Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shades Of Grey And Grey Hair

This seems to be the season of sex. Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey.

People are writing about sex. Reading about sex. Discussing sex: this time, in a very matter-of-fact way, as if they are discussing career moves or which school to send their children to. Somewhere in between, they are probaby having real sex too.

And thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, a large majority of those who happen to be discussing sex are women. I don't think I would be wrong if I say the book has brought about a new sexual revolution in India in an era when sex is increasingly becoming notional than real. And women seem to be on top.

I am not sure if Fifty Shades has made the Indian woman demanding (or more demanding) in bed yet, but in the emancipated West, men are reportedly wilting under new pressure to perform.

Just look at the power of the written word: even though the writing is said to be mediocre (I haven't read the book, though women friends have told me all about it), Fifty Shades has gone to become the fastest-selling bestseller of all time. It tops the bestsellers' list even in places you had forgotten all about, such as Malta. Forget Malta, even in conservative Chennai.

So how can mediocre writing that peddles mommy porn melt millions of women and stiffen their men (in places other than where they should be)? I guess that's because the book feeds on -- and lends voice to -- unrealised fantasies. Fantasy is more powerful than fact, anyday. And fact may not be as tickling for women because traditionally, they have only submitted to male fantasies. The vice-versa rarely happens because women are either too shy or feel intimidated to spell out their kinks. They fear being judged. Fifty Shades, therfore, makes for good company.

But why buy Fifty Shades when porn sites -- countless in number and far easier to access than a physical book -- can act as cathartic agents? That's because porn is porn -- it's considered dirty. But at the same time, what's life without a dose of porn? Without porn, life would be as white as the robe of a priest.

If hardcore porn is black, the absence of any porn is white. No sensible human would like to embrace either extremes: they all want to live in the comfort of the grey area. Which is why you now have not just one, but fifty shades of grey! Take your pick.

What a time to find myself in my forties, burdened with commitments that keep me confined to my laptop. Even when not on laptop, there are other worries that silently eat into me: "How long before Tamarind City goes into reprint?" "How do I make the next book different?" "How long before I start calling myself a writer?" I am too busy counting the grey on my chin and chest to savour the changes that Fifty Shades is bringing about.

The problem in being a forty-plus man is that you either have a body that does not always cope with your desires and fantasies, or come to possess a mature mind that hesitates to cooperate with the body whenever it wants to have mindless sex. Either way you miss out on the fun -- unless an angel descends from heaven and assures you that you are still perfectly capable of giving shape to your fantasies.

But how often do you sight angels descending from heaven? Or have they all migrated to Facebook?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oh Bishwanath!

Last evening, after I spoke about Madras and Tamarind City at the Gymkhana Club, an elderly couple sitting in the front row came up to me.

"Can I please have your email ID?" the man asked.

I gave him my card.

"I've been reading you in The Hindu," he said, "and somehow I always thought you were an elderly gentleman, sixty or sixty-five years old."

"You are not the only one, sir," I assured him.

He isn't the only one, really. From time to time, I am told by various people, once they meet me, that how they always thought the byline belonged to a much older person. I usually take it as a compliment (because to be thought of as an elderly man can mean the writing is mature), but at the same time I am also reminded how unsexy my name is.

Recently, when Tamarind City launched in Bangalore at the Leela Palace, I was told the same by danseuse Vani Ganapathy, who read from the book there. When I rushed up to the entrance to escort her to the book-reading venue as soon as she reached the hotel, she asked me: "Are you Bishwanath Ghosh?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You know what, I thought Mr. Bishwanath Ghosh is a very elderly person, and that you are someone he has sent to receive me," she told me as we took the escalator down. She then went on to read out two extra passages which she hadn't intended to earlier.

The older I grow, the more I am beginning to dislike my name. It only seems to be hastening the aging process. No matter how hard I try to imagine myself looking like an elderly man, I fail miserably: in my own eyes, I am always the child who is lusting for the green mangoes hanging from the tree in the neighbour's compound. But God knows what images people conjure up in their minds when they read my byline: Bishwanath Ghosh.

My father's name is Samir; my grandfather was Suresh; my grandfather's father was Umesh, my grandfather's grandfather was Govinda. Then why am I Bishwanath? Oh well, it so happened that when I was still in my mother's womb, my grandfather -- mother's father, that is -- happened to visit Vishwanath Temple in Benaras. He told the god, "If my daughter gives birth to a son, I will name him Vishwanath." Considering we are Bengalis, Vishwanath became Bishwanath (thankfully, not Bishshonath).

Ever since then, I've been carrying the burden of a long name. Ten letters! Certain long names can be sexy, such as Harshvardhan. But certainly not Bishwanath. I wonder if a shorter name would've have had a greater appeal among readers and also members of the opposite sex: Atul Ghosh, Tarun Ghosh, Bikram Ghosh, Ayan Ghosh, Arjun Ghosh.If the Shiva connection was so necessary, I wouldn't have minded even Shankar Ghosh. Or Shambhu Ghosh. Such short names would have certainly looked better on a book cover. Of what use popularity if majority of your audience assumes you are an arthritic old man who is hostile to attention: not everybody is on Facebook, after all.

Fortunately, for me, most people who matter to me call me either BG, Bish or Bishy. They sound sufficiently sexy and cosy. Many others call me Ghosh -- which is also perfectly fine. But I invariably develop a dislike for people who insist on calling me Bishwanath. I distinctly remember that afternoon, many years ago, when this woman, drunk on the cocktail of love and lust, happened to blurt out the offending words during a highly passionate moment: "Oh Bishwanath!"

I instantly came crashing to earth. I never wanted to see her after that. I never did.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vagina Monologue Part 2

I needn't have written this post but tonight my hands itch to type. Ganga Mail is largely neglected these days, for a variety of reasons, and it is a good idea to water it once in a while before people forget all about it. The blog, after all, is an account of my journey on this planet -- I started writing it when I was yet to turn 35; and now I'm almost 42 -- and I am possessive about it.

The primary reason for the neglect is my commitment to write things other than the blog. Another reason is Facebook (and Twitter): a thought that can be developed into an engaging 400-word piece is often wasted as a status message.

Then there are travels that you don't feel compelled to describe once you've uploaded the pictures on Facebook: 'They've seen the pictures anyway, now what is there to write.' Sometime ago I went to Kasauli; more recently I visited Santiniketan -- these are places I really wanted to write about but found myself busy uploading their pictures. Someone intending to write a travel piece should never carry a camera or a smartphone: you need to decide whether you want to show the pictures or paint pictures with your words.

There's something else, too, that makes me hesitate to express my thoughts freely about certain subjects these days: spiteful comments. If you look up the archives of Ganga Mail, you'll find plenty of posts related to sex and relationship, but if you go through their comment boxes, you'll hardly find a comment that can be seen as a personal attack. The occasional chiding, yes; but no personal attack.

But in the last couple of years or so, my posts have been attracting their share of poisonous comments (as opposed to criticism), and that does make me somewhat sad because I have not, at least knowingly, harmed anyone to deserve such malice. An easy way to tide over this would be to enable comment-moderation, which a number of respected bloggers do, but the Ganga Mail supports free speech and uninhibited expression of thoughts. I consider it unfair that only the blogger should be allowed to have his say while the comments of the readers be subjected to moderation. And in the seven years that I've been blogging, I have rarely needed to delete a comment.

Not anymore. For my previous post, Vagina Monologue, which was merely a reaction to the advertisement of a vagina-tightening gel being already peddled in the market, I've had to delete five malicious comments so far -- some more instantly than the others, thanks to Blackberry. There were a couple of others which I was tempted to remove, but did not do so for the sake of free speech. One male commentator, quoting a 'good' feminist friend of his, screamed at me: ITS NOT A VAGINA! ITS A FUCKING VULVA!!!! Quite obvious that the feminist friend cannot distinguish one V from the other -- unless the feminist in question is a man with pathetic knowledge of female anatomy. You can't tighten the vulva, brother, you can only tighten the vagina.

Vagina Monologue, in fact, kicked up a reaction I never expected, even though it is an extremely harmless post compared to what I've written about sex on the blog over the years. Ganga Mail is not the most popular of blogs: on normal days when I do not write anything, the number of hits it attracts barely exceeds the 200-mark, but on the day I wrote Vagina Monologue, the number of 'unique visitors' alone crossed the 200-mark (total hits were nearly 800 on a single day).

And then the whispers I overheard in the corridors:

"Did you read his latest post?"

"No, I haven't. What's it about?"

"Haven't you read the one about vagina?"


"You haven't? Go read it. You'll know what the fellow is up to."

Oh well, this fellow is up to what any other normal man is up to. A man, any man, is cursed right from birth: he is born with an extra piece of flesh that keeps him on his toes all his life. The smart ones know what to do with it, the remaining make do with titillation.

The word 'vagina', as I just realised, offers far more titillation than the word 'sex'. (Personal vagina trivia: for long I thought it was 'wag-eena' and not 'vuh-jaaina', because the biology teacher had deliberately skipped the chapter on reproduction and there was no way of getting the pronunciations right. Even penis was 'pen-is' and not 'peen-is').

That reminds me of yet another comment to the Vagina post, which I am reproducing verbatim:

What next? Penis-vagina dialogue? You are reducing the entire human being to the piece of flesh between the legs? Will you be able to talk to your mother, sisters and wife on these lines?

Dear Respected Commentator: Human beings are indeed born out of the penis-vagina dialogue, just in case you did not know. I am not sure if you descended directly from heaven, but as for humans, they are indeed a piece of flesh who are forever in pursuit of another piece of flesh -- all the time looking in between the legs. As for my being able to talk to my mother, sisters and wife on these lines -- well, my mother is no more; I never had any sisters; and as for my wife, she reads my blog posts and often shares the links on her Facebook wall. But let me assure you: if my mother happened to be alive, or if I had sisters, they would have asked you, even before I could, to fuck off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vagina Monologue

The world descended from the vagina. It lives on because of the vagina. It revolves around the vagina. A word that you cannot pronounce without embarrassment painting your cheeks a mild red, even though its vulgar variants roll off the tongue with relative ease and, often, wicked relish.

A tiny artwork of flesh, on the face of it; but the most powerful weapon on earth. Block the vagina and mankind would be wiped off the face of earth in less than 50 years. Such is its power, such is its allure. The power lies in the allure.

In an age when millions can be made out of anything and everything provided you come up with the right idea, won't it be utterly foolish to ignore something whose power and allure is so universal? And so, they now want to whiten and tighten your vaginas. First came the ad for a whitening cream, and now the ad for a tightening gel (featuring, of all people, a joint Tamilian family!).

I am not sure whether these commercials are shown on television and therefore reach the larger Indian audience; but they are certainly a rage on the internet, mostly because of the opinions expressed against them by women bloggers and writers. Each time a writer vents her anger, she also weaves You Tube links to these commercials into her thought-provoking prose, in the process only popularising the products further. Of every 10 women reading such posts, I am sure there will be at least three who, once their outrage has subsided, would be tempted to try out the products. That's precisely what the marketing guys want: to play on the insecurity of the women about how they look down there.

I find such sense of insecurity to be utterly foolish -- just as I find foolish the obsession of certain men with tightness (though I've never heard anyone lament the lack of whiteness). True, any sexual relationship between a man and a woman fructifies at the vagina; but does the whiteness and the tightness matter?

The vagina is not a product that you check for whiteness or tightness before you decide to enter it; you usually enter it out of blind passion, no matter how it looks or feels. The vagina may be the culmination of togetherness, but it certainly cannot be the starting point of togetherness. If your man finds you any less desirable because your vagina is dark and not so tight, dump him! -- or ask him to get a penis just as white and perpetually hard as they show in porn films.

The vagina, in my humble opinion, is as beautiful and alluring as the woman it belongs to. When you are truly into a woman, you don't really care how white or tight she is, do you? In fact, you feel grateful when she lets you go down on her, because it is more fun exploring the vagina of a woman you admire than exploring a woman whose vagina you admire. The woman comes first, the vagina later. The vagina may be the most powerful weapon on earth, but it's the woman's mind that holds the key.