Shades of Indian contemporary erotica: A growing genre

Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) Erotica as a genre of literature is still the flavour after the success of "50 Shades of Gray", an erotic novel by British author E.L. James published in 2011.

The book, which has become a manual of erotic love, is the story of a steamy relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and young business magnate Christian Grey, that explores sexual practices involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism.

In the last two years, the book, which captured the imagination of millions of Indian readers, is compelling indigenous publishers to explore the feasibility of homegrown erotica.

"Last year, Indian publishers were looking at the '50 Shades of Grey' phenomenon and how it would work on the sales. There was a general feeling that locally written erotic books would create a new oeuvre of marktable literature. But I am not sure if it has translated into action," Arcopol Chaudhuri, commissioning editor of Fingerpint Publishing, told IANS.

Chaudhuri said in India, the genre of erotic literature was primarily made of collections of explicit short stories. "But they did not have the effect that the '50 Shades of Grey' had. I think '50 Shades...' went viral because of word of mouth. I think in India, erotica has to resonate with Indian sensibilities," Chaudhuri said.

A flood of new boy-meets-girl novels by young authors come closest to erotica in India, Chaudhuri said. These books explore intimate relationships in the milieu of contemporary environs. Publishers and distributors like Yodakin and Queer Ink - radical in stand - have been printing books exploring sexuality, gender and queer love away from the din of mainstream literature. Queer Ink offers more than 100 Indian alternative love story titles on its e-counter.

Random House India reaches out to readers of explicit love with its Kama Kahani series featuring historical fictional titles like "The Thief of Poompuhar" - a love story between a woman and a thief - "Passions of Punjab", "Mistress to the Yuvaraj", "The Zamindar's Forbidden Love" and "Ghazal in Moonlight"- steamy sagas using history as a backdrop for sensuality.

Penguin India gets intimate with titles such as "Mistakes like Love & Sex", "Someone Like You" and "There's No Love on Wall Street" in its Metro Read imprint. Harper Collins keeps its erotica readers on the hook with its "Forbidden" series. Hachette has a separate section dedicated to sex and erotica and the Internet on its part resembles a carnival with hundreds of pay and read erotic book portals.

Two modern erotic anthologies that have found slots in the mainstream because of their literary substance were the "Electric Feathers: The Tranquebar Collection of Erotic Love Stories" and the "The Zubaan Anthology of Women's Erotica".

The oeuvre of erotic literature in India for centuries has flourished within the fold of religion with heorines like Radhika and Mirabai expressing awareness of their sexuality with odes to the "Krishna man". They are more of spiritual appeasement, says Rosalyn D'mello, who has compiled and edited the "The Zubaan Anthology of Women's Erotica".

"On one hand it is religion and on the other sexual appetite. I have tried to trace the lineage of women's erotica down the ages in the Zubaan anthology - from translations of Tamil poet Andal, 6th century writings, excerpts from modern erotic novels, graphic books music, essays and poetry," D'mello told IANS.

Erotica does not require the greatest of literary talent, says V. Karthika, publisher and chief editor of Harper Collins India. "You need good understanding of the entire erotic vocabulary to pull off a book. A lot depends on how we progress with the language," Karthika told IANS.

The ancient literary and cultural history of India is twined with erotic arts. "Kama Sutra", the earliest of descriptive sexual litearature, was authored at a time when sexual awareness was still primitive worldwide. The erotic temple arts contributed to the refinement of sensuous ethos.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bengal became a thriving cauldron of illustrated erotic literature printed in the early block and letter press units at Bath Tala in what is now Kolkata.

The 20th century witnessed the influx of Western and Oriental erotica in translations, spawning vernacular editions of erotic mass market books. In the niche segment, titles like "The Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater (1971)", Confessions of an Indian Lover (1973)" by Shasti Brata, "Summer in Calcutta (Poetry)", "Padmavati, the Harlot and Other Stories" by Kamala Das and "Show Business" by Shashi Tharoor took the veil off conventional morality post 1970.

"Certain things are not easy to tackle. In India, erotica is a very difficult genre to tackle because of who we are and where we are coming from. But several publishers are trying to do something similar to the '50 Shades...'," Shobhit Arya, publisher and founder of Wisdom Tree, told IANS.

Publishers feel that it won't be long before India unveils its own "50 Shades..." series.

( can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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