Friday, March 21, 2014

Ode to Indian erotica's first author

If there was a memory of my growing up that I would like to hark back to, it had to be my first tryst with erotica, in the Irving Wallace novel The Second Lady. The novel, which was about the sexual escapades of a Russian doppelganger of the First Lady of the US as she manages to get intimate with the President in order to extricate war-time secrets from him for the KGB, had me revulsed and excited.

An “emotional-fork-in-the-road” moment confronted me as I finished reading it. I gave the sentiment considerable thought before proceeding to devour all of Wallace’s books, in addition to those by Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I soon started grading authors on the basis of the e-quotient in their works. Wallace was lurid, so was Robbins; Sheldon and Clancy were measured and graphic; Archer the archetypal British prude; Puzo the neophyte American; Steele the eternal bore; and Grisham the American misfit.

However, a nagging sentiment persisted in me: the source of the literature was invariably the West. If we Indians needed to satiate our carnal literary instincts, there wasn’t a ‘Swadeshi’ in our midst whom we could look up to. Even if it was a compelling or a charged atmosphere, the treatment was like in our movies: cut to the image of two flowers. For instance, in R K Narayan’s The Guide, the romantic interlude between the protagonist, Raju, and his muse, Rosie, a Bharatanatyam dancer, gets summarized in a blasé sentence. And – forgive the cliché – this, in the land of the Kama Sutra and the bold sculptures of Ajantha and Ellora. It was as if we were incapable of documenting our emotions. Doubtless a disturbing sentiment.

That was until I came across Train to Pakistan, authored by a certain Khushwant Singh– I was wary that the author was Indian; however, I chose to read it, my confidence stemming from having read his joke books, which had a liberal dose of A-jokes, earlier.

It was a gut-feeling that would serve me right.

Here was a book authored by an Indian that did not treat itself as elitist and was not set in a flashy background, it laid bare every human emotion conceivable: love, familial ties, religious tensions, sacrifice, with eroticism inter-twining them. Nevertheless, I found it to be a gripping book. Unputdownable.

I then made a mental note to finish all of his works, which would prove to be a mixed-bag of sorts. While I shall not hear the nightingale, and to a lesser extent, Delhi, made for good reading, I could not even recall the titles of his other books, for so shockingly terrible were they. I realised that you could be better off reading his newspaper columns.

He made, I think, the flashing of Indian-authored books in public a style statement. If you were reading a KS book at a bus-stop, it meant you were someone apart from the crowd, the Indian yuppie with a mind of your own. You knew what was the Indian 'cool', and not conform to its Western equivalent. Also, let us not forget that he, a Sikh, had played a vital role in popularising the Santa-Banta jokes, through the famed KS joke books.

The chronicler in me also suggests that I offer him a salute, for perhaps being the first post-Independence author to have the gall to go descriptive, (remember, he did what every author of his time wouldn’t be caught dead doing) paving the way for Amitav Ghosh, Shobha De and the like.

Miss you, KS; you’d forever be as famous as your namesake contraceptive.

** Corrected for grammatical errors!