A few months ago, while placing a phone call from the United States to my mother in India, I became an involuntary participant to another phone call, taking place in Lahore, Pakistan. The call was between a man and a madam of a brothel. I hung on fascinated and horrified as the man described the services that he required. I do not remember much of that conversation except that the man insisted several times, ‘g***d chaatne wali chahiye’. After agreeing on the services that the girl would perform, the man and the madam started haggling for a price. The man demanded for a reduction in the price, but the madam held her ground saying that the girl is ‘doing extra’. She said that she would provide a girl who will do as the man wishes, but cannot settle on an amount that the man was demanding. The man finally agreed, and said that he would stop by the brothel once the curfew in Lahore is lifted.
This conversation is the only one that I can claim that comes closest to my interaction with a sex worker or a brothel. This conversation played out in my mind again while I was reading Ira Trivedi’s India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century. It got me thinking about whether our neighbors are also undergoing similar revolutions given a similar prevalence of sexual repression like in India. I asked my sister about rape statistics in Pakistan and she asked me to look it up. I googled around and found that rapes happen “for pure lust, for revenge, to avenge a rejected marriage proposal, for religious and ethnic reasons, or simply to satisfy a predatory man’s desire to exert unadulterated brutality and power…. rapes are so common (and typically unreported), that the perpetrators in Pakistan are rarely ever arrested, much less held over for trial, convicted and jailed.”
It is not very different than India and I leave you to ponder about that as I proceed to the point of this post – Ira’s book.
Trivedi’s book is a painstaking and detailed documentation consisting of more than 500 interviews to understand the fast-transforming sexual ideas and behaviors in India. Her book starts off with some wonderful explanation of the sexual symbolism of Ram and Sita, and Radha and Krishna. Her account of the Kamakhya Devi Temple in Guwahait that is shaped like a vagina is vivid and fascinating. Ira writes best when she is providing a mythological and historical reference to a particular story in the book. But sadly, that is where the charm of the book also ends. Ira meanders off into her interviews, which are entertaining to read, but do not offer any new insight or unknown story about how love and sex are perceived in modern-day India. These stories abound by the dozen in newspapers and on television, and it makes for forced reading in her book.
Ira has clearly put in remarkable research in writing this book with characters that we recognize and empathize with. She peppers her book generously with personal anecdotes, some statistics, and interviews with well-known writers and psychologists. Sometimes, she also comes across as judgmental, providing descriptions of skin color and beauty, which seemed highly unnecessary. For someone who wrote ‘ The Colour of my Skin’, it was perplexing why she presented this detail for all women that she interviewed for her book. While her research effort is evident, the product does not match up, either in prose or content. Ira’s book begins with a high note and then keeps jarring off key through the entire book. Another book that started out as promising, but broke it.