What is it about Indians and sex? Two thousand years after producing the Kama Sutra, considered the ultimate manual on the subject, we still treat sex like a social disease. Bollywood grabs its audience through pelvic thrusts and suggestive wiggles that would put Shakira to shame-we now even have cricketers doing the same in full public view-yet when it comes to sex, we are the world's biggest prudes. Hypocrisy for sure, but it's also a cultural thing. Having convinced ourselves that spirituality, yogic abstinence and gods for every purpose and occasion is the path to happiness and prosperity, we can hardly afford to go wild between the sheets or admit in public that we enjoy sexual experimentation. Chastity is still the most sought after attribute in matrimonial advertisements: the demand for virgins clearly outstrips supply, but it's the thought that matters. We have no qualms about the sex act itself, yet, for most Indians, the reproductive process is just that, a process, not something that you take pleasure in or innovate. For millions of Indian men, sex is about as exciting as brushing your teeth. No wonder parents are up in arms over any suggestion of sex education in schools.
KAMA SUTRA: THE ART OF MAKING LOVE TO A WOMAN
By Pavan K. Varma
Lustre Press/Roli Books
Price: Rs 695; Pages: 208
Pavan Varma is no sex therapist, quite the contrary, but he clearly thinks that Indian males need plenty of education and advice in the sex department, especially when it comes to ensuring that the woman gets as much pleasure out of the encounter. That's easier said than done, but Varma, diplomat, author and currently cultural commissar, has just the thing to help him do the job: the Kama Sutra. Most publishers would have lost count of how many versions of Vatsyayana's cult classic actually exist. It has become something of an industry in itself having been translated into every written language with the possible exception of Inuktitut-the Eskimos don't take their clothes off all that often. So what makes Varma's version any different?
Actually, it's not. This is his personal "Alchemy of Desire", a contemporary take on the original, or so the blurb says, but in reality he uses lots of Mughal miniature-type erotic illustrations to, well, illustrate the points he makes. The problem with classics is just that. As a classic it is meant to survive the passage of time, which is what Vatsayayana achieved. His advice and his philosophy, that men and women are equal partners in the art of lovemaking and that the fulfilment of women is at the heart of the sexual experience, is hardly outdated or in need of contemporary translation. Sex is sex and unless it's an unnatural choice of partner, nothing much has changed there either, unless it's kinky sex toys or accessories. Let's just say that Varma is a Vatsayayana devotee and this is his tribute to the sage. What he does is try to explain the philosophy behind the Kama Sutra as a reminder to Indians (though foreign buyers would clearly be welcome) that it's wrong to treat sex as taboo and we need to shed inhibitions along with our garments.
The problem is that the Kama Sutra says pretty much all there is to know about the various sexual positions, however painful and contortionist they may be, and there's not a lot that any contemporary author can add. In places, Varma's version parallels the original so accurately that this version seems like an excuse to reproduce those erotic poses in a modern wrapping: this one is suggestively done in bright pink hardback and no cover visuals so it's safe to keep it on the coffee table.
In fact, Varma's version ends with this advice in the chapter titled The Ending of Congress. It's not to do with the imminent fall of the Congress-led government but post-coital advice. His is to take her to the rooftop or the terrace when passion is spent, to watch the moon and stars and point out the different constellations. In today's India, the only star she'd like to see after a bout of satisfying sex is the one that adorns the bonnet of his Mercedes Benz.