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Sex is a threatening three-letter word in India: Shobhaa De

Shobhaa De was speaking at a session focused on Kamasutra, Indian erotica and the modern Indian view of sex.

books Updated: Oct 06, 2017 18:26 IST
Oindrila Mukherjee
Author Shobhaa De at the Khushwant Singh Litfest in Kasauli on Friday.
Author Shobhaa De at the Khushwant Singh Litfest in Kasauli on Friday.(HT Photo)

Author Shobhaa De left the audience in splits at the sixth edition of the Khushwant Singh literary festival at Kasauli on Friday

With a knack for witty one-liners, De joined actor Divya Dutta, writer Amrita Narayanan and Harper Collins CEO Ananth Padmanabhan for the third session “Kama and the difficulty of being good”.

Moderated by art curator Alka Pande, the discussion focused on Kamasutra, Indian erotica and the modern Indian view of sex.

What does sex mean in India?

De took an unabashed approach and was ready with her words. She said, “Kama is a beautiful word, but Kamasutra is the biggest con ever. However, I love the idea that it’s full of trickery and continues to inspire people,” she said.

Adding how the rest of the world was fooled about how Indians enjoy sex, she said, “Sex is a threatening and terrifying three-letter word as is the three-letter word God. Both used for achieving violent goals.”

She hit hard when she spoke about how sex was driven by patriarchy, hiding behind the glorification of rape culture and violation of the bodies of women and children.

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Where philosophy meets desire

Writer Amrita Narayanan, who has edited an anthology “The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica”, took a more philosophical approach. Talking about the conflict between believers and non-believers, she said, “Many ancient texts, especially from Sangam literature, invite us into psychological openness, stating that pleasure has its own purpose.”

Contrastingly, non-believers regard pleasure as something that will cause indiscipline and chaos. Reading poems from old texts, Narayanan elaborated on the wilful nature of desire that should be explored.

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Shy of sex even now

Actor Divya Dutta gave an insight into sex in Indian cinema. She said though films had opened up to portray all aspects of sexual desire — physical and emotional — , the audience was yet to come to terms with it.

Dutta said, “Earlier, the Indian heroine was portrayed as a “good girl”, shy of expressing her desire and acting on it. It was the vamp’s role to fill those shoes. But things are changing now. Women are shown wanting sex and talking openly about desire.”

She, however, added that though the audience liked what they saw onscreen, they were still afraid to talk about it or say it out loud.

“I come from Punjab, so I was protected from the very beginning. But with time I have dropped all inhibitions. Portraying a role is kama to me and all that matters is my comfort with the camera,” she said.