If you thought Kamasutra is the only text that talks about Erotica in India, read The Parrots of Desire by Amrita Narayanan. It will take you to various text through small excerpts and give you the spectrum of literature to choose from.
Amrita Narayanan has chosen ancient texts from Sanskrit, Tamil, Brajbhasha & Maharashtrian Prakrit that kind of indicate that Erotica was a part of literature across the country. It was an accepted literature probably more accepted than it is today. Then, there is a fair share of contemporary literature with mandatory Ismat Chugtai and Manto. I think this generation of editors is obsessed with them. However, to the curator’s credit, she has chosen just one work by each of them and has explored many other authors.
Some of the sections of the book are enclosed between what the Kamasutra says about that aspect of erotica. While reading it feels as if Kamasutra is the bracket within which every other text has been explored.
The book is divided into sections that depict the stages of a sexual relationship like – The Art of Seduction, Ennui in Marriage, Rapture & Longing, The First Time, Anguish, Abandonment and Break-up, Anger, Punishment & Makeup, Nostalgia. My favorite section was Nostalgia. The story Kailasam by Ambai is something that most people will relate to. Maybe a lot of these emotions would be lost in the social media world where we know what’s happening in anyone’s life. It is all about the nostalgia of a relationship that could have been – the emotion that we relate to the incomplete things in our life with a sense of wonder what if we completed it.
In the section on men wanting to be women. I loved a story where a Saint once turned into woman refuses to go back to being a man. This one story in the book is badly translated – with major editing errors. But nonetheless, a story that brings out the difference between being a man and a woman. Only a person who has been both can say – which is more pleasurable.
There is a section on women on their own and this talks about Lesbian relationships. You wonder when did the society’s sanctions against unconventional relations seep in.
The section on suspicion and confusion is very interesting. This is where you see more reality than fantasy. You can relate to the basic human emotions in relationships. My favorite story of The Parrots of Desire is from this section – Sanatan Choudhury’s Wife by Kamala Das. You are left wondering who is real and who is fantasizing. If everything is real, the math of day and night does not work out. It is a beautifully written story.
In ‘Why does Sex Exist’ which incidentally is an Italian text albeit based on Indian stories, mentions the word ‘World’s Gloss’ – I wonder what the Sanskrit or Indian word for it is. For it comes from the mouth of Brahma, I could not translate it back to Sanskrit. Amrita, if you are reading this, please let me know the translation. I am curious.
She mentions that in Tamil Sangam poetry, each erotic mood is associated with a different landscape. For example, mountains are associated with lover’s quarrel or wives’ irritability. Oceans are associated with long separations. In Sudhir Kakar’s translation of Kamasutra, she mentions – Arrows of the Love God are made of five completely different and much more fragrant flowers – Blue Lotus, Jasmine, Mango Flowers, Champaka, and Sirisa. Such small things make you look at the literature mentioned in the book from various angles.
The compilation The Parrots of Desire has both prose and poetry. You move between reading short poems to reading short stories to reading snippets from the Kamasutra. The only potential aspect that I found missing was the third gender that has not been talked about. Can I infer it is probably not mentioned in the 3000 years of Indian Erotica?
When you read the ancient and the contemporary side by side, you can see the difference between them. I as a reader found far more Rasa in old literature. Especially poetry – even in translation. I could be biased here but this is what I feel for literature in general as well. And I would have preferred Amrita’s note on each chapter. As I assume she would have read far more than what she picked for the book. I want to know why she picked up what she picked up. I want to know how much choice she had in each section. Are authors biased towards certain moods or they have written about every mood?
Buy The Parrots of Desire: 3000 Years of Indian Erotica by Amrita Narayanan at Amazon.
Overall, the book introduces you to the vast literature on Erotica. From here on, it’s up to you what you choose to explore in further detail.
Read if the subject intrigues you.
Other Books that would interest you: