Sreemoyee Piu Kundu's Sita’s Curse, to be launched on April 30, is an all-out erotic novel set in Mumbai.
Influenced largely by classical Indian erotica, from Vatsayana, Kalidasa, Jayadeva's Geeta Govinda to Kamala Das and Ishmat Chugtai, Sreemoyee is a an avid reader of international authors like Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Octavio Paz and more. "The boldness of their writing and the powerful visual imagery is a lesson for all erotica novelists," she says.
Of hidden identities
A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Erotic Stories was first published in 2012 by Aleph publishing house. A collection of nine deeply sensuous and titillatingly erotic stories, the book was published under the nom de plume of Aranyani (goddess of the forest).
However, six months after the book was published, the author decided to make her first public appearance at a literature festival. "There were two reasons why I had decided to guard my identity. First, I wasn't sure how this would affect me professionally. And second, my extended family would have been really bothered by it. My husband and my children are fine, but it's the others who are likely to create tension. It was basically a decision that I thought would help me spare myself this trouble," explains Amrita Narayanan, a clinical psychologist. However, six months after her book was published, she was ready to go public. "Just seeing the book in the outside world, and suddenly there was this overwhelming feeling that 'that's my book!', and I want my name on it, regardless of the consequences," she says.
Sreemoyee has faced a few experiences in the outside world, that have come as a direct result of her being an erotica writer. She elucidates, "One, a hate mail from a journalist in Delhi who kept spamming my inbox on Facebook, even calling me a 'whore,' and saying I would never get married because I had created a married protagonist in Sita's Curse who was also a conservative Gujarati woman. I had to block him finally, though it was personally shocking that a guy who listened to Nirvana and quoted fancy feminist writers in his blogs and FB posts was in reality a regressive, male chauvinist, typically patriarchal, and just the kind of person who thinks he can demean a woman using his gender. Secondly, I had several publishing offers for SC, one of them from a leading publishing house, mailed me saying that I had to cut down the age of the woman to 20 something, and make her single and 'an aspirational big city girl,' so that readers felt surcharged reading about her sexual destiny. Again, the shortsightedness of the lady in question struck me and also how we tend to box a creative person, purely guided by the dynamics of a market economy."
The real and the imaginary
Sreemoyee is a firm believer in the importance of plot to an erotic story. "Because erotica to me is no different from any story well told/a well structured novel, plot is pivotal in the unravelling of an erotic story and this I believe to be the greatest strength of Sita's Curse. At no point, will you feel the sexual explicitness is forced down your throat. If the plot is weak, there is hardly any line segregating porn from erotica," she explains.
For Amrita, plot is a consequence of the story being told, especially when it comes to erotica. "The last story in the book, A Pleasant Kind of Heavy, has no story to it whatsoever, it completely focuses on the feelings and the mood of the moment. And I think that's a perfectly valid approach to erotica. A lot of Proust's writing was like that - just delicious, sensuous writing, with no story to it at all. But the writing is so breathtaking, it sort of reels you in and grips you," she says.
Plots and myths
Sreemoyee’s a firm believer in the importance of plot to an erotic story. “Because erotica to me is no different from any story well told/a well structured novel, plot is pivotal in the unravelling of an erotic story and this I believe to be the greatest strength of Sita’s Curse. At no point, will you feel the sexual explicitness is forced down your throat. If the plot is weak, there is hardly any line segregating porn from erotica,” she explains.
For Amrita, plot is a consequence of the story being told, especially when it comes to erotica. “The last story in the book, A pleasant kind of heavy, has no story to it whatsoever, it completely focuses on the feelings and the mood of the moment. And I think that’s a perfectly valid approach to erotica. A lot of Proust’s writing was like that - just delicious, sensuous writing, with no story to it at all. But the writing is so breathtaking, it sort of reels you in and grips you,” she says.
The genre game
Sreemoyee believes that erotica is definitely a genre by itself, and would rather not have it getting mixed into the larger canon of Indian literature. "Erotica is a form of writing just like sci-fi or romance or even historical fiction.
It is a separate genre that needs to be reviewed and regarded as just that. Unfortunately in India our closest contemporary reference point for erotic is the recent Western import 50 Shades of Grey or some chick-lit that parades as writing on sex, sometimes bordering on nothing but porn, as erotic writing. If we could resurrect erotic literature to the status it once enjoyed in our own cultural consciousness - the experience will be sublime, strong and sensuous," she asserts.
In Kannada, says oneindia.in's Kannada portal editor S K Shama Sundara, most writing on sex is now viewed as offensive to educated tastes. But it wasn't always like this.
In 1979, Shama Sundara became the first editor of 'Rathi-Vignana Darpana', a Kannada magazine that published scholarly articles on sexology, sex in ancient scriptures, and other forms of art as well as some of the latest research on the subject. "It was very well received by readers," says the journalist, who now appears regularly on TV talk shows. "We talked about sexology from various dimensions and perspectives -- medical, theraputic, psychological, and sex in painting, poetry, the scriptures." Many copycats entered the market, but most their content was pornographic. "And the market was filled with magazines and writing about porn and sex, all of them selling very well. So it bothered the conservative folks, who raised a hue and cry, and the government--it was during Ramakrishna Hegde's time-- ordered the closure of all these magazines in 1983. That was the death of our bold attempt to bring sexology to the mainstream," says Shama, adding that even today clandestine porn magazines exist.
When people can appreciate the Belur shilabalikes or Rembrandt, then why can't they do the same with writing when it explains the why of sex, he asks. "If someone wrote a classic like D H Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' in Kannada, I don't know if he would be allowed to survive," he says. "And any fiction with so much as a mention of sex is categorised as pornography." And thought there's talk of including sex education in schools now, he doesn't believe the scenario is likely to change. "It should, but I have little hope that it will, thanks to the hypocrites who decide what gets published in textbooks or otherwise," he adds. Ask him if he is likely to resume writing on sex anytime soon, and he signs off with, "You just wish me good luck on that!"
ON how she wrote HER sensuous novel "I don't think I ever consciously decided that Sita's Curse was going to be erotic fiction. I carved the protagonist Meera from my intimately personal experience of seeing this Gujarati housewife, daily, on my way to work at my newspaper office in VT from Mahim where I lived. I was trying to recreate her, every passing moment. Till the floods of July 26th, 2005, of which I too happened to be a victim. I took three days to reach home, and was battling a serious viral infection, and ended up being hospitalised. When I resumed work, she was no more.
Sita's Curse is my tribute to that memory. My attempt at carving out Meera, her desires, her aloneness, her thoughts... the lovers she had, the man she was married to since she was 19, her journey from a small town in Gujarat to the bustling megapolis of Mumbai."