Ruchir Joshi on the pleasures of ‘acceptable porn’, Savita Bhabhi and his new anthology of erotic stories.
Q Steven Spielberg is known to have famously said that the only difference between porn and erotica is the lighting. Can you draw a similar distinction in writing?
A Oh, that’s a good one, though I do think it’s simplistic. It’s not just the lighting, it’s the cutting and a lot of other factors. I find it difficult to draw such clear boundaries. I mean, they usually say erotica is suggestive and porn is graphic, but I’ve found a lot of pretty horrific descriptions in very serious books. And it was engaging stuff. So that line keeps shifting. And similarly, a lot of ‘suggestiveness’ comes across as titillating and lascivious .
Q Tell us how you put the book Electric Feather together. Was it a long labour of love, so to speak? And how did you choose the writers?
A It was in 2006 that Chiki (Chiki Sarkar of Random House) and I started discussing the possibility of doing a book like this. But then I realised that her idea of the book was quite different from mine, so I decided to take it elsewhere. It’s taken almost three years.
I drew up this hitlist of sorts for the writers. Some of them didn’t have the time, plus we weren’t paying all that much. But quite a few liked the idea and got back. Then we chose the best of them.
And no, I’m not telling you who declined or who asked for how much money.
Q Okay, just the rejections.
A No way.
Q But Samit Basu has written fantasy novels and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is chick-lit. How’d you know of their taste for flesh?
A Well, Samit is a friend and I thought it’d be interesting to see what he came up with. I like Paromita’s (Vohra) work very much and I knew she’d be good. So mostly, it was friends and friends of friends and people whose work I am familiar with.
Q A lot of the established writers like Rushdie, Seth, Roy, Tarun Tejpal and, of course, the grand old man, Khushwant Singh have been left out. Is that a deliberate omission?
A Very much so. I wanted this to be an anthology of unpublished writing, no repeats. Which is why I turned Hanif Kureishi down. We’d approached him and he had no time, so he suggested we use an excerpt from one of his works. But I didn’t want that. The exception is Rana Dasgupta, but that’s by accident. His book Solo went to press before we did.
Q A lot of the stories were awkward. Not the characters, the sex. But sex isn’t just bodies, isn’t it also intimacy?
A I’m not sure I agree with that. A lot of the stories were intimate. Like Samit Basu’s. They were best friends but the sex was intimate. Jeet Thayil’s was intimate—hell, mine was quite intimate too, don’t you think?
Q Is there a difference between men and women in writing sex?
A No, I wouldn’t say that. Meenakshi’s written as a man here and Abeer Hoque is quite graphic.
Q You’re also a filmmaker, so tell us which filmmakers handle the erotic stylishly? Indian directors?
A Hmm, early Shyam Benegal, Guru Dutt. Then, there’s this song Aaj rapat jayenge with Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil. It’s really cheap, but it’s really charged. Then again, someone like Mira Nair tried desperately with chocolate bodies in Kamasutra and came up with wallpaper.
Q Last question, Savita Bhabhi?
A Oh, I love Savita Bhabhi, it’s good fun, it’s acceptable porn.
Q Okay, last question: what’s ‘acceptable porn’?
A Oh, acceptable porn is anything that engages you, makes you laugh. Unacceptable porn is the boring stuff.