In this article, we explore the rise and growth of erotica as a genre in Indian Literature
Being hailed as the birthplace of the Kama Sutra our country has been very conventional in a lot of things. We have something known as the censor board which decides the kind of movies we can watch. We also have a lot of well-wishers who protect the youth from the Western influences of celebrating Valentine’s Day and talking about sex is a huge NO!
Exploring one’s sexuality has been acceptable since times unknown. Going back to as old as the 16th century we have had authors write stories that spoke about varied sexual preferences. And yet today, when someone says “Let’s talk about sex!” in a room full of people there are only two immediate reactions after the initial oohs and aahs– either it is going to be a discussion that revolves around health or it is going to be a conversation that could have been avoided.
Amidst all this, in recent times the new-age authors who have explored erotica as a genre seem like a breath of fresh air. They are venturing into a territory that was ours long back but had got lost somewhere in between. Through their words, they are trying to reclaim it.
A few years back if you entered a bookstore and asked for a book from the erotica genre the only ones available were the various interpretations of the one and only Kama Sutra or the tried and tested Mills & Boons.
Cut to 2014. The moment you walk into a bookstore you could see the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy proudly on display along with various Indian books like Play with Me, Mistakes like Love & Sex, Someone Like You, There’s no love on wall street (Penguin), Random House’s Kama Kahani series, Eighteen Plus – Bedtime stories for grownups (Rupa Publications) and the Forbidden Series (Harper Collins) which signify that finally, erotica is peeping from the closet it had been locked into years ago.
Circa 2016, Juggernaut Books also jumped onto this bandwagon by getting popular Indi-Canadian Bollywood actress and model Sunny Leone, to pen a few short stories for a series of erotic books.
Somewhere towards the end of 2020, we also saw Srishti publishers come up with a series of short novellas written by Chetna Khanna, Kamini Kusum, Shanaya Taneja, etc. among others.
Shuchi Singh Kalra’s A Cage of Desire (Published by Penguin India) in 2018 was a brilliant combination of erotica, romance, and drama.
“Erotic as a genre is not new to us. We have always had a strong tradition of it in India– Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda are laced with erotic descriptions and are a celebration of a woman’s physicality, the temples of Khajuraho are known for their erotic carvings, and we are after all the land of the Kamasutra,” says former journalist and writer Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, whose erotic novel Sita’s Curse (Hachette) is going to be launched in April this year. (Source)
We are in 2023 now. In the last few years, we have seen almost every publishing house trying its hand at erotic novels in various ways.
Coming from reputed publishing houses these titles explore the depth of erotica by talking about fantasies, forbidden pleasures, and those hidden desires that co-exist in every human being along with love and empathy. Like Ananth Padmanabhan, the author of Play with Me and Sr. VP at Penguin had said in one of his interviews, “Yes, Indians do want more of erotica. When books on pain, misery, and death can be read and enjoyed, it is difficult to believe when people say they don’t enjoy reading erotica. “The six-digit sales figures of 50 shades of gray in India surely vouch for the same.
Under the garb of Mills & Boons or in other books the desires were always camouflaged. In other words, erotica had always been around it is just that it has found its voice recently.
Though there are a lot of people who continue to believe that it is the lure of the forbidden that is making more people buy such books, there are still a handful of people who think it’s high time India got its version aptly called the 100 shades of life showing how colorful the fantasies are from the land of Vatsyayana.