Book: India in Love
Author: Ira Trivedi
Publishing House: Aleph
Cost: Rs595, 416 pages
Difficult agenda, marred plot
Sexual revolution is an oft-used but rarely justified word. Pour love and marriage into the revolutionary cauldron, and the task of justification becomes that much more difficult. But it is precisely this difficult task that the author takes on, trying to understand the complex and layered processes by which India is moving from age-old social mores and sanctified practices to a liberal culture that has its own highs and lows.
Trivedi divides the book into two parts — sexuality and marriage. Putting sex before relationships is a smart move to hold the reader's attention, but the author does not really attempt to study India's sexual past, and how the liberal became the illiberal. She draws an apt comparison between the stereotypes of Sita and Radha, and shows how this dichotomy is shaping the sexual behaviour of Indian women. If the first chapter focuses on love marriages, the second sees the machinery which 'arranges' marriages. Trivedi tries too hard to offer a scholarly outlook, which isn't welcome when the narrative gets personal. For someone concerned with historical validity, she uses some words rather callously — "Sex for sale, for both men and women, is easily available….reputable five-star hotels across Indian cities are being used as modern-age harems". Finally, her use of statistics breaks the narrative in certain places, thereby marring the 'plot' somewhat.
Where's the love?
India in Love seems a bit of a misnomer for a book that drifts from mythology to confused contemporary notions of love, through porn, the queer revolution, academic research, history and legislation, without capturing the magic of love. The 416-page tome overflows with details and interesting nuggets of information, but fails to draw connections that could strike a chord. It attempts to be pan-Indian and tries to move past Delhi and touch on cosmopolitan Mumbai, the matrilineal northeast and south, but keeps meandering back to Delhi.
Case studies add a human touch that keep you hooked while historical backdrops and inputs from international historians add heft to conclusions that have not been drawn. The author's descriptions of people are graphic to the point of being harsh and her own history finds space in the text occasionally. And then there is the suggestion that the court judgment following the Shah Bano case had something to do with the Babri Masjid riots, which makes me rethink the version of history I studied.
One can't help but wish that this patchwork of history, personal narrative, academic research and case studies was woven together more artfully, edited more thoughtfully and given enough space and time for conclusions to be drawn.
While we have to admire Ira Trivedi's honesty in admitting that she couldn't "wrap everything up with a pretty red bow", it's a tad disappointing to reach the end of the book and realise that the book isn't saying much that you didn't already know.
Sex sells.But Ira Trivedi may have taken on too ambitious a task in writing a book about the way Indians view marriage, love and sexuality. There is information – a lot of it – with the author bringing together research, anecdotes, interviews and statistics in this 416 page book. The problem is that most of this is stuff that the average Indian is already aware of.
However, India in Love does capture one's attention in places. The advent of pornography, prostitution and the business of escorts is eye-grabbing reading matter, enriched by citations and quotes from books, historians and seminal texts.
Who will India in Love appeal to? Western readers are likely to lap up the tome that aims to show the Indian view and approach to sex and love. The many references from mythology, tantra and the Kama Sutra and the interviews with young urban Indians are likely to capture their imagination, even if the regular Indian reader finds nothing new in the information doled out.
Young Indians might want to read the book to get an idea of what other people their age are thinking about. The gay community, for instance, may be interested in learning about the experiences of how people came to terms with their sexuality and how they dealt with their families.
Trivedi, who wrote the book on returning to India from the US after her studies, tries hard to include myriad aspects in her book. But the scope is just too vast.