'Erotica is a way for women to move from being objects of desire to reclaiming their bodies'

Published: 13 February, 2011 11:17 IST | Dhamini Ratnam |

Forget candyfloss love, and heave no more passionate sighs. Erotica is way cooler, says Roselyn D'Mello, editor of India's first anthology of erotica by women writers

Forget candyfloss love, and heave no more passionate sighs. Erotica is way cooler, says Roselyn D'Mello, editor of India's first anthology of erotica by women writers

Rosalyn D'Mello is editing an anthology of erotica by women writers that will be out soon

If you come across a 25 year-old taking time off to write a book titled, Handbook for my Lover, with chapters called, A dictionary of past lovers, A charter of demands, The M Word (where M stands for masturbation) and Map and places to visit (on the body), you could either put it down to prolonged adolescence, or stand back and think, So this is how it all changed!'

Rosalyn D'mello evokes the second reaction.

The high-spirited, Delhi-loving Mumbaiite, who writes an erotic blog, is now editing one of India's first anthologies of erotica written by women. Tentatively titled, Venus Flytrap, it will be published by Zubaan early next year and will feature the works of nearly 32 authors.

"Erotica," she says, "is not so much about writing about sex, as it is a way of looking at the world. For instance, someone may think of a lake as a water body, or they can see it as being wet, fecund and fertile," she says.

It is this worldview -- poised in contrast to a candyfloss notion of romantic love and its dramatic passionate counterpart -- that seems to be taking over popular urban consciousness.   

What We All Need, a book of essays on how "sexual liberation can make us more human and peace loving" found no talers. Finally, 130 copies were stocked at Bengaluru's The Leela Kempinski bookshop, and they were all sold out.

This is not to say that D'mello's interest in erotica is novel. What is different is that she is not squeamish about talking and writing about it. In the past few years, the number of people equally eager to write, and keen to read erotic literature has grown. This is evident from the reception erotic literature has received, spurring publishing houses to print more titles.

"We didn't have the kind of puritanical backlash we anticipated," says Renuka Chatterjee, editor in chief of Westland Tranquebar, which published the first erotica anthology of South Asian writers in 2009. Titled Electric Feather, the book contained 13 stories written by men and women, including a erotic lesbian short story.

A year before that, Harlequin set up its Indian Mills & Boon office on their 100th anniversary. Publishing houses like Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random House have launched erotic poetry anthologies and risqu � novella series in the last two years. And 2011 is all set to be a year of erotic offerings, as well.

But D'mello is quick to clarify that writing about sex should be accompanied by a shift in the way women perceive themselves.

"The books I'm writing and editing do not reiterate every stereotype in the rulebook about women. For me, erotica is a way for women to move from being objects of desire to reclaiming their bodies and expressing their own desire."

Back in 1993, another Indian author touched upon an equally 'unspeakable' topic in his ironically titled book, The Revised Kama Sutra -- that of a young boy's sexual awakening in a society that makes him believe sex is bad. And while the novel was lauded in the West, it found no distributors when Crasta reprinted the book in 2005.

"The Revised Kama Sutra is about a boy growing up in modern small-town India. If sex occupies around 60 pages of a 360-page novel, as opposed to two or three, that is only proper," the 58 year-old Bengaluru resident explains.

Another book printed the same year found no takers either. What We All Need -- a book of essays on how "sexual liberation can make us more human and peace loving" -- was finally stocked in the bookshop at the The Leela Kempinski in Bengaluru, where it sold all 130 copies.

"If 500 bookstores had made that kind of sale, this would have been a bestseller," Crasta points out.

In 2010 however, things were different, and what Ruchir Joshi, editor of Electric Feather calls "a critical mass of open-minded readers" was ready for Crasta's humorous take on sex. HarperCollins re-published The Revised Kama Sutra and distributed 3,000 copies. The response has clearly been good, since editor in chief VK Karthika, says they will reprint the book soon.

"I don't think we are prudes any longer. Writers are shedding their inhibitions and no one's really thinking, 'What will my Mother think if I write this?'" says Karthika.

The reason for that lies in an opening of sexual mores, says Joshi. "Over the last ten years, the notion that sex is taboo seems to have all but disappeared in the big metros."

Can the fraught nature of multiple sexual relations, or even the drama of passion ever reconcile with the notion of a peaceful and happy life? These are the questions that The Urban Jungle Book author Samrat, who only goes by his first name, seeks to explore in his second novel, curious about an increase in the number of break-ups and divorces today.

"I am interested in what people seek in relationships. Why do people flit from one relationship to the other and still look for lasting happiness. Are they looking for something that doesn't exist?"

The problem, says Samrat, lies in the deep-seated confusion of a generation fed on fairytales, Bollywood love stories and saas-bahu serials.

"Many confuse romance with limerence -- an obsessive state of longing for someone -- created by tragic love stories and fairy tales. This notion of romantic love -- dependent on drama -- is completely unreal and unsustainable. The only ones who benefit from this are card and rose sellers."

Do the math

Have you tried the Love Calculator?
'Dr Love thinks that a relationship between (fill in the blank) and (fill in the blank) has a reasonable chance of working out, but on the other hand, it might not. Your relationship may suffer good and bad times. If things might not be working out as you would like them to, do not hesitate to talk about it with the person involved. Spend time together, talk with each other.'

Really, Sherlock? Although this response to a trial query on http://www.lovecalculator.com/, Holland based Matthijs Sypkens Smit and Thijs Kinkhorst's invention seems plebeian, the site itself is wildly popular, ever since the fluttering hearts of school children around the world discovered it in 1996.

It's all a matter of arithmetic that starts by looking for the number of times the letters L, O, V, E and S occur in the two names, and then following it up with various additions of individual figures to arrive at a final percentage.

Now, which 'Flames' obsessed school student would dare to challenge the might of Dr Love's calculations?

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