Open dialogue in Indian society about sex and sexuality is in itself surrounded by a giant smokescreen of prejudice, cultural shackles and religion-fuelled hypocrisy. What happens behind closed doors must stay behind closed doors, and the repression of sexual experiences is a commonly occurring societal phenomenon. In the context of this constant moral policing through social conditioning, politically motivated arm-twisting, as well as legal policing (see: porn ban earlier this year, among others), the dialogue on sexuality itself is too controversial and repressed. And so, the commentary on female sexuality is even more so.
Woman in Indian society expressing their sexual desires have, time and again, faced repression. Films are censored, moralities are questioned, indecency and obscenity are invoked loudly, and sexual freedom is eventually curtailed. Still, in the face of all this attempted silencing, we find authors striving to push the boundaries of conversation and bring female sexuality to the table to be discussed, appreciated and even experienced. Lust, longing, desire, exploration – all these themes are taken on by these daring writers, who do it all through the policing they face. In these commentaries, sexuality is expressed while simultaneously revealing historical contexts, cultural traditions, and the need to break free from social shackles that restrict openness and exploration.
So, as we salute the attempts of these writers, we’ve compiled a list of 6 pieces of Indian literature that explore female sexuality and eroticism. Scroll on for a new and bold reading list that men and women across the country would benefit from reading.
Mistakes like Love & Sex - Madhuri Banerjee
The new brand of Indian erotica is designed around the modern woman. Archaic percepts of female sexuality are torn apart and women take the reins of their relationships. Banerjee explores the modern definition of love, sex and romance, where love and lust are entirely separate and a strong character is nothing to hide. The perfect Sunday afternoon read, it teeters on the edge of chick lit but redeems itself with engaging narrative and relatable characters.
Padmavati, the Harlot and Other Stories - Kamala Das
Kamala Das is well known in Indian literary circles for her uninhibited erotic poetry and prose and for years has openly celebrated female sexuality. In this compilation she takes us inside the turbulent lives of India’s prostitutes. In a world that is made up of shades of grey there’s compassion in the most unexpected places and a lingering sense of hope to colour desparation. These touching tales will open your heart and mind to the resilience of these long-suffering women.
Love the Bi-Way - Bhaavna Arora
Though the LGBT movement has garnered much support in India over the recent years one aspect still remains a mystery to some. This novel delves into the ‘B’ of Bisexuality through the lives of Zara and Rihana, it chronicles their encounters with men, women and each other with a sense of authenticity to the concept that’s rare when it comes to LGBT narratives. Along with a colourful tapestry of supporting characters, this novel puts into perspective the trials of navigating forbidden love in urban India.
The Company of Women - Khushwant Singh
Though the erotic fantasies of an 80-year-old man may not seem like a viable exploration of female sexuality, we feel that Khushwant Singh’s candid and witty take on relationships will have you enthralled. It celebrates the rollicking adventures of one Mohan Kumar through a diverse spectrum of lovers. Singh himself was a prolific womaniser and we don’t doubt that some of these exploits were written from a place of experience.
Paro: Dreams of Passion - Namita Ghokale
When it was first published in 1984 this novel caused quite the stir with its outspoken and rapacious heroine, Paro. As she maneuvers an elite world of power and privelege she is observed by the acid-tongued diarist and eternal voyeur, Priya who lives vicariously through Paro’s interactions with fortune and fantasy. This book will take you on a journey of self-discovery with our man-eating, sexually liberated protagonist.
Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories - Ruchir Joshi
There is a fine line between erotica and soft-core pornography, and keeping erotica titillating and sensual but also intelligent and artistic is a challenging balancing act. This challenge was taken by Tranquebar that has brought out a number of erotic books since 2009. This anthology comprises of a variety of tales that are raw, tasteful and playful, a blend of narratives that are rooted in everyday life. The stories are set in relatable settings and cover a range of desires that are not just limited to same-sex relationship but intimate and sexual relationships of all orientations.