Book Review


A scintillating collection of erotica  

The Pleasure Principle: Edited by G Sampth

--Divya Dubey

Publisher: Amaryllis

Genre: fiction

Extent: 230pp

Price: Rs 350

The Pleasure Principle, edited by the eminent journalist G Sampath, is one amongst the several erotica collections that have appeared in the recent years. What makes it special its sheer quality, subtlety in the writing and the element of humour quite lacking in other works. Though perhaps not in the same league as Aranyani, for the writing is much simpler and direct, it nonetheless stands apart from most of the other collections in the genre.

The fifteen short stories are written mostly by well-known authors, but some of them may have attempted erotica for the first time. The themes include, among other things, becoming aware of one sexuality and dealing with it, hyper-sexuality, gender confusion, homoeroticism and paedophila.  

The first story, ‘Sexboy’ by Taslima Nasrin (translated by Arunava Sinha) for instance, is about a young woman and a man who have never met but been involved in a physical relationship online for sometime. As ‘Chaitali’ the protagonist waits to meet ‘Sexboy’ in person eventually with growing excitement and anticipation, she discovers that one may have a completely different personality offline and that small beginnings could lead to unexpected developments.

Jaishree Misra’s story, ‘Naked Cleaning lady’ speaks about an elderly gent who posts an advertisement in the paper for a cleaning woman willing to carry on with the tasks ‘without the encumbrance of having clothes on’.  Saira is the young Asian woman who desperately needs the £25/hour on offer and answers the advert. It is a lovely nuanced story and leaves the reader with a warm feeling at the end.

Cyrus Mistry’s ‘The Degradation of Erasmo S’ is yet another interesting tale. Erasmo Sequiera is a teacher at a coed school where he has taught for seven years. Then he makes a discovery about himself: ‘Of late, strange feelings of disquiet and anxiety had stirred in him […] Standing before a class full of children in their starched white shorts and skirts, Erasmo’s breathing sometimes became strenuous and difficult.’ The writer’s tone is satirical and the story has some black humour.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli’s ‘The Middle-East Position’ is another hilarious crazy story about Paddy padmanabhan who, while trying to extricate himself from a tricky situation, lands up in an even more peculiar situation.

Those already familiar with the works of Mitali Saran will instantly recognize the fiery and fierce quality of her writing. He story, ‘Insomnia’ is about a woman who can see her husband’s ‘affair’ with her friend being played out right before her eyes. Yet, rather than a run-of-the-mill plot, Mitali’s story-structure is layered has a bold and surprising end.

Rupa Bajwa’s ‘The Last House’ though, sounds familiar. If you are acquainted with the works of Khushwant Singh and Rabi Thapa’s ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’, parallels are easy to draw.

Meena Kandasamy’s ‘The Holy Sex Tape Project’ is another very different story that employs Hindu mythology to make a strong point: ‘We have thirty-three million gods in our pantheon. Our gods are not repressed. Our gods saw the true beauty of the sensual; their pursuit of sexual play was to set an example to the human race.’

Perhaps the most fascinating story in the entire collection is ‘Graveyard Shift’ by Kankana Basu. With its elusive protagonist, Shabnam, the writer piles surprise upon surprise upon the reader. Both conception and execution are brilliant and flawless.

Several others are worth mentioning. Amongst them are Tabish Khair’s ‘The House Help’ and Aditya Sharma’s ‘Chunni Lal’.  Sometimes though some stories may seem repetitive since, written by different authors, most talk about a person’s initial sexual urges and the discovering of one’s sexuality. This provides the book a certain focus but, on the flipside, also seems to limit the scope in a way – until, of course, one comes across the iconoclasts. Together all the stories amaze, entertain, provoke and question the reader’s response and impulses. The introduction by G Sampath in which he frankly narrates the incident that initiated him into erotica jells comfortably with the rest of the book though it is an interesting piece of non-fiction. Definitely worth shelf-space.

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Divya Dubey