Paperback with flaps
(Paperback with flaps | ISBN 9789387693234 | 360 pp | May 2018)
‘The history of desire in India,’ writes Madhavi Menon in this splendid book, ‘reveals not purity but impurity as a way of life. Not one answer, but many. Not a single history, but multiple tales cutting across laws and boundaries.’ In Bhakti poetry, Radha and Krishna disregard marital fidelity, age, time and gender for erotic love. In Sufi dargahs, pirs (spiritual guides) who were married to women are buried alongside their male disciples, as lovers are. Vatsyayana, author of the world’s most famous manual of sex, insists that he did not compose it ‘for the sake of passion’, and remained celibate through the writing of it. Long hair is widely seen as a symbol of sexuality; and yet, shaved off in a temple, it is a sacred offering. Even as the country has a draconian law to punish homosexuality, heterosexual men share the same bed without comment. Hijras are increasingly marginalized; yet gender has historically been understood as fluid rather than fixed.
Menon navigates centuries, geographies, personal and public histories, schools of philosophy, literary and cinematic works, as she examines the many—and often surprising—faces of desire in the Indian subcontinent. Her study ranges from the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho to the shrine of the celibate god Ayyappan; from army barracks to public parks; from Empress Nur Jahan’s paan to home-made kohl; from cross-dressing mystics to androgynous gods. It shows us the connections between grammar and sex, between hair and war, between abstinence and pleasure, between love and death.
Gloriously subversive, full of extraordinary analyses and insights, this is a book you will read to be enlightened and entertained for years.
‘Elegant, lucid and funny, this book will appeal to as many readers as there are desires.’—Shohini Ghosh
‘Deep insights are tinged with humour in this wide-ranging, thought-provoking exploration of pleasure and pain across time and regions. A must-read for those interested in the multiple sites of desire that are under siege in India today.’ —Saleem Kidwai, historian and independent scholar, and co-editor of Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History