It has long since ceased to amaze us that a country that has more than a billion people knows as little as the average Indian does about the sexual act and the practice thereof. Perhaps those who grew up in socialist India, watching Chitrahaar and Manmohan Desai movies on Doordarshan can say this is the effect of having seen too many bobbing dahlias and wet sari sequences. But the least one could have expected of our diasporic brethren was that they would do better. Was it too much to expect that exposure to the Western world — it’s film, art and literature — would have prevented something like the slab below from appearing in a story written by an Indian about another Indian?
“Your eyelashes are so long,” she said accusingly. “They’re longer than mine! I’ve always been irritated by men who have longer lashes than mine.”
He kissed her shoulder. “Mmmmm.” Ganapathi was not one to indulge in silly pillow-talk, and Salma would never have guessed that she could be such an incessant bed-chatter. But she was; some spring of nonsense was released whenever she took her clothes off and touched Ganapathi’s secret brown hollows and valleys, and she babbled a stream of ridiculous endearments that surprised her as much as they did him.
“They’re like — what’s that herb that Kabir always puts in his chicken? — dill! You have dill leaves for eyelashes.” She looked seriously at him. “In fact, you’re really like a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she mused, as in front of her, her lover morphed into a vision of delights from vines and roots, a smorgasbord groaning with colour and scent.
“My organic food stall!” she murmured deliriously into his ear, which was like a tender green cabbage. She laughed delighted and sat up. Ganapathi looked at her, ready to adore her even more for her craziness but a little wary of her in this mood.
She remembered a a crazy painting that Kabir liked, by a sixteenth-century Italian artist called Giuseppe Arcimboldo, of Emperor Rudolph in which that august ruler was presented as a collage of fruits and vegetables …
“Emperor Ganapathi, your fingers are tight little elaki bananas, your nose is like a…like a bhopla!”
And his buttocks were really like those rumalis with the sweet flesh, and his legs were bitter gourds, and his nipples were crisp tart pomegranates, and the inside of his mouth was liquid, a taadgola fresh off the palm tree, and tender coconut were the secret folds in his testicles.
Salma laughed at her own silliness and bent her head to lick the salt masala from his stomach which was “uttapam, oh uttapam!” — she moaned and giggled and ate and drank.
No matter how many times the writer may use variations of “silly” and “ridiculous”, there’s just no way likening testicles to tender coconuts ends up being anything but hilarious. And no, the novel from which this extract has been extracted (“Year of the Tiger“) is not intended to be funny. Also, I doubt even Nigella Lawson could make the bhopla, bitter gourd and a stomach that feels like uttapam erotic, let alone a writer of Sohaila Abdulali’s dexterity.
Dear Indian authors, diasporic and otherwise, preserve us from descriptions and episodes like this one. Better dahlias than an organic food stall. Better still, stick to slums and poverty and middle-class intellectualism. It may be predictable but at least it’s not embarrassing. They say seeing a slaughterhouse could turn people vegetarian; well, passages like this could make you never want a veg thali ever again.