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The arts of Kama Sutra

Pavan Varma?s Vatsyayana act can turn even the wham-bam-thanks-ma?am men into artful lovers.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2007 19:25 IST

Kama Sutra: The Art of Making Love to a Woman
Author: Pavan K Varma
Publisher: Roli Books
Pages: 208
Price: Rs 695

Question: Does anyone actually read the Kama Sutra in any edition? Read, as opposed to gaze at the mandatory pictures of sexual gymnastics in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink manner? Based on my observations at bookshops — and frankly, also by the reactions of my colleagues at the office when I received this book for review — I don’t think so.

That’s why my first reaction, when I read Pavan K Varma’s take on the sage Vatsyayana’s 2,000-year-old manual of love — yet another version of the Kama Sutra with more pictures than text — was to wonder if it was worth reviewing at all. But then, three things about this book made me reconsider my initial response to it.

One, it’s titled "The Art of Making Love to a Woman", and is directed accordingly at the wham-bam man. Since this kind of man, according to most sex surveys in India (and, from what I read, around the world), is distressingly prevalent at all levels of society, this book could hopefully help some of them grasp the fact that, in a sexual situation at least, the phrase ‘the pleasure is all mine’ is far from courteous.

“A man needs to understand that while he would like to get down to brass tacks immediately, a woman responds best when she is also attracted to the person she is making love to,” Varma says, in the chapter titled ‘The Need for Preparation’. In other words, foreplay is vital and not only in the bedroom. Foreplay actually begins with the qualities of the man — he should have “discipline, imagination, sensitivity, humour, intelligence and gumption”, says Varma after Vatsyayana.

In the sexual act itself, he continues, “Vatsyayana urges a man to only do what is pleasing to his partner. This requires him to be less absorbed in his dexterity, and more in observing her responses.”

And as for afterplay, not only is it important that the man not roll over and fall asleep, but he should “make her feel welcome and wanted; for otherwise, she will only be confirmed in her suspicion that the sex was more important than she was”.

 Erotic sculpture of Khajuraho often echoes the Kama Sutra

Two, Varma makes the point, over and over again, that wanting and having sex is not bad. Only bad sex is bad. “The old sages were no prudes,” he says in the introduction to the book. “Their goal was the maximisation of pleasure, and they were quite beyond any silly notions of morality.”

At a time when the moral police has begun to take on more and more of the qualities of the Taliban, this reminder of the open-mindedness of our ancient and venerable culture is so very refreshing.

And three, in spite of all the lessons that this book imparts, there is nothing teacher-like about Varma’s tone. The very opposite, in fact. His style is delightfully ironic (“If she is lying limp or screaming in pain, then she is either beyond help, or beyond pleasure, or beyond both,” he says chattily in the chapter on the use of violence in sex), and very witty.

When I read the first paragraph of the chapter titled ‘The Needs of a Woman’, which discusses Vatsyayana’s study of the types of sexual union depending on the size of the penis and depth of the vagina, I actually applauded. How could I have not with wordplay like this: “Most people would consider such a study to be a measure of an unnecessary form of probing. They would not be entirely wrong in feeling that our revered guru went too far, and perhaps much too deep.”

But though there is much about this book to recommend, I go back to the question I asked at the very beginning of this review. Does anyone actually read the Kama Sutra? To go strictly by the pictures in this book, the answer seems to be a resounding ‘no’. Not even the publishers. Because the pictures — and there are lots of them — very rarely illustrate the text. You would have no idea, if you flipped through these pages at a bookshop, that this take on the book of love is about the art of making love. They are almost all of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink variety. To make things worse, the captions that are supposed to explain the pictures don’t often achieve that end — and several pictures are repeated over various sections of the book, with different captions each time. Very confusing.

Still, if you could tear your eyes away from the pictures to the text, chances are you would be edified. At the least, you would be amused. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

First Published: Jan 23, 2007 00:30 IST