Between the sheets

Published on 22 March 2014 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay on being an author who could not avoid writing about sex.

“I slipped on the panty. What I did not know was that I actually slipped on a woman. I actually slipped on her womanhood. I slipped on her sexuality, her love,” writes Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay in Panty. Translated into English from Bengali by Arunava Sinha, the book combines two of her previously published novellas, Panty and Hypnosis in a brand new avatar. Her stories, which have offended people in the past are now included in the canon of contemporary Bengali literature.

Bandyopadhyay speaks about her perception of sexual aesthetics and gender politics. Excerpts from the interview:

How difficult was it for you, as an author of erotica, to present fantasies strictly as fantasies?

I believe in the power of fantasy, but there is no such thing as ‘strictly fantasy’ because we are driven by our desires and desires are purely mirrored in our fantasies. Fantasies have tales to tell, which fortunately or unfortunately largely connect to mainstream life. We need the support of reality even for the strangest level of fantasy. When I write about fantasy, I focus on the pain of not experiencing it. Therefore, for a writer, fantasy resembles naive-realism. I don’t even consider myself to be an author of erotica. I am just an author who could not avoid writing about sex.

How did you deal with the criticism that Panty received?

Panty was published in Sharadiya Desh, one of the most prestigious Bengali magazines, in 2006. Even during those days the story was shocking for open-minded Bengali readers who were supposed to have had a lot of exposure to world literature. I faced huge criticism. People said to name a novel Panty was nothing but a gimmick. That graphic description of sex was a cheap way to sell books. But I paid no heed. I was only 31 and was too engrossed in writing about new ideas at the time.

Do you compare your works with contemporary Bengali fiction?

I started getting positive reviews a few years after my initial books — Sankhini and Panty — were published. People began looking at my books as one of the important postmodern novels in Bengali literature. I found out that comparative literature and women studies department of a university uses Panty as a reference of contemporary Bengali literature and young students are reading it and talking about it.

How much does your own sexuality come into play when you write a story?

My sexuality is insignificant in my writings. But I have my own philosophy on sex. I have my own understanding of sexual aesthetics, gender politics, love, and relationships. These ideas influence me when I write.

What do you make of the impact of Fifty Shades of Grey ?

The metaphysical part of Fifty Shades of Grey and Panty might be similar as both belong to the erotica genre, but I think they cannot be compared. To me, the former is more like a modern fairytale, with bits of 21st century western complexity and with BDSM. But our Indian society is far from accepting Fifty Shades of Grey as real. It has only been a few decades since our women have started experiencing freedom from patriarchal ways, so when it comes to sexual freedom, they are still not as tired as women from the western world.


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