, did you?” I asked, again.

“Why would I throw your book away? Do I have an enmity with your book?” she defended herself.

Since I know my mom would never lie, I am left unsure. Has dad gotten rid of it? But why would he? Did someone steal it? But why?

The absence of the book doesn’t bother me as much as the loss of the book itself. I could, of course, just order a used copy from Amazon, but the book would not have the personal history I had with my previous copy. That history would be lost.

Also, I had just wanted to know about the artist(s).

Turn your hell into heaven, my mind said. Google!

And so, I did.

Update: I realized that another book of mine was missing (The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger). It was a hard cover graphic novel. A much bigger and heavier book than my Kamasutra book. So, where the hell was that? As it turns out, in an overlooked box in a neglected dark corner of an overlooked storeroom in the basement. Along with- guess what?- my Kamasutra book!  Now, they are both where they rightfully belong, out in the open on my bookshelves. 

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Crossing the Lakshmanrekha, with impunity

A still from Sita Sings the Blues (2008), directed by Nina Paley

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd October 2011 .

“You know your Lakshmanrekha. Don’t cross it.”

Err, mom. Where exactly are the boundaries again? Spell it out, will you?

Any Indian (Hindu) woman growing up will attest to being subjected to this refrain. The meaning of the Lakshmanrekha of course, depended on how “liberal” one’s parents were. It could mean anything from not talking to a guy, to PDAs, to dressing in a certain way, to indulging into sexual activities, to taking drugs, to… anything that symbolised that a nice Indian girl was going out of control. For some reason, the rekha, or line, is mostly seen as a reference to interaction with the opposite sex, and only applies to women. None of my guy friends have even heard of this rekha business.

Yesterday at lunch, Mom was grandly telling me, “Sure, date. Just don’t cross the Lakshmanrekha.”

“What is the rekha? What is it that you don’t want me to do?”

“You know.”

“Umm… no, I don’t.”

“Well, you should.”

See what I mean? The actual boundaries are never spelt out. I mean, honestly, where does the damn thing begin and end? The ambiguity of the rekha is rather baffling.

I think the trouble started when a bunch of Indian Hindu men decided to come up with the Ramayan (Yes, I believe it’s a myth. They call it Hindu mythology for a reason.) that spelt out ambiguous rules and regulations to overlook the Indian Hindu women’s behaviour towards the opposite sex.

[Insert Indian accent]

Man 1: We must do something to protect our women’s chastity.

Man 2: You are absolutely right!

Man 3: Our women must be under our control!

Je-sus.

Think about it. Lakshman, Sita’s brother-in-law, draws this protective rekha (a boundary, if you will) around her to protect her from the lustful nazaar (or, eyes) of unknown men (here, Raavan). Not only is it a warning tale to young women about the consequences of defying the rekha (I mean, poor chick gets kidnapped, then disowned in a pregnant state despite proving her chastity through fire acrobatics… twice!), but the rekha itself symbolises the many boundaries imposed upon female sexuality while growing up.

In my case, the “rekha,” or the allusion to the sacred line drawn by Lakshman to protect Sita, changed meaning as I grew older. In fact, even as recently as 2007, I was not allowed to stay out all night. Even though it was on New Year’s, I remember cabbing it back from Niagara Falls all alone back to my suburban home, just because staying out all night would have been crossing the rekha. And yet, I have been at a crazy bachelorette party at the same Falls in 2010 doing things that would have certainly fallen outside the sacred line. Irony ahoy!

I think parents forget that just like boys, girls will be girls. Seriously, now. Do you think we do not get up to mischief? That we do not cross the goddamn rekha that you have not specified for us? You are wrong. We do. All the time. We are just too damn clever about hiding it.

But why should we go undercover? Why pretend? Why is it such a taboo to flaunt our sexuality? Why can’t I kiss a boy openly if I like him enough to? Do I become a slut? A whore? Such tired comparisons. Why can’t I be compared to a classy courtesan for a change? Or, one of those talented geishas? Hats off to those women for owning their sexualities.

So, when my dad said, “We should not have to spell out your boundaries for you. You should know them by now,”

I said, “If I can face myself in the mirror unflinchingly and without shame, I have no one else to answer to.”

I draw my own rekha. Lakshman can keep his.

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Marriage Aaj Kal*: An Ultra-Feminist Take on Arranged Marriages

From the Kamasutra

*Today and Yesterday 

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 3rd March 2011.

Chanakya of the Mauryan dynasty, and a prime minister of his time, is said to have remarked, “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother, loves him in the day like a sister and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” It’s impossible to confirm whether he actually said this, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine based on the time period he hailed from. What I find strange is that after all these centuries Indian men still harbor a similar attitude. This attitude can be traced to the Kamasutra as well that he allegedly wrote (many historians assert that Vatsyayana, author of the book, and Chanakya are the one and the same). As mistakenly understood by many, the book is not just about the art of making love, but also about the male art of making love to women without committing sin. According to the ancient text, it is perfectly ok to sleep with another woman if there is an ulterior motive involved. For example, in an English translation by Deepak Chopra, a rule states that: “I love another woman, who is this woman’s best friend. If I sleep with this woman, I can get to the one I really want.” Another example, “By winning this woman over, I can kill her husband, whose riches I covet”. Note that these rules apply only to men, and deem it tolerable to objectify women in order to satisfy personal again.

But I don’t want to refer to ancient texts (or their translations) to give you the picture of unrealistic expectations of Indian men. Gayatri Gopinath, a queer theorist of diaspora, in her article “Nostalgia, Desire, Diaspora: South Asian Sexualities in Motion”, points out that patriarchal attitudes of men towards women not only exist in the homeland (India), but also in the diaspora. The female gender is viewed as “the symbolic center … [for] … “home” and “family””, and heteronormative female sexuality can only exist “within the familial and domestic space”. Thus, it is acceptable to be sexual if you are married and only with your husband, while homosexuality is either criminalized or ignored. Gopinath cites a real-life example, where the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA) was denied the right to march in the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) sponsored annual India Day Parade, in New York City, both in 1995 and 1996. Consequently, the FIA is run by a group of Indian immigrant businessmen.

All this only leads up to the question of ‘why’. Why would these men be so hind sighted to ignore that women nowadays are free, independent agencies, who are not confined to traditional gender roles whether in India, or outside of India? The only answer, in my opinion, is their false sense of entitlement. They appear to believe that they have this ancient right to have these equally ancient expectations. As the SALGA example would suggest, men outside the “homeland,” have been unable to evolve beyond their view of traditional gender roles, as applied to women back in the homeland. Maybe, it can also be attributed to parental and societal pressure that plants the seeds of such inane ideas into their heads at tender ages, so that they grow up having expectations that only become more traditional with time. For example, this summer, when I was in Calcutta, a neighbor subjected me to a volley of questions. She is currently on the prowl for a bride for her younger son (who never wants to leave India). Some of her questions were:

Do you know how to cook?
Don’t you want to settle in India?
Do you know how to wear a sari?

All her questions were addressed with a smile. It was as if she hoped I wouldn’t see through her façade of “innocent” questioning. Instead of being mortified, I was faintly amused. Really? Do I represent the ideal future daughter-in-law for your “modern” son, who also expects to have a very traditional wife at home (ironically, chosen by his mother. Really, you can’t get more traditional than this!)? I had some questions for her too: Does he know how to cook? Doesn’t he want to settle abroad? And, why on earth does he talk with that put on accent? It sounds neither British, nor American. Just an Indian trying very hard to sound “foreign”!

Source: Meera Sapra's blog at http://lifesacomicstrip.blogspot.com/

However, don’t castigate me yet. I don’t have a problem with arranged marriage. On the whole, I find the concept very gratifying. It’s really very similar to set up dating. You say ‘yes’, only if you feel you are compatible. Yet, with the unrealistic expectations of Indian males (and in this case, their mothers) all around, it’s difficult for us women to find someone to “live” with.

To assuage the attitude of men here in Canada, I had a discussion with some of my male friends on the topic of marriage and what kind of qualities do they want in their future wives.

“She must know how to cook!”
“She should keep the house nice and tidy.”
“She should be a virgin!”

I was faintly aghast at such pronouncements. These were Indo-Canadian men living here in Toronto for the past ten-twelve years. Were they actually hoping to find the “wife” described by Chanakya? The irony was that not all of them were virgins, and none of them had any experience with cooking or cleaning.

In the case of my parents, I believe they got lucky when they found each other. Their’s was a love marriage. And, even though, my father is not exactly the most liberal man alive, he definitely didn’t hope for the ideal Chanakyan wife. And, since my mom works hard at home, and at the office (she is my dad’s business partner and they work together), I can only imagine her staring scornfully at Chanakya, if he had made the mistake of making that comment in her presence.

In my case, I too have the image of an ideal man in my head. He may not be THE ideal man, but ideal enough for me. He would be someone: who looks decent (this might appear a little vain on my part, but if I had to choose between the frog and the prince, the frog would probably end up dead face down in a pond somewhere); can clean, if not cook; and has a tolerant nature, since I tend to get impatient and lazy at times. He need not be a virgin. Most people I know of my age, are not. He need not be super intelligent. However, I wouldn’t tolerate a super idiot. And definitely, he must not have too many unrealistic expectations of my abilities. I cannot speak for other women, but my girlfriends also harbor similar “attainable” attributes within their future spouses. Yes, I do believe that we are the more rational gender, but that’s my personal bias.

So, I ask you, where do we women expect to find our men? And, where and when exactly do these men of today expect to find their women? With distorted realities clashing into each other, the answers may be “in our imaginations” and “never”.

I think I have come to terms with that reality. The question is: have you?

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