The Editorial - TMYS Review December 2020



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    “O for a life of sensation than of thoughts” - John Keats

                I begin with the words that Keats wrote in one of his letters. His poetry is deemed to be an embodiment of sensuousness. He could write these words without any secondary deliberations because they were written before the emergence of Freud’s psychoanalytical explorations of the libido. In the very beginning of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud intertwined sexuality and sensuality in a common bond of interpretive psychoanalysis. Had Keats been alive, Freud would have walked up to him and said with his tongue firmly in his cheek:

    “Dear Mr. Keats, it is your very thoughts, the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious that encourage you to enjoy ‘a life of sensation’” (my own imagination!)


    If sexuality is driven by passion and emotion, sensuality follows a sonorously slow path of the worship of the physical senses of visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory and gustatory activities. Both are non-negotiable experiences of human existence that are reflected in literature of all lands and languages in every possible way.

            For the prudish moralists, ‘sex’ or ‘sexuality’ is a dirty word. They forget that it is the primal knowledge without which creation will stall and the world will come to a standstill. Sensual experiences, on the other hand, are pleasurable, but they may or may not be connected to an erotic or sexual experience. Sensuality is an incredibly healing force, because it’s the bridge that connects the quadrinity of ourselves: mental, emotional, physical, and conscious. While, being in-tune with our sensuality can connect us to our primal sexuality, sensuality opens a powerful gateway to experiencing our raw emotions, access to which allows us to feel deeply connected to ourselves and to others.

                Sexuality or awareness and the need for physical satiation is as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Christianity believes that when the first man and woman, God’s chosen seed, disobeyed the Omnipotent and ate the fruit of the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’, they became sexually aware of each other. They metaphorically covered their nudity with fig leaves, allowing the birth of the concept of shame. Though they were thrown out of Paradise, they built the procreant cradle that initiated humanity and civilization. If we listen to Darwin, then creation and creativity started when the first amoeba decided to divide and multiply. There must have been a sexual/sensuous impetus to provoke them to do so. Freud propounded that every activity was motivated by the ‘pleasure principle’. Sensuality is thus the very ethos of all possible provocations for creativity. Yet till the beginning of the twentieth century the importance of the senses was denigrated as impure and toxic. Seneca famously declared:

    “If sensuality were happiness, beasts were happier than men; but human felicity is lodged in the soul, not in the flesh.”

    Yet D. H. Lawrence’s novella, The Man who Died (previously titled The Escaped Cock) was revolutionary in its content as it depicts crucified Christ rising from his grave the very next day instead of three days later and summarily rejecting his previous life. He felt incomplete without the knowledge of the senses and drowned in a communion of the flesh with an Egyptian priestess of the Temple of Isis, impregnating her. Published between 1927 and 1928 in two parts, this novella is an important milestone in the changing conception of sensuality and sexuality in the European world.

    When we look at the oriental world, sexuality and sensuality complement each other into an organized whole, very much like the Chinese concept of the yin and yang.  A guided tour of the Indian temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and Konark in Odisha are factual examples of the realization of sexuality and sensuality as the very base of meaningful human existence, as sculptures glorifying human love and communion through the body are found at the base of the stately temple structures. The custom of keeping devadasis in the Hindu temples of India was also an indication of the oriental mindset as opposed to the occident. The devadasis or ‘sacred prostitutes’ were women who lived in the temples for the titillation of the Brahmin priests; they performed dance recitals in the evening at the temple complex and provided sexual services at night. The Kamasutra is perhaps the first manual on how to traverse the sensual path to nirvana.

                When we talk of writing as a creative expression, it is often a passionate and emotional exercise that fulfils the desire of the author/poet/playwright as puts his/her heart and soul into his/her creation as a labour of love. Just as a true marriage of sensuality and sexuality enables procreation, the throb of passion ensures the birth of literature that abides, a literature that sustains the passage of time and becomes immortal edicts of human love, suffering and/or salvation. Rabindranath Tagore had famously commented that “one has to feel, to sense, or else he cannot create”. The power of imagination is also an important keg in the wheel of creation. Writers are great copy-writers because they see, think, imagine and then copy that image/concept into words. To be able to correctly decode the sensuality of feeling and imagination is what accounts for memorable literature. Poets like Keats, playwrights like Shakespeare, and prose writers like Charles Lamb have shown how sensuosity may be reflected through words. Thus, writing as a creative medium becomes a glorification of the expression of all the feelings, sensations, impulses generated within the crevices of a sensitive consciousness.

                The December issue of Tell Me Your Story is a landmark edition as it marks the end of a year ravaged by the life-threatening pandemic. As the whole world was forced to be locked in, working from their homes, fighting lonely battles with disease and depression, humanity also got the rare opportunity of making a virtual journey within. In the confines of the four walls of houses and apartments with nothing but a window for oxygen, people juxtaposed the ‘pleasure principle’ and ‘life-force’ in numerous avenues of creativity that was a fresh appraisal of their imaginative capabilities. Lack of community gatherings proved to be an impetus for community feeling and absence of physical togetherness aroused a rhapsody of passion for the body and the mind. The thrust area for this issue of Tell Me Your Story uncannily celebrates the importance of ‘Sensuosity and Sexuality’ as integral aspects of creativity in contemporary literature.

                Eight novels have been selected for discussion, written by six important contemporary writers who have caught the attention of book lovers and litterateurs across the globe; more so in India. Namita Gokhale’s allegorical Parvati (in A Himalayan Love Story) is a mythic representation of a contemporary woman who sculpts her own destiny. Aruni Kashyap’s debut novel The House with a Thousand Stories is a landmark as it will be remembered as the first original English voice from the North-East. Pablo’s journey is as gripping as the threat of insurgence that throbs in the background. The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a re-enactment of the epic Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, which reminds us of the epic poem Sitayana by the Bengali poet Mallika Sengupta. The Edge of Desire by Tuhin A. Sinha is a gripping tale about a young journalist Shruti, who trades her profession and love for marriage, but that too goes for a toss as she becomes a pawn in the struggle between administration and corrupt hooliganism, ultimately to be drawn into a political vortex that was not of her own making.

    Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman is a gripping yet tortuous quest for parenthood that climaxes in a carnivalesque crescendo of sexual freedom. Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s The Yogini, translated into English by Arunava Sinha, tries to bind the real with the mystical in a riveting narration that explores the inner recesses of the human psyche, its needs, angsts and emotions. Saikat Majumdar’s The Scent of God delves deep into the trials and tribulations of a passionate same-sex love hedged in with political turmoil, social pressure and a conflict between elitism and poverty-ridden villagers. Kiran Manral’s Missing, Presumed Dead is an unsettling journey through the dark recesses of a dysfunctional marriage and the intervention of a half-sister as she becomes a half-wife by replacing the missing wife with a brain ailment. The reader has to dig in his/her heels and rethink the nuances of human relationships when this second woman too vanishes. All the eight novels under discussion are modern-day dramas played on a psychoanalytical scale that weighs and balances the passions and actions of the protagonists driven as they are, by sexual and sensuous impetus subsumed by societal inequities and charter a cartography of sweat, tears and exultation, though not in that order.

                Essays and discussions on these novels will bring to light the abiding reality that human love, passion, emotion and creation are directly proportional to how much they can feel with their senses and transmute them into words that will bear testimony to their throbbing realization of existence. As Walt Whitman said;

    “I believe in the flesh and the appetites;
    Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.

    Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from;

    The scent of these arm-pits, aroma finer than prayer;
    This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.”
    ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass




    Sharbani Banerjee Mukherjee

    Editorial Board - TMYS Review



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