By Sunil K Poolani
I am aware that this is a family newspaper and what I am going to write below is neither a blatant promotion or celebration of pornography nor an effort to titillate buried libidos. But, as any growing-up guy or gal in the pre-cable and -internet days, cheap pornographic books and magazines were the stuff that quenched our curiosities of that ‘nether’ world.
Pornographic literature has existed since people started writing — and reading — and it is still, even in this age, one of the biggest industries in the world. It is a matter of prerogative, though, how cheap your tastes can plummet. ‘Straight’ sex stories are considered fine and those ones written classically have stood the test of time. Okay, call it erotica. And it’s just not Lolita or Sons and Lovers, but there has been a wide array of erotica that has the same depth and range of any world classic you can imagine.
But the debauchery in tastes only becomes worrisome if those pornographic or erotic writing deals with and depicts worrisome sex: incest, paedophilia, bestiality, scatology, rape, stomach-churning fetishes, necrophilia…
When I was living in Hyderabad in the late eighties, I picked up a fat book from a pavement stall: Pearl. It has travelled with me to whichever city or house I have since then moved into. Pearl has had an interesting history. It was an underground pornographic magazine that had as mysteriously disappeared as it had appeared in the Victorian England, shaking the so-called moral standards set by the stiff upper-lip British society.
Why so? It started using the f-word without any inhibition, but was an impressive collection that comprised serialised pornographic stories, poetry, ribaldry, anecdotes, short essays, spoofs… all written, though in a salacious manner, in great classicist language.
By today’s standards Pearl appears as sanitised as any genre of feel-good literature, but one could imagine the upheaval Pearl might have caused in the then society: a reason why it is still a bestseller in all English-reading markets. What if you can only lay your hands on a pirated copy.
Mike Dash’s Thug is the most amazing work of history that I have read in so many years. Some thoughts. While anyone who is interested in the past (aren’t we all?) will be enthralled to read this movie-like narration with rapt attention, one has to rue the fact that we have been discussing for ages: why is that you always need a firang to retell the story of the Raj with clarity, detail and near-perfection? Why is it that, save for a Ramachandra Guha, we do not have, at present, any historian worth his salt to invest more time, hard work, dedication and scholarship (the money part will follow if you have the rest) and create something like Thug?
Apart from the beauty and eloquence of the prose, the book is painstakingly researched and grippingly written. Dash tells a story that we, Indians, have only heard from our grandmothers’ scary bedside recitals (I doubt if they still do that). The inside blurb says that Dash has [had] devoted years to combing archives in both Britain and India to discover how the thugs lived and worked. And he does succeed in revealing all these murderous clan’s methods, secret and skills — a blow-by-blow account, this.
Recently I read a great line: “We really want to ‘leverage’ and ‘monetise’ our ‘synergy’ with this new ‘initiative’, but there’s a ‘disconnect’ in terms of our ‘reorg’.” Before you chuckle, do realise that this is the kind of verbosity that reverberates in corporate conference rooms, and seldom do we confront the speakers to cut out the jargon and talk vividly. And this jargon has already started seeping into our literature, too.
Sunil K Poolani is Executive Director and Publisher, Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, Mumbai. Write to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle