Q1. "In some episodes of your story you speak about sexual matters in rather explicit terms. Was that really called for?"
|The author responds
I am convinced that speaking frankly about sex is often much healthier than minching words. In our prudish, Victorian and Jansenist past, sex was pushed into dark and hidden corners of life. This repression led both to harmful ignorance and the unspoken feeling that sex was somehow dirty, smutty, something to be ashamed of. Instead of being the wonderful gift that can bond people in love and create new life.
I came to admire the greater openness Indian culture displays in this respect. Read this extract from my novel:
"My father and Amrutha entered into a courtyard of the temple and faced the main idol, standing under a roof shelter. It was a five-foot high, shining, black-granite pillar of stone.
They approached the idol.
Amrutha prayed holding her hands folded in front of her. She bowed and briefly caressed the smooth surface of the pillar with her right hand.
“This is the lingam”, she told my father. “It represents the erect male member of the God Shiva”.
Then she pointed at the elongated saucer-type stone ring at its base: “And this stands for the yoni, the female sexual organ.”
My father could see that the yoni had a spout on one side so that libations that had been poured out over the lingam and collected in the yoni could subsequently flow out.
Amrutha noticed a puzzled look on his face.
“Does this seem strange to you?”
“It does”, my father confessed.
“For one thing, in Europe we are normally more discreet with well . . . the sexual organs.”
“Correction!”, Amrutha replied. “Mentioning the sexual organs by name is taboo, you mean. In reality however, the West is preoccupied with sex in spite of its attempt to suppress it culturally. Just look at novels, films, TV and all the innuendoes in puns and blue jokes.”
“You have a point”, my father said reluctantly. “But do people in India speak more naturally about sex?”
“Certainly”, Amrutha replied. “Much more naturally in fact. In English, words like ‘penis’ and ‘cunt’ are considered obscene, but in my language, Telegu, we freely speak of a man’s lingam and a woman’s yoni. My family name is Gurulingam. It means ‘the teacher’s penis’. It is a distinguished Brahmin name which does not cause embarrassment to anyone . . . ” (pages 138-139)
Q2. "But what about the initiation scene in which each of the Beldiri women grabs Muss's male sexual organ?"
Remember that in the fictitious Beldiri culture of Rockbottom Island it is the women who are dominant. They own the men, just as in some historical societies men owned their women. Muss's initiation (on pages 395-396) consists of the women claiming ownership over him.
To express this forcefully, I modelled the scene on the way in which men at times claimed ownership over slave women. If men could treat women in that way, how would a man feel undergoing the same treatment by women?! One of the main themes in my book is the persistent subjection of women to men in the major religions.
The following extract is from an eyewitness report by Thomas Smee, commander of the British ship Ternate which visited Zanzibar in 1811. Smee describes what he saw on the slave market. The slaves had been arranged in a line, wearing only bracelets and anklets.
"When any slave strikes a spectator's fancy, a process of examinations ensues, which, for minuteness, is unequalled in any cattle market in Europe. The intending purchaser ascertains there is no defect in the faculties of speech, hearing, etc. , that there is no disease present and that the slave does not snore in sleeping, which is counted a very great fault.
He next proceeds to examine the person: the mouth and the teeth are first inspected and afterwards any part of the body in succession, not even excepting the breasts, etc. of the girls, many of whom I have seen handled in the most indecent manner in the public market by their purchasers . . .
The slave is then made to walk or run a little way, to show that there is no defect about the feet; after which, if the price be agreed to, they are stripped of their finery and delivered naked over to their future master."
Printed in The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, Hamish Hamilton 1960, pp. 19-22. The book contains many illustrations.