It was almost a full house at the Asiatic Library’s Durbar Hall where Understanding Erotica, a workshop about writing and appreciating erotic literature, was conducted by critic, cultural theorist and writer Alka Pande on Monday.
“The Kama Sutra is our biggest export after maharajas, peacocks and cows,” Pande started off, but the conversation soon steered away from joking about erotica to actually defining it and how it stood apart from its commoditised cousin, pornography.
Pande read aloud, to a rapt audience, a particularly torrid scene from 50 Shades of Grey, a subtler one from Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines and a sensual scene from the Mahabharata about Urvashi preparing to meet Arjun.
Among those transfixed by both the content and its context was Manoj Sarpate, 35, a sommelier. “When I came in I was not interested in erotic writing,” he admitted, preferring romance writing instead. “But, I have literally fallen in love with this lady. She made me realise that erotica is not always dirty and can in fact be poetic.”
For Mumbai university student Natasha Patel, the workshop was a breath of fresh air simply because it didn’t shy away from talking about coupling.
“Such workshops tend to happen behind closed doors,” she said. “I was delighted be here, especially in light of the curbing of freedom of speech, the response to the AIB Knockout and books being censored. I now look at Indian erotica in a different light.”
It’s exactly what Pande had hoped for: “Understanding erotica makes you sensitive to both the male and female, which will reduce the
abuse of women around the world. Read it and be brave enough to interpret it for yourself,” she said.