10/27/2012 ~ Banned?

October 26th, 2012

A few days ago I uploaded “Slither” to Amazon Kindle. I received an email (copied below) saying they would not be offering my book for sale because “the book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines”.

I thought maybe I was now in the revered company of George Orwell, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, and so on. But, it might just be the cover art – a Gauguin nude – that violates their guidelines. Or the fact that the title says clearly that it is carnal prose. It could even be that someone read the whole book and decided it would be a “poor experience” for other readers  – they say in the guidelines “We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art or product descriptions.  We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.”

There was no explanation as to what specific content violated their guidelines, but reading through those guidelines made me reluctant to ask. They could fit my book into any of those violations, after all (Copied below).

This book is now available for .99 at Smashwords

Oh and, the print version is available on Amazon.

 

The email from Amazon:

From: Amazon.com <title-submission@amazon.com>

Date: Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 8:02 PM

Subject: Alert from Amazon KDP To: (my email address) Hello, We’re contacting you regarding the following book that you submitted for sale in our Kindle Store:

3018507         Slither ~ carnal prose by Urmilla Deshpande

During our review process, we found that your book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines.  As a result, we will not be offering this book for sale.

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.

To learn more, please see: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A1KT4ANX0RL55IBest Regards, Marigold J.

Amazon.com Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

And here are the content guidelines:

Content Guidelines
Your books and other content (such as book titles, cover art and product descriptions) must adhere to these content guidelines.  We reserve the right to make judgments about whether content is appropriate and to choose not to offer it.  We may also terminate your participation in the KDP program if you don’t adhere to these content guidelines.

Pornography
We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Content
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

Illegal and Infringing Content
We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.  Just because content is freely available does not mean you are free to copy and sell it.

Public Domain and Other Non-Exclusive Content
Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party. We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content. For example, if you received your book content from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and the content is freely available on the web, we will not accept it for sale on the Kindle store. We do accept public domain content, however we may choose to not sell a public domain book if its content is undifferentiated or barely differentiated from one or more other books.

Poor Customer Experience
We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience.  Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art or product descriptions.  We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.

9/13/2012 ~ Marathi translation of A Pack of Lies

September 17th, 2012

My Marathi is good enough to talk to my sister (whose Marathi is worse than mine), and not at all good enough to read the translation.

This translation happened with my technical and legal consent. There was a clause in the contract with my publisher which allowed them to sell the translation rights.  Needless to say, I learned my lesson. Neither the translator, to my shock and disappointment, nor the publisher, made ANY contact with me during the translation process. Two copies of this Marathi version arrived in my mailbox, and that was how I found out.

To start with, the title of the book translates back to English approximately as “I Will Lie” which immediately said to me that the title was chosen for market impact .  It does not say what I intended. I was not, to put it mildly, delighted. I opened the book, and with some apprehension, read the acknowledgements. And at that point I figured that I would probably drop an eyeball if I read any more. There was a clear mistake in understanding what I meant by “my sisters”, and the translator has taken the liberty of assuming my meaning without bothering to check. At that point I gave up. It seems to me, from what I could tell from reviews of the book, that basically this is now a terrible book. The publisher’s blurb on the cover also sensationalizes it for no reason, as “explosive” and so forth. Sleaze.

My mother, Gauri Deshpande, worked on several translations. She talked to the authors, or, in the case of Sir Richard, did an enormous amount of research and put a lot of thought into it, sometimes agonizing over single words. Shashi Deshpande, who translated my mother’s “Deliverance”, too, did the same. I can’t understand why a translator would not even have a phone conversation with an author whose book she is translating – I am neither dead nor unapproachable.

Anyone who has actually read it in both languages, if there is such a person, I would love to hear what you have to say. Maybe it is not as terrible as I fear. But from what little I have read, I fear it is.

09/01/2011 ~ “Spanking Words” ~ Roselyn D’Mello

September 1st, 2011

http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/4633-spanking-words.html

… Steer clear
of the opaque. Quirkiness is useful,
so is translucence. Spank
words carefully. Include
lots of skin, mouth,
tongue. However aesthetic
breasts work the best. Linger.


In her poem ‘How to Write Erotica’, Nitoo Das comes exactingly close to articulating what it is about the genre that makes it so coveted and yet so controversial, and most of all so elusive. Contrary to popular belief, a thick barrier lined with barbed wire separates erotica from pornography. If ‘pornography is the attempt to insult sex,’ as D H Lawrence suggested in his essay ‘On Pornography’, erotica is the attempt to celebrate its roots – desire. The two genres are motivated by entirely different impulses, but it is the degree to which the act of sex is alluded that demarcates the boundaries.

If there is still any confusion, the simplest rule of thumb is the level of facility it takes to dabble in either genre. Place a camera mechanically in front of a masturbating woman and you have pornography. Instead, document the sensation, the rush of blood from clitoris to head as she writhes and combusts and swims in wave after ecstatic wave until her lips contort into an open mouth, until the quivering ceases after the final gasp, the penultimate sigh. Erotica is what you will have produced. Pornography is a cakewalk. It does not necessitate the use of one’s imagination. But to write a single line of erotica from scratch, you must first create the universe.

That is precisely what Urmilla Deshpande seems to have done in Slither, her collection of erotic stories published by Tranquebar. The cover defines this body of work as ‘carnal prose’, and with every story a new dimension of this secret universe of flesh and fire unravels. The atmosphere is dense with alternating layers of desire and desperation: a single fertile river that runs underground and bifurcates into diverse streams of consciousness, infusing and irrigating everything it encompasses with passion and intrigue. The landscape is peopled with characters who live ordinary lives and who dabble routinely with the mundane, but who experience the world in all its sensual glory. But Deshpande’s true genius lies in her ability to play with the texture of language, to ‘spank words carefully’ and to create a dialogue between touch and the sensation of that touch – and, often, the longing for it. And finally, her capacity to linger in the afterglow of language so that what arouses the reader is not merely the quirkiness of the situation at hand but the symphony that her words conduct.

For instance, the title story is not so much about sex; the focus is on the impassioned lack of it. A woman of indefinite age tells us about her botanist husband, who is more aroused by Amazon gingers than her. She rants:

And still I loved his hands. I wonder what it is about him that rejects me over and over. It is not that he does not look at me. But it is not with the eyes of a lover that he sees me. It is with the eyes of a botanist. He sees my eyes – humans have two, plants none, so perhaps they do not impress him, though they are, I am told, fine eyes. He touches my skin, but with his fingertips, not his whole hands, through my clothes, not with the delight of knowing I’m right there below that layer but with some practical purpose – to guide me through some forest path perhaps, or stop me as he did that day to watch those snakes. He even lays with me, often enough that I would not notice this disinterest, but not often enough that I felt elevated above Amazon gingers.

The 18 stories spread over nearly 300 pages embody a range of characters who are, more often than not, of Indian descent, though not always located in India. Among the most notable we have the botanist’s wife, who finds herself seduced by a village chief in a village along the foothills of the Himalaya; an emotionally unavailable taxidermist who finds herself attracted to another emotionally unavailable person; a member of a family of spirits who can enter and control people’s bodies, a village girl who grows up to be an internationally acclaimed swimmer and who is desperate to lose her virginity and finally does so – at 50.

‘Goblin Market,’ Deshpande’s retelling of the eponymous poem by Christina Rosetti, is easily the most subversive. Here, the two sisters Lizzie and Laura are lovers, and the goblins in question are ravaging beasts with the power to corrupt one’s innocence.

Laura could not resist the smell of the fruit, and the goblins licking them off her, off her breasts, biting and sucking and grabbing her, and then off her cunt, they gathered around it like creatures at a watering hole, lapping, sucking, squealing and pushing each other, fighting for the juices that flowed from her.

‘Isis’ and ‘Slight Return’ are the two other strongest stories. In ‘Isis’, the narrator, a young writer, gets increasingly obsessed with the title character, a yesteryears actress whom he would keep hearing about through his grandfather, who always speaks of her lustfully. He decides to write a book based on her and finally meets this almost mythical figure, finding himself further intrigued by her grace, her beauty and her missing eye. ‘Slight Return’ is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about Suman, a middle-aged woman and victim of a bad marriage, who finds herself transfixed as she chances upon her daughter clandestinely making love to her boyfriend in the dark. Her reaction is not one of horror or shame; instead, given her own negative sexual history and her experience with rape victims and prostitutes, she finds herself strangely appreciative of her daughter’s sexuality and her ability to articulate it. The act of looking is not voyeuristic; rather, it is tempered by tenderness and wisdom.

Each story in the collection has a personality of its own. Despite the phenomenal range and variety of the plots, you find yourself relating to and remembering the context of each narrative. Moreover, there is a dexterous quality to the language, a stylistic flexibility. Deshpande juggles different techniques of narration, from first-person to third, and each voice is unique so there is no room for repetition or monotony. This is a commendable feat considering what are, in this reviewer’s opinion, the limitations of the vocabulary of the English language, particularly when it comes to describing either sex
or intimacy.

Holy well
While the Subcontinent has a rich history of erotica, most of the pre-modern erotic writing by women has been within the domain of the devotional, by Bhakti women poets like Meera and Akka Mahadevi, the 12th-century saint from Karnataka. Given this history, erotica by contemporary Indian women writers could be read in the same vein as casual sex, an indulgence, writing for pleasure, which is precisely why the Indian moral brigade got its panties in a twist when writers such as Kamala Das started to write the way she did, irreverently and indulgently focusing on her erotic self. Erotica continues to be a controversial genre, which explains most women’s preference for adopting pseudonyms. While it is acceptable for men to brag about their sexual exploits, it is still taboo for women writers. The few women who do, usually hesitate to sign their real names to their writing.

Writers who so much as hint at being sexually experienced – such as Meena Kandasamy, who openly writes about the experience of being Dalit and a woman, and Mridula Garg – often have to bear the brunt of moral hypocrisy. Writing erotica comes at the price of one’s reputation. Ruchir Joshi’s introduction to Electric Feather is testimony. Joshi explains the difficulty he experienced in soliciting stories. ‘One senior Indian writer, who writes brilliant erotics, disdained to even answer my email. Three others did variations of sputtering into their beer, “Me write porn for you!?! No fucking way!” and promptly crossed their legs, all three. One star of the firmament smiled very sweetly and said, “If I find the time, I’ll certainly think about it.”’

Deshpande is possibly the first contemporary Indian author in English to publish a collection of stories devoted entirely to the erotic. In the last two years, though, a host of writers, particularly women, have been appropriating the space of the erotic. Most significant among them is the young provocative and award-winning M Svairini, who writes the rather risqué blog, ‘The Bottom Runs the Fuck’, and who recently published a piece in The First Post in defence of a ‘Masturbat-a-thon’. In a monologue titled ‘Kaliyuga Yoni’, which was originally written to be performed as part of ‘Yoni Ki Baat’, an ensemble show conceived along the lines of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, Svairini’s narrator personifies her vagina and simultaneously takes a stand on the much-debated issue about the use of the word cunt or even vagina in erotica.

She [my vagina] doesn’t like the word yoni; in English, it sounds spiritual and soft, new agey, shallow as a henna tattoo.

She prefers cunt, as in wet cunt, nasty cunt, naughty cunt, bad cunt, good cunt, beautiful cunt. Cunt from the Sanskrit word for well, or spring, a deep source: kund, as in kundalini. As in the word for menstrual blood: kundapushpa, flower of the holy well. Red Violent. The taste of birth and death, of origins.

Svairini is also a prominent member of an interesting online collective of Southasian writers that calls itself ‘Shameless Yonis’. Other members include Kama Spice, writer of an erotic trilogy, Kessa’s Pride and Sehra’s Honour and Tia’s War, based in a world where people shape-shift between being human and feline. Aisha Nayar, Sabah Guille and Sheherzade are the other permanent members of the collective. Every month, the blog (www.shamelessyonis.wordpress.com) features a guest writer who similarly pushes the genre to new and exciting heights.

As more and more publishers are waking up to the marketing potential of the erotica genre, more and more women are waking up to its capacity for subversion – this is especially so given the recent success of the Slut Walk phenomenon, with urban women becoming increasingly comfortable expressing their right to pleasure. Not only does it arouse and titillate, erotica also seems to offer women space to either articulate or satisfy desire, while answering 20th-century French feminist Helene Cixous’s revolutionary call to women to ‘write their bodies’.

~ Roselyn D’Mello is a journalist and writer in Delhi.

08.22.2011 ~ Slither review

August 22nd, 2011

http://thebookloversreview.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-slither.html

 


This is going to be a really short post but wanted to review this book simply because it is a ‘hatke’ book on a topic which we Indians talk about only in a hush hush, conspiratorial way. This is a book of short stories that are erotic in nature with the undercurrent of carnality.

The author in her acknowledgement says that this book was the result of a challenge from her editor friend and goes on to candidly admits that the book was uncomfortable to write but at the same time also empowering and liberating.
Fair enough. So I started to read but some stories down I could figure why writing stories like this is a tough ask. Stories were great but after a point I struggled to finish the book, not because of the writing let me be clear, but the subject. There is only so much one can read about slithering bodies, sex et al..you get the drift?
Maybe I am in minority where my reasons are concerned, but kudos to the author for taking up this challenge and doing full justice to it.
So if this genre interests you do pick up the book!

 

 

 

 

8.18.2011 ~ Slither Reviewed

August 18th, 2011
http://helterskelter.in/2011/08/book-review-slither/

Book Review: Slither
15/08/2011
BY URVASHI BAHUGUNA

Stories, incredibly human, wrap themselves around these vignettes of lust. Sometimes, there is profound unhappiness in the places where lust has earlier been; people and times encoded into spaces and movements. Sometimes, there is staleness, a burnt taste even, and there is the realisation that there is as much wariness in people as there in anticipation.
Helter Skelter: Slither
Urmilla Deshpande’s Slither shows how memory works in mysterious ways, and how corporeal events sometimes cling longer than emotional ones. Wet plunges into the India that is statistically prominent and where sex is still taboo and marriage sacred to the point of being above all questioning. Xen is about inexperience and fumbling, and the choices that arise simply because there have never been any before.

A handful of these stories map the differing circuitous routes marriage takes to reconcile love and sex, to manoeuvre pursuing one without the other and to live with the aftermath of waning of either or both. The book throws up questions, not so inexpertly so as to appear forced and not so impartial as to be unperceivable. Arranged marriage has complex sexual associations, and some of them unpleasant. Revulsion and fear lurk where in different circumstances something else could have been. Other types of marriages unknot too in his anthology, giving way to time and irritance.

The artist with his naked muses in Cosmic Latte will ruffle a few feathers, but most people will not be able to look beyond the nudes to him.

“But my paintings were not so bad. There were actual women attached to the body parts, and they were women I loved, and painted with love, and I think that came through.”

The accidental, superficial lust one feels for virtual strangers and celebrities plays out in D.U.I. and Isis. Both play out theatrically, similar to dream sequences just as fantasies would. Sex, real and imagined, desired and forced, implied and overt, attempted and unfulfilled; a strange spectrum is travelled by reading this book.

Sometimes, the thumbnails she draws from are clichés, the people you encounter in movies, not run into on the sidewalk. Deshpande puts her own spin on every story, but she tumbles back into the realm of the expected with a faulty line or two that betrays a lack of originality. It takes a lot to revamp a cliché, and some of the stories fall short of doing just that. Society’s misfits have had too much screen time to appeal easily to the more avid reader.

The book is worth reading. It strays into strange waters, places that urban India still takes the long way around. A few pieces here and there disappoint, but when you finish the book, you know she took you a step in the right direction. Because it’s easy to forget that as Deshpande says in Taxidermy: “There are things we need, looks, touches, moments, that have nothing immediate to do with survival.”

[Tranquebar; ISBN 9789380658841]

8.01.2011 ~ Mail Today, New Delhi, Sunday

August 1st, 2011

Mail Today, New Delhi, Sunday, July 31, 2011: Between the Lines by Insiya Amir

Carnal prose is not the same as writing about sex

IT SPEAKS volumes about a writer who “came up against the poverty of the English sex vocabulary” and still wrote 100,000 words for the erotic genre. But Urmilla Deshpande’s Slither (Tranquebar, Rs.250) is not just stories about sex. Desire, at its carnal best, manifests many forms in Deshpande’s short stories. If ‘Isis’ is about a young writer’s obsession with a long-retired actress — poignantly proving that sex is what happens between the ears — then ‘Slight Return’ is about an almost-40 woman who barely had a sexual life. “I go where a situation or character lead me. Many of these stories reveal my influences. I wish it were Austen and Shakespeare, but sometimes comics or a child’s poem live in you. In ‘Goblin Market’, and ‘Malekh’, this is overtly visible. But explorations, they may be more subconscious than conscious. I just let it happen. ‘Letting’ is often the hardest part,” says Deshpande, who has also written A Pack of Lies, which, through the protagonist, Ginny, examines the ruthless and unlikely life of Mumbai in the eighties. While Ginny explores divorce, incest, friendship and sexuality, Slither is more definitively ‘carnal prose’. “Having written a book or two, I know it takes honesty and fearlessness. Writing sex is even harder: you have to squash inhibitions — sexual and social ones. You have to allow characters to act in ways they would act. You cannot think about judgment. If you care about that, better not choose this subject, or write at all,” says Deshpande, who questions whether there is a benchmark that writing about sex has to achieve.

Despite the fact that there is actually an award for Bad Sex in Fiction — whose recipients include John Updike (Lifetime Achievement), Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe — Deshpande says that writing about sex is in itself a mature thing to do. “Is there a benchmark that writers have to get to? Writers write what they know, and imagine. My mother, for example, wrote frankly about sexuality, in Marathi. I can’t judge the state or maturity of Indian, or any writing about sex. I guess when sexuality comes of age, writing will too, if, as you say, it hasn’t already,” explaining that it may be the reader who needs to ‘come of age’. “We connect with sexuality much more than— say police procedurals. So we judge this writing differently, less impersonally,” she says. Some explanation, says Deshpande, may also lie in the language itself. “There are medical words, or pornography. I appropriated the word cunt from the porn vocabulary, a misogynist vocabulary. I hope I’ve taken the sting out of it, imbued it with some affection, and sweetness,” she says.

Despite literary criticism in general claiming that most sex writing fails, Deshpande thinks otherwise: “Fail is a strong word, implying that all sex writing is unsuccessful. I wouldn’t paint all sex writing with the broad brush of failure. Perhaps though, this dissatisfaction with sex writing hints at our success or failure at sex itself — we write about it uneasily, we read about it even less easily, maybe it means we’re just not good at sex. Maybe we’re better at murder. Writing about murder is very mature isn’t it?”

7.29.2011 ~ Reviews: love and hate for ‘Slither’

July 29th, 2011

http://www.timeoutmumbai.net/books/book_review_details.asp?code=495

Carnal prose. Those two words on the cover of Urmilla Deshpande’s Slither may draw you to pick up the book. But a few paragraphs into this collection of short stories, you realise that there is much more to the book than erotica. Deshpande could well lay claim to a genre of her own – carnal noir.

The stories go beyond the sexual. Some are dark and mysterious in their thoughts, others are warped in their actions. Those expecting amorous reading may be a tad disappointed but those who persevere will be richly rewarded with the complexity of each story. The copulatory imagery is just a garnish on the prose that delves deep into the human psyche. The layers peel to reveal to the reader what each protagonist feels: shame, anger, jealousy, even confusion as their bodies seek out ways to satiate sexual urges.

The piece titled “dUI” is an excellent play on a coincidence that leads a man and woman to a place of “gentle blood and gentle love”, while “Isis” explores an inherited lust where a young man salivates over a has-been porn star only to discover her best co-star was his grandfather. In “Beyond the Pale”, an albino looks for colour in her life. She finds it only when she draws blood from her husband. You feel strangely sympathetic and see her as a victim and killer.

French impressionist Paul Gauguin’s 1897 masterpiece Nevermore O Tahiti, of a nude basking in seemingly post-coital glow is the front cover, setting the mood for the raw emotions that copulate with the strange circumstances within the collection. You want to know what the protagonists of each story did and why they did when they did. The author is not voyeuristic and her writing balances eroticism with sensitivity. Urmilla Deshpande’s prose seduces the reader’s mind. Karuna John

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/lifestyle/books/slither-sex-menu-177

How many authors of Indian origin would gladly choose the subject? And a book of short stories it is, too. Having attempted to write romantic scenes in fiction, and knowing how tough it is to describe the details of an embrace, let alone osculation or for that matter sex, I knew that Slither: Carnal Prose by Urmilla Deshpande either had to be hugely wonderful or poetic smut.

Poetic because Indians excel in what I call the Wannabe Rabindranath Tagore-style essay writing — descriptive, rhythmical but still a load of convoluted balderdash. And smut because the protagonist and the man she is attracted to are watching a pair of snakes in a “loveknot”, “wrapped around each other, an elaborate motion of sinew and sex… time meant nothing, not to them, not to me…”
I groaned when I read this on the very second page.

How does she know what the snakes are feeling, if at all? Will one have to endure more voyeuristic scenes? Will they get better or just put you off sex for a while?

Yes, there are more instances throughout the book. Suman watched Biren “put his hands on her naked bottom, one on each side”, the ‘her’ here being Suman’s daughter. Suman is watching her daughter “making little sounds like a kitten, and still giggling”.

Oh spare me the bad marriage debate which stops Suman from reacting. If she stays to watch her school-going daughter make love to her boyfriend, and in graphic detail, it teeters on that precarious line that could be called smut.

The language of the stories — if you wish to call these episodes of sexual writing that — is so flowery and repetitive, you feel compelled to put down the book more than once. In fact, the words are cloying and claustrophobic so you don’t realise that there is not much of a story in it. Much like pornography that masks its explicit content by attempting to weave a story in the whole shebang. What was amusing to note is that the tone of voice in every story is the same, and I found myself saying, “what the hell?”

upon discovering that the protagonist is a man. The imagery or the sexual metaphor is a joke because it doesn’t really grow beyond “bananas” and “shaft”. Yes, it is a bold move indeed to choose to write carnal prose, but if the language of these stories is a cure for insomnia, and the characters do not evoke an iota of empathy, then the experimentation is a failure.

As a fan-girl of Jack Murnighan, who dissects and offers infinitely sane advice to writers on all matters of sex, I can safely say that writing in Slither does not turn you on. It is just writing about sex, woven in almost Victorian floral patterns that rely on breathy repetitiveness.

Instead of lying back and letting imagination run riot when you read the stories, you lie down and promptly fall asleep. This are very tedious tales of sex wrapped in old fashioned lace ripped off your granny’s bloomers, and just as passionless. And yes, the five marks for attempting carnal prose, stay.

Manisha Lakhe is the author of The Betelnut Killers

7.18.2011 ~ Jai Arjun Singh reviews Slither

July 18th, 2011

Jai Arjun Singh – I would have been happy for even a bad review from him. I have been reading his reviews for a long time, so it makes me very pleased that he even read Slither, let alone that he actually enjoyed some of it!

Link to his own blog Jabberwock (lots of gyre and gimble there!)

http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/ 

and here’s the whole review:

Spirit and flesh: on Urmilla Deshpande’s carnal prose

[Did a version of this for the Sunday Guardian]
It’s often said that Indian authors aren’t good at writing about sex – that they get self-conscious, or struggle to find the balance between biological descriptiveness and subtle, feather-touch erotica. Actually, the existence of the international Bad Sex Award – which has been thrown at such notable writers as John Updike, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe – suggests that awkward sex writing is a universal phenomenon. (The sole Indian winner of the prize so far is Aniruddha Bahal’s Bunker 13, with its analogies involving Bugattis and Volkswagens: “She is topping up your engine oil for the cross-country coming up. Your RPM is hitting a new high.”) But I admit that my initial reaction on coming across Urmilla Deshpande’s Slither was to be impressed that an Indian writer has even attempted a collection of “carnal prose” (as the subtitle puts it).
Once I began reading the book, I was pleased to find that not only is much of the sex writing here quite good, but also that the stories show imagination and variety. Sexual passion, in its many forms, plays a central role throughout, but these are also searching narratives about other aspects of the human experience: loss, insecurity, nostalgia, generational and cultural gaps.
One of Deshpande’s strengths is that she can bring a strong – and unexpected – charge even to seemingly mundane incidents, such as a woman and her mother-in-law chatting with each other while being measured for blouses by an old, half-blind family tailor. Or the same mother-in-law matter-of-factly saying that her aged husband acquires a temporary libido once a year, “usually after a wedding, when he has seen all you girls and your raw-mango breasts, and imagined everything that is going on in the nuptial bed”.
Like many short-story collections, Slither has its hits and misses, but the high points are very strong. In one of the best pieces, “Isis”, a young writer becomes infatuated with a long-retired movie siren; as his loins are stirred by a woman old enough to be his grandmother (and by talk of the effect she used to have on men in her heyday), we are reminded that sexual desire is as much a matter of imagination as of naked flesh. At the same time, other stories provide counterpoints to Isis’s feral, age-defying sexuality. Suman, the protagonist of “Slight Return”, is barely forty but she has never really had a sexual life at all – even her visits to her (male) gynecologist, she reflects, were warmer and more fulfilling than her emotionless trysts with her husband. When she accidentally sees her 16-year-old daughter making love with a boyfriend, she thinks about her own life and the many taboos she grew up with. But she has also accumulated life experiences that allow her to be accepting of her daughter’s sexuality: having done social work with rape victims-turned-prostitutes, she knows about women who never even had a choice in these matters. I thought the contrast between Suman’s wisdom and her private sense of desolation and discomfort was very well expressed.
The stories that didn’t work for me are the ones – like the stream-of-consciousness narrative “dUI” – where the prose becomes overly turgid and self-indulgent. (“What purpose has coincidence? To dam two streams into a single flow, to stroke an eager cock, suck a succulent nipple, arch the long back of a long torso in the moment of the end of the scene?”) But it feels churlish to criticise a writer for taking risks or for reaching beyond the confines of straightforward narrative storytelling, and I admired at least the intent and ambition behind some of the more experimental pieces such as “Goblin Market”, which is a revisiting of Christina Rosetti’s controversial, symbolism-laden 19th century poem. (Writing this story appears to have been a form of catharsis for Deshpande, who says she was haunted by Rosetti’s work for years.)
I was also amused by Deshpande mentioning, in her acknowledgements, that much of this book was written in a decidedly unsexy setting – during a family Christmas in Canada. “I often found myself in a roomful of nieces and nephews and in-laws and sisters, typing carnal prose into my laptop while eating and drinking whatever was handed to me … tea or coffee, turkey-and-cranberry sauce, bhel, chicken curry.” It reminded me of the caricature of the phone-sex worker who is really a slovenly, middle-aged housewife in a low-rent apartment, going about her daily chores even as her husky voice inflames her callers’ imaginations. As they say, it’s mostly between the ears.

3/21/2011 ~ “A Pack of Lies” reviewed on Curious Book Fans

March 21st, 2011

http://www.curiousbookfans.co.uk/2011/fiction-books/6438/pack-of-lies-urmilla-deshpande

This is a cool site – the reviews are honest and insightful, and, will point readers to books they may not encounter on the usual bestseller lists. Worth a look, I really like this site. Even though they don’t rave about my books. Or maybe because they don’t rave about my books 🙂

03/16/2011 ~ Review of Gauri deshpande’s “Deliverence”

March 16th, 2011

http://www.hindu.com/lr/2011/03/06/stories/2011030650100300.htm

Deliverance (Nirgaathi), Gauri Deshpande, translated by Shashi Deshpande, Women Unlimited, p.134, Rs. 225.

Does a human-being indeed have the power to lead one’s life just the way he/she wants to? Or is there a heavy price to pay for being thus fearless? Is a woman any less feminine if she mothers her children differently from the mollycoddling stereotype that we’re accustomed to? Or does she eventually pay a price for being so, by carrying a mountain of guilt on her shoulders when she and her child reach a stage of having little or no dialogue due to the inevitable disagreements that crop up amidst them?!

These and many such thought-provoking aspects form the base of (late) Gauri Deshpande’s Deliverance – a novella originally written in Marathi as Nirgaathi and recently translated into English as Deliverance by Shashi Deshpande.

The first thing that leaves a reader overwhelmed when he/she starts skimming through Deliverance is the sheer woman-power that oozes through the effortlessly powerful writing that coursed through Gauri’s pen, especially in an era more than two decades down the line!

Originally written in 1987, the contents of the book tend to startle (if not shock) the reader more than once, for the sheer fearless transparency with which Gauri has written about the protagonist’s elder daughter Mimi expressing physical attraction to her step-father Yaju or the protagonist (the narrator) candidly expressing her failure at fathoming her second daughter Shami who she incidentally had at a much advanced stage in life and that too with her second husband!

These aspects may not leave you agape in the present-day scenario; but two decades earlier, they were certainly potent enough to be labelled “bold” or “radical”!

While the book is a novel for all practical purposes, Gauri does hint at the story having a semi-autobiographical tangent; which in turn makes the rationale behind the radical content more lucid. Born into a family of reformers (she is the grand-daughter of Maharshi Karve) with a legendary writer like Irawati Karve as her mother, Gauri grew up in a uniquely progressive and intellectual set-up; albeit juxtaposed with some conventional beliefs such as “girls must be married by a certain age” and so on.

This unusual upbringing instilled in Gauri a confidence to chart her own course fearlessly, irrespective of whether it would need her to rebel against established societal norms for the same. The joys, challenges and sacrifices of leading such an unfettered life are effectively expressed through the cheer as well as anguish of the protagonist who, for instance, revels in the sweet memory of an unexpected lover on one hand; and feels saddened by the conflicted relationship that she shares with her second husband and so on.

More facts

The novel also makes for an interesting read due to the portrayal of the close-knit relationship between half-sisters Mimi and Shami (which adds to the protagonist’s consternation about her own bitter-sweet relationship with Shami). The inclusion of characters as distinct as the Japanese Yoshi and Hisayo on one hand and Janu Bhaiyya and Tai on the other, make for a riveting multi-ethnic hotchpotch of the thoughts and times of the lives running tangential to that of the protagonist’s.

While the content of the novel is indeed unusual and makes for an interesting read especially if turbulent relationships amid closely-knitted family members and startling denouements are your cup of tea; on the flip side, the disconnected narrative tends to confuse the reader at more points than one.

Chronology absent

Written from the narrator’s perspective in a monologue-dialogue-letters format; the story swings between past, present and future, with chronology becoming conspicuous by its absence at many points.

Thus it becomes a task of sorts for readers to grasp connectivity between one instance and another; proving to be a bit of a dampener for the sheer tediousness involved.

If not read at a stretch, it becomes especially difficult to hark back to where was an ‘X’ character standing when you last put the book down – thus also making it a laborious exercise.

Of course, one cannot blame the author for that; it’s just a case of the translated version coming a bit too late in the day. But still, Shashi Deshpande’s effective grasp of what Gauri had intended to convey and her adroitness at expressing the same in a very simple yet thought-provoking manner, make Deliverance a must-read at least once, if not several times over.