Fifty Shades of Indian Erotica: Saris and spice

Fifty Shades of Grey, a work of erotic fiction has become the fastest selling book of all time.

 

With Fifty Shades of Grey sweeping the nation, we cross borders over to India, where not one, but two anthologies of Erotic fiction are due to be published this year. We’re caught up with Sheba Karim and Roselyn D’ Mello, who’ll be editing each collection respectively.

Q. What do you think is driving the trend towards romance novels, in particular, erotic fiction?

SK: I think what is driving the trend is that, until recently, there has not been much modern erotica written for a South Asian audience or in a South Asian context, that combined literary and prurient aspirations.

RD: I’m not sure there is a driving trend. Yes, women writers are less reluctant to write about matters of sexuality and desire than ten years ago, perhaps. But it is still hard to find well-written erotica, whether fiction or non-fiction. Which is why all the pieces in this collection are like jewels.

Q. Who does this type of literature appeal to? Describe your target reader.

SK: My target reader for the anthology crosses gender and sexual identity divides.  People have different tastes in erotica, just as they do in poetry, or porn, but my hope is that the stories in the anthology will engage the reader on many different levels, sexually, intellectually, emotionally.

RD: We hope this book is accessible to everyone because at the heart of it, desire is universal. I don’t see why there needs to be a specific target group.

Q. Talk to me about what inspired the idea behind this anthology and why is it important? 

SK: The first erotica anthology by Tranquebar was the first of its kind inSouth Asiaand a bestseller.  This anthology is continuing this tradition, except that now erotica has become recognized as a legitimate genre—there is a Zubaan anthology of erotica by women coming out this spring, a Tranquebar anthology of queer erotica due out this summer.  My goal for this anthology is to say, “Okay, now that we’ve moved beyond this genre as a novelty, let’s further explore its literary possibilities.”

Years ago, they did a study where they found that there were 237 reason to have sex.  I’d argue that there are infinitely more, but the point is that sex pervades all aspects of the psyche, love, hate, lust, anger, boredom, anxiety, dominance.  Inevitably, most stories lead to sex, whether real or imagined, whether written on the page or not.  Erotica embraces this reality.

RD: Zubaan had been wanted to do this anthology for a long time. I happened to have a conversation with one of Zubaan’s senior editors Anita Roy and we were both ranting about the dearth of good erotica. That’s when she asked me if I’d be interested in editing this anthology. I jumped at the idea.

Q.  As editor can you give us an insight into “What’s going on behind closed doors and under the sheets in the Indian psyche?”

SK: Well, there are always a variety of things going behind closed doors, but sex is certainly not as much a taboo as it used to be, at least from a media perspective. A scene from Delhi Belly, which was a big hit inIndia, had a scene with strongly implied cunnilingus.  That’s something you weren’t likely to see ten years ago.

RD: I think it would be very presumptuous of me to say what’s going on behind closed doors and under the sheets… I can only hope that there’s some good lovemaking happening and that women are being pleasured.

Q. Can you tell us more about the people contributing to the collection?

RD: There are about 40 contributors, a few long dead, from between the 6th Century AD to the 20th Century. And then there are the contemporary women writers, from established writers like Tishani Doshi, Sampurna Chatterji and Karthika Nair to younger, emerging writers like M.Svairini, Gudiya,Dharini Bhaskar,ShebaKarim, Abeer Hoque and many others.

Q. Finally what do you think makes good erotic fiction? Can you give us an example. 

SK: For me, the best erotica feels vivid and honest.  A little beauty never hurt either.   The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, in which every description is tinged with the erotic, is wonderful.  But honestly, I’m open to all different kinds.  We’ll be featuring some sci-fi erotica in the anthology, for example.

Q. When is the collection out?

SK: The collection will be out in the fall of 2012.

RD: Venus Flytrap should hopefully be out by the first or the second week of April. We’re in the final editing stages at the moment.  (Note: This interview was conducted earlier in the year, publication of Venus Flytrap is imminent.)

 

Sheba Karim writes literary and young adult fiction.  She is a graduate of New York University  School of Law and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  Her YA novel, Skunk Girl, made the young adult selection for the Silicon Valley Reads 2012.  Her fiction has appeared in several published and forthcoming anthologies in the United States and India, including Cornered, Electric Feather and Venus Fly Trap.  She is currently working on a historical fiction novel set in 13th century India and editing Tranquebar Anthology of South Asian Literary Erotica.

Rosalyn D’Mello is currently the Editor-in-chief of Artinfo India. She is the editor of Venus Flytrap, a collection of women’s erotica to be published by Zubaan and is working on her first book, “A Handbook For My Lover.” She lives in Delhi.