Those Sexy Secrets

There’s a lot of talk — most of it high-flown fluff — about our ‘twisted desires’ and it’s ‘inhuman’ consequences. I object very strongly to the use of ‘inhuman’ in such contexts, because it encourages the delusion that human beings are a chirpy, light-hearted number, brimming with wuvv, cuddles, and the milk of smiley kindness. But let’s stack the history lesson for now.

So then, we’ve been talking a great deal about casual brutalisation of women on our streets, and how those exhibiting such behaviour should be hanged forthwith. This is all very well (well, perhaps not the hanging bit), but ‘the nation’ — as we fashionably refer to ourselves these days — has been rather slow in acknowledging how it fosters the root of such violence in its own misguided — and almost always misinformed — convictions about ‘Indian culture’. Institutional repression of sexuality — its discussion and expression — is a hallmark of such misguided zealotry. The first thing that we (as girls, but I’m sure also as boys, if in different ways) are taught about our bodies is to keep it secret. Given the degree of sexual freedom and gender flexibility the inhabitants of our land once enjoyed, this is rather ironic. From a diverse and inclusive place, the subcontinent has become an incredibly bloated schedule of social strictures, stifling its people with farts of anachronistic indigestion.

This was driven home rather hard yesterday at a lunch, when five women of my acquaintance spent half an hour — half an hour — analysing a throw-away sentence by an absent sixth for possible sexual connotations. All thirty minutes of this conversation was interspersed with secretive giggles, gleeful shushing, scandalised exclamations of ‘ishhh!’, and quick glance-arounds to check for eavesdroppers. At the same time, however, each of those five asserted that they’re ‘normal’ and ‘properly-brought up’ people, who consequently have no attraction at all towards such ‘dirty’ subjects and ‘shameful’ acts. Indeed, they all agreed, people who obsessed about sex were incomprehensible. How could anyone keep talking about sexual matters for hours? Indeed, it shouldn’t be discussed at all! Much less in public!

The righteous distaste was unanimous (as was the lack of self-awareness).

It never fails to amuse me how the most evangelical of forswearers are the ones most dedicated to the thing they claim to abhor. So yes, I did enjoy this exchange. However, as my fellow-subcontinentors will affirm, attitudes such as this are very common hereabouts, and very commonly expressed. We’re breeding a nation of repressed, suppressed, and therefore twisted, shamed, sly, starved and occasionally violent desires, bubbling and churning inside a firmly lidded pot. All in the name of our sanskaar — our traditions — about which most of us know squat.

Healthy, isn’t it?



  1. When a shorter version of this was posted on Facebook, my friend Ani made a very interesting observation. This was my exchange with him:

    Ani: Sorry but my graduate instructor instincts are kicking in: [If you need a quick refreshing of Foucault on sexuality, hop here].

    Me: Ani, that is my precise point. Is repressed sexually a good thing? In my opinion, no. Why? Precisely because — speaking evidentially from my immediate context — this institutional ‘repression’ gives rise to subcultures demonstrating qualities of ill-informed obsession which does not directly contest the status quo of silence. That is,the vast majority reproduces the shame and fascinated repulsion associated with sexual relations and bodily functions in their covert discussion (or discussions limited to private circles) about them and reinforces the virginal-good/sexual-bad binary in their own lives ideologically (irrespective of what they might actually be doing ‘on the sly’), without in any way substantially changing their own positions or freedoms vis a vis these ideas or acts. So it’s not like these subcultures are spaces of empowerment. Quite the reverse. This is what I find dangerous.

  2. It never fails to amuse me that India has the fastest-growing population in the world, yet large sections — indeed the majority of Indian society — would frown upon a public acknowledgement of sexual attraction or sexual relations. Do we really think babies spring from the tops of trees?

  3. If you like paradox, you may relish the fantasies of “liberated” American women who flock to the seminars of American “tantric” promoters (just drop Charles Muir Tantra into Google) to learn the exotic “Temple Sex” traditions of India, amazing techniques from priestesses of the “sacred tantras”. Modesty forbids me to go further. Snicker. Snark. I tried to explain to one of his flock hoping to open a franchise that he was talking kama sutra, a study guide for pros like the curvy ladies carved into the temples, high class call girls, and any of “that” stuff was total hush-hush-no-no which is why rich rajas trained impoverished peasant girls to do it or else. In the light of day any woman suspected of having any contact at all with those rites would be shunned. When I was in India twenty five years ago, unspoken rules of “eye contact” or “the shared smile” were like learning chopsticks. I’ll never forget walking home one eve in Delhi with what I assumed to be a rational man who motioned at a well dressed woman hurrying along and identified her as a prostitute. How did he know? Well, no proper woman would be out at this time at night. Good lord. Just to reassure myself, I briefly stopped by the red light district the following evening. I soon spotted a charming young woman with the traditional jasmine blossoms in her hair, wrapped in a lovely sari, emerge from a shabby doorway, climb into a traditional rickshaw – with her sweet little toddler – and head off into the evening. I bet the better ones have cell phones now; but that was a real Indian prostitute respecting her tradition, and a so-called educated man debased by his.


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