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'The book was meant to be about sex'

In a first of sorts for an Indian male author, Ananth has released his debut erotic fiction work, Play With Me, a heady roller coaster of sex, lust, attraction and relationships set in the backdrop of an urban Indian milieu

Q. What prompted you to enter into an uncharted territory? Why, according to you, has no Indian male author ventured into erotic fiction until now?
A. It started out as a conversation around the lack of good erotic fiction in India, especially given the success of EL James and Sylvia Day. I was asked by my publisher if I’d like to write a novel and I accepted. It wasn’t a question that came out of the blue — my colleagues knew that I had written short erotic pieces before. Yes, we did know that this was uncharted territory. I think Indian fiction either takes itself too seriously, or has always played safe. It’s a very thin line between good writing and bad, further discouraged by awards for bad sex writing. It could also be cultural, it’s hard to tell.

Erotica

Q. You belong to the publishing world; so weren’t you tempted to base your story in it as well? Or was the challenge more in dabbling with another area/profession?
A. Now that you ask, no, I wasn’t ever tempted to base the story in publishing (though if one were to write one, the possibilities are limitless). And yes, I believed that setting the story within an unknown world would help the narrative breathe and let me take some liberties. The protagonist is a photographer, and that is one thing I know something about, though I’ve used it only as a context and the book is not about photography in any way.

Kiss me

Q. Sid comes across as the kinds who is unabashed about his sexual views and leanings, and usually gets what he wants. Was his character fixed in your mind before you started writing the book or did you add nuances along the way?
A. I think I knew who I wanted to Sid to be — and what his creative bent of mind will mean to his personality. And yes, because he is also the narrator, whose reflections and observations are central to the plot, he was meant to be unabashed himself. And as the story unfolds and I was keen for him to be a complex, rather confused character, and I did add aspects to him.

Play With Me
Play With Me, Ananth, Penguin Books, Rs 250. Available at leading bookstores and as an e-book.

Q. All the women in this book seem to be in love with or entranced by Sid at some point...was this intentional?
A. The book is about the women in Sid’s life and what their relationships have meant to him. The relationship between Sid and Nat builds gradually over time and is a result of their shared history, experiences and emotions. And the relationship with Cara, while seemingly physical and linear, develops to into something both of them don’t confront. I was very keen to explore the probabilities of what could happen between people who are attractive, and attracted to each other and used these characters to do that.

Ananth
Ananth Author. Pic courtesy/Ashish Sharma, Open magazine

Q. How were you able to play out the sex vs. love debate in Sid’s mind throughout the book?
A. This book was meant to be about sex. But I also knew that it couldn’t be just that. I wanted to write a novel about pleasure and explore what pleasure can do to love. Sid is a man who is ruled by his heart and almost always lets go. Cara and Nat are very clear about what they want from their bodies. This heady cocktail drives Sid to constantly wrestle with his reactions to sex and love. I introduced the thread with Roy and Aanya for precisely this reason — their affair is also something that makes Sid reflect on how complex human needs are — and how we choose between sex and love.

Q. Do you see Indian readership rising in the coming years, as far as erotic fiction goes, and the emergence of more writers in this genre?
A. Yes, the readership has potential to grow. We just don’t have enough books in this genre. I must add though that since this is not a mainstream genre, unless there is a regular influx of good writing, and the emergence of new writers, readers will wait to buy that one book that makes the most noise and not try everything — like we tend to do in genre fiction like crime thriller, or romance.

That afternoon Cara and I met for lunch at a newly opened French bistro. She was upset because I had ignored the naked selfie she had sent me while I was in New York and showed me that picture again, along with many others she had taken.  At one point, just when the waiter turned his back, she leaned over and told me in a loud whisper, so he could hear too, ‘I am not wearing panties’.

‘Cara!’

‘How was the trip?’, she said, switching subjects.

‘Great’ I said, picking at food.  I had ordered the Caesar salad with burnt chicken and decided not to drink and make my jet lag worse.  Cara didn’t eat anything at all, choosing to have just wine.

‘I miss New York, and Mom’.

‘Why don’t you go see them?’

‘I will’, she said, and shook her head like a school girl would have before emptying her second glass of wine.
 ‘I am happily tipsy, you want to come home and take advantage?’ she asked with a wink as I walked her to her car.  
I did think about it for a moment but excused myself very reluctantly, telling her that with a flight to catch in the morning, a night of intense love-making would screw things up.

‘You choose which one is the better way to get ‘screwed’ she joked and gave me a long, warm hug. We kissed while the parking attendant stood staring at us. Normally, I would have spent the evening with Cara, but since leaving New York I had been thinking about Nat far too often, replaying our time together over and over in my head, particularly the kiss we had shared,  and how happy I had felt.

Later in the evening, when I thought it an appropriate time for New York, I messaged her.

Hey, you good?
Loving it here
Fab.
Wish you were here.
I know. I miss you too!
That came out subconsciously
Are you OK?
Yep. Packing for Goa.
Have fun.
I will. Come back soon.
Can’t wait to see you!
J
Kisses.  
Stop it.
Bye. LOVE YOU.

I wanted to say, Love you too, but resisted, and then dropped the conversation. I sat there on my couch thinking about where I was going to take this. I didn't know anything about her life other than the fact that she was not exactly a happy bunny but was trying to have a child. She was a lovely person, with a measured sensitivity — a stark contrast to the firebrand that was Cara, whom I thoroughly enjoyed being with too. But something had definitely begun to shift after the day in the hospital when Nat had been around all the time and something had definitely changed the way I felt about her after I realized how much I loved spending time in New York.

But Nat didn’t know what Cara and I were doing and I was probably deluding myself into believing that we weren’t in a relationship. Either way, I was or had become a hedonist, sort of. Living alone without parents and having to fend for myself had taught me a very valuable lesson about myself: when faced with a difficult decision, I often went with the first thing my heart settled on. And the accident, which could have been my last breathing moment here, taught me something about myself that I hadn’t quite confronted — I sought love.  

Extracted from Play with Me by Ananth (Penguin Books India, Rs 250)

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