The last story in The Pleasure Principle: The Amaryllis Book of Erotic Stories is Amrita Chatterjee’s ‘The Real Sex’. A young woman gets drunk at a party and arranges to meet a Frenchman for a four-day tryst. The outcome of the rendezvous surprises her; it is unexpected, it turns on its head everything she has associated all along with sex. It makes her realise, too, what sex is, what it can entail. And what it need not necessarily be. Not the ecstasy of orgasm and excitement of the act—but more. And less.
That is true, too, of good erotic literature, as emerges from the 15 stories that comprise The Pleasure Principle. Erotica is not necessarily voyeuristic. It is not the literary equivalent of the porn film (though it can have some of the elements, and there are a couple of stories here that go into graphic detail). It is, instead, when well-written, an exploration of human nature—of which sexuality, of course, is an integral part.
Human nature, for instance, which to relieve its loneliness, turns in desperation to unorthodox means: an old man, recently widowed, in Jaishree Misra’s ‘Naked Cleaning Lady’, puts in an ad for a cleaning lady to clean his home—in the nude. Or, as in Taslima Nasrin’s ‘Sexboy’, loneliness which makes a woman decide to turn an online encounter into an offline one, with unforeseen consequences. Human nature, too, which is revealed in a story, a small-town adolescent’s increasingly desperate desire to lose his virginity—even if he does not know exactly how. There is a dark humour here, in Aditya Sharma’s ‘Chunni Lal’, that is also pathetic, in the same way that Cyrus Mistry’s aged, paedophile teacher is, in ‘The Degradation of Erasmo S’.
A man driven by sexual desire, so desperately in need of relief, that he loses his sense of right and wrong. Or, as inShinie Antony’s ‘Thy Will Be Done’, a reluctant god woman whose sexuality has been so long repressed that it bursts forth in rebellion.
This is a wonderfully mixed bag of stories, of different facets of eroticism and the emotions that go with it—jealousy, greed, ambition. Sexual power and politics, as in Kankana Basu’s grimly noir ‘Graveyard Shift’, where Anu dons the guise of Shabnam, the sophisticated upper-class woman who walks into the night beside the railway line, looking for a man, any man, to prey on. Or the politics, completely farcical and hilarious, that result in a narrow escape for a travelling businessman in Krishna Shastri Devulapalli’s delightful ‘The Middle-East Position’.
From a child’s first, uncomprehending glimpse of sex, to a young Croatian baker’s nightly tryst with an American girl, their lovemaking amid flour and marzipan, cream and raspberries, this is a very eclectic collection of stories (and one of them more an essay than a story, Meena Kandasamy’s tongue-in-cheek satire on moral policing, the glory of Hindutva, and ‘ancient Indian science’, The Holy Sex Tape Project). Ennui, fantasy. Humour, pathos. Poignancy, wild passion. Madness, desperation. The exhilaration of one’s first sexual experience and the loneliness of old age. It’s all here in a variety of styles and settings. The book is a fine collection of literature, not just erotic literature.