Colombo was unusually chilly last week. Minimum temperatures hovered around the 18 degree mark and children wore sweaters to school as mornings remained grey. I did a far braver thing to warm up and landed up at the launch of, arguably Sri Lanka's first, anthology of sex fiction in English: 'Blue: Stories for Adults'.
A collection of 11 short stories and five poems from 14 new authors, Blue, in fairly lengthy and longing details, deals with the act.
Keeping with the evening's theme, the venue chosen was the bare and edgy Warehouse Project. "A 15,000 square feet of (former) colonial railway storage warehouse, steeped with its original brickwork structure," as the Project's pamphlet described it.
Inside the warehouse, authors, painters, photographers and activists mingled over beer, cigarettes and chatter. A blue-coloured drink made the rounds in martini glasses. Guests stood around, few sat on the floor as passages from the anthology were read out; some in a theatrical baritone and others with nonchalance.
Blue's editor Ameena Hussein said she got the idea after Indian author Ruchir Joshi collated and published 'Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories in 2009. "There was no Lankan author and it could have been lack of access. So I wrote to established Lankan writers if they were interested in such a book here; only one responded. I then put up the idea on my blog. The response was overwhelming," Hussein, whose 'The Moon on the Water', was published in 2009, said.
The motif was to break sexual stereotyping, she said, adding that the response till now has largely been positive. "I expect criticism. The stories may not appeal to everyone's sensibilities. Blue is book of sex, not erotica," Hussein said.
It's also a first of its kind in Sri Lanka, at least in English. "Only now, I'm being told there could be books with similar themes in Sinhala and Tamil."
It deals more with skin than soul, but Blue could leave a mark in Sri Lanka's post-war urban narrative, which has begun to grapple with the disparate trends of lurking conservatism and the broad strokes of liberal culture that color it. And if nothing else, Colombo winters will surely be less frigid from now on.