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Pity! Sex tales sell well

Stories of sexual indiscretions of other people bring out the judgemental worst in us, writes Pavan K Varma.
PTI | By HYDE PARK CORNER|Pavan K Varma, London
UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2004 09:21 PM IST
I always subscribe to at least one specimen of the tabloid press to know the main news in terms of the average person's interests. These days, while the broadsheet papers solemnly pronounce on the future of Iraq, or that of Tony Blair, the tabloids have screaming headlines on the latest sex scandal besetting Beckham, Sven or Rooney.

Obviously tabloids sell because people find their stories interesting. No one, at any age, is entirely above the temptation to peep through the keyhole, especially if the view is of the bedroom antics of a celebrity. But, as someone coming from the land of the Kamasutra and Khajurao, I do sometimes wonder what the furore is about. Sexual peccadilloes are as old as sin, and sin began with the creation of man. The normal dictum of journalism is that if a dog bites a man it is not news; only if a man bites a dog does it become so. Since men and women will be men and women, and have always been so, what are all these screaming headlines and the tamasha  about?

I think stories of the sexual indiscretions of other people bring out the judgemental worst in us. We become effortlessly holier than thou, and completely forget our own human feet of clay. More importantly, the whole business of revelations has become the biggest and quickest money spinning machine. Tabloids sell more when they carry such stories; those willing - or persuaded - to reveal all are paid huge sums for their betrayal; and those who are betrayed are often willing to pay even more to shut them up. There are professional firms available for a commission to orchestrate the whole dirty linen washing industry. And, of course, there are readers more than happy to read every salacious detail.

But in the West, isn't there a subtle double standard involved in this whole process? The porn industry in the USA is greater than the national budget of a great many countries put together. Porn outlets are legal, and the depiction of promiscuity has social sanction. Yet the people of America made one 'deviational' act of a brilliant president, for which he expressed sincere regret, a matter of unending public ridicule, as if he had sinned completely beyond redemption. The principle seems to be that the greater the opportunities - and the tolerance - for sexual freedom, the greater must be the outrage at their commission, especially if the person is well known and unfortunate enough to be caught. Exaggerated morality seems to have become the flip side of the coin of socially tolerated promiscuity.

Indians are, I think, more balanced - or more restrained - where sexual revelations are concerned. It is not as if they are 'morally superior', but they take such things in their stride. If they are more conservative, they are also more discreet, and alas, more hypocritical. Most of all, where the sexual deviations concern the powerful, they are more careful and circumspect.  But the 'tabloid' culture is creeping in inevitably.

The most recent case is that of Madhur Bhandarkar, the director of the film Chandini Bar, who has been accused by an aspiring starlet, Preeti Jain, of raping her. I did learn in law that consensual sex between adults is not rape, but Ms. Jain is convinced she has been wronged. The case in now with the courts, and although Bhandarkar has denied ever sleeping with her, she has threatened to reveal everything inside her linen basket. Predictably, her accusations have made it to the national headlines.

Sex is ubiquitous these days: on bill boards, films, books and magazines. My personal regret is that in this ocean of flesh, the far more rewarding element of sringara rasa, the elusive erotic mood, where passion is fuelled less by what is revealed and more by what is hidden, has drowned. But more about this on some other occasion.

(A Stephenian, Pavan Kumar Varma is a senior Indian diplomat and presently Minister of Culture and Director of the Nehru Centre in London. Author of several widely acclaimed books likeGhalib: the Man, the Times and the recently released Being Indian, he will be writing the column Hyde Park Corner, exclusively for HindustanTimes.com)

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