Interviewing a fellow senior journalist intrigues me. Sreemoyee Piu Kundu comes across as someone who has control of her views, knows how to put it across and one just wants to listen. And she has come up with her second novel, Sita’s Curse – The Language of Desire, a feminist erotic novel with a topic which will find a sister in every Indian woman. Published by Hachette, this novel by the Delhi based journalist and writer has already garnered attention and won positive reviews. Sreemoyee will be in Pune on June 14 to launch the book at Crossword, ICC Towers, Senapati Bapat Road, at 6.30pm. It will be launched by renowned author Manjiri Prabhu.
Misleading and leading are the words to describe a book described as a feminist erotica novel. Sreemoyee calls Sita’s Curse as a novel about the sexual destiny of a 39-year-old Gujarati housewife. “It is about Mrs. Meera Patel who lives in a chawl in Byculla. It explores themes that are largely still a taboo in our society, like marital rape, sexual exploitation under the guise of religion, pornography and the sexual politics that prevail in Indian joint families. I have always felt erotica is the language of expression, the vehicle, the vessel that carries forward the characters and the storyline – at the core Sita’s Curse is the life of Meera Patel – her final release coming through her flesh.”
Sreemoyee confesses of seeing her Meera Patel in a Gujarati housewife who she would see daily while commuting to the TOI office at Fort from her Mahim residence. “Sometimes hanging clothes on a flimsy plastic wire, feeding green chillies to a bright green tota in a cheap wrought iron cage or running her hands casually over her full breasts, the delicious circle of her navel abundantly inviting, as the Meera of my imagination soon transformed into a daily obsession – a slow fire, as I started conjecturing about her day to day life. The way she seemed trapped, soulless, sad, sabotaged by the simple irony of her own life till the floods of July 26, 2005 of which I was also a victim, taking three days to reach home, battling a serious viral infection I contracted, being hospitalised…when I resumed work. She was no more. Sita’s Curse is my tribute to that memory – to a life unsung. This is her story. This is her body. The premise of the book also being – can desires be drowned? A woman’s desires?”
Sreemoyee is frank enough to describe Sita’s Curse as her most personal book courtesy her inspiration and so many other real women whom she met during the book’s writing. “One of them, being a young housewife from Jaipur who at 16 was paraded to a family Guruji on the pretext of a dosha in her natal chart, her husband’s family with a strong history of male sterility. Neeti, as I call her now, and not her real name, was the mother of a four-year-old boy, forced to have sexual relations with the godman in question, with her husband sitting outside as she was exposed to a man worshipped by her in-laws, treated like God. Though Sita’s Curse is a fictional novel, I am overwhelmed at the response it has already garnered with my inbox flooded with personal voices, with stories of sexual repression and suppression… of women beaten in the darkness of their bedrooms, of arranged marriages at ages like 14 and 16 to impotent men… heinous cases of marital rape…and also sagas of love… of cousins finding love, of women being addicted to cyber sex and multiple virtual partners.”
Sita’s Curse is also about the scores of women who struggle in so many ways to fight for their needs and choices. “It also came from my own experience of womanhood from a purely emotional standpoint – the journey that I have been on. It’s hard to pinpoint why writers do a particular book, but in writing Meera I have definitely explored my own mind – personal gender biases and defences, many of which are now decimated. Deciphering desire is not easy, neither living a life based largely on its practice, nor yet it is desire that sets us free perhaps… our biggest lessons and losses, emanating from its fearless pursuit.”
“Coming back to Sita’s Curse, erotica as a subject and a genre, both are still very nascent in India, be it from a readership or a retail perspective. And thus honestly, I think people are accepting it organically, as a strong story of a woman’s sexual emancipation. Also, I am proud of continuing an erotic heritage that is intrinsic to our country’s socio cultural heritage, and have no qualms about SC being hailed as the country’s first feminist erotica in recent times. I see it both as a reward and a responsibility.”
Sreemoyee finds the praise for every quarter as heartening. “In fact, a huge response has stemmed also from men – some saying that they are pre-ordering the book to read to their partners/lovers. A gay man even wrote in saying he is Meera and wants to live freely, like her, governed by her desires. From men talking about sexual abuse to their childhood scars, I have been moved by their shared trajectory. Only an erotica and a subject like this can achieve this sexual secularism in my view.”
Journalists going for writing novels, especially fiction is not new and most head that way to get a certain freedom from corporate control of their writing. Sreemoyee loved being a journalist and a PR professional before plunging into writing. “Also, in publishing a book one has to be open to criticism and many editorial changes and alterations, from the phase of your manuscript being in the stage of a first draft. Also, control as a word and an experience I have let go, a long time ago, because whether you are writing as a journalist or a novelist, you are a story-teller – a medium of emotional connectivity.”
Interestingly, Sita’s Curse has a great connection to Pune as Yosuf Ismail, one of the book’s central character, and in Sreemoyee’s words, “And in a sense the book closes with Mrs. Meera Patel finding him. Yosuf’s homecoming back to Pune is intrinsic to the book, and I feel as if it was karmically ordained that I bring the book here. Also, I have always thought that Pune has a lovely arty and intellectually inclined crowd that I wish to introduce to the book, and I hope Pune will create a little space for Meera. In their hearts. And on their bookshelves.”
Catch the launch of Sita’s Curse – The Language of Desires on June 14 at Crossword, ICC Towers, Senapati Bapat Road, at 6.30pm at the hands of renowned author Manjiri Prabhu.