Archive for August, 2011

08.22.2011 ~ Slither review

Monday, August 22nd, 2011


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 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

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Book Review: Slither

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]

08.08.2011 ~ Tranquebar blog

Monday, August 8th, 2011


8.01.2011 ~ Mail Today, New Delhi, Sunday

Monday, 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?”