It was an early winter afternoon in 2013. We sat in a sun-tinged café, somewhere in Defence Colony. All around us were happy couples, along with a bunch of firangs sipping masala chai. Their eyes restive, the chatter loud. One of them wore a T-shirt with the famous Osho quote, "Brahmacharya is not against sex".
I stared at his teal eyes. As if it were a sign. Across the table, sat a woman in her mid 20s. "You can call me Neeti, it's not my real name, I cannot tell you real name… I knew you'd understand… I am not a liar," she chose her words with caution, ordering a vegetarian sandwich for herself. A thick, bandhni dupatta guarded most of her face.
"How did you know my story? How could you?" she paused, finishing the last bite, her lower lip quivering.
I had been waiting for this moment. When a woman who regularly inboxed me on Facebook, and regularly "liked" my status updates (short extracts) about the book I was working on, even expressing a strong desire to meet me in person, on her next trip to Delhi, sharing her cell number and calling me promptly upon arrival, the way she had promised, would cross over, becoming an actual person.
Flesh. Blood. Cuts…
"It's all your will, Maharaj. If you so desire, my Badi Bahu will conceive without any complications... who doesn't know of your miraculous powers. Oh holy One, I beg you to bless her womb " she went on, lowering her head devotedly.
"What is her name?" Guruji thundered, his wooden sandals scraping the ground.
"Meera... I had her janam kundli sent to you as soon as the alliance was fixed," Ba reminded him.
For a while no one spoke, then I heard the kutir door creaking to a close. Ba had departed. It was only Guruji and I.
"Look at me, Meera," he commanded. The sound of his voice sent a sharp shiver down my spine.?
"Step forward and look into my eyes. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise..." I heard the words up-close as a pair of brawny hands tugged at my wrists, pushing my ghunghat off my head.
As if in a hypnotic trance, I looked up at his looming silhouette.
"You have been thinking about me, haven't you?" Guruji scoured my face, stepping forward from the surrounding shadows, a sense of assuredness soaking his last words.
He had a handsome, bearded face. I confronted his intense, dark rimmed eyes, which brimmed over with the turbulence of the river back home.
My throat was parched.
"Do you think I will harm such an attractive woman as you?" he continued unperturbed, securing his muscular arms around my shoulders and drawing me to him.
"It's... I mean it's not so simple... you are a holy man... revered by one and all..." I don't know why I suddenly blurted.
There was an awkward silence.
"I was 16, ours is a business family from Jaipur, and my husband is almost twelve years my senior. When I hadn't conceived after my second year of marriage, my in-laws said they were taking me to see their family Guruji, claiming he had miraculous powers. I was probably too naïve, and also, worried about being labeled a "baanjh". And, so I relented. Initially, my mother-in-law accompanied me to his ashram. I was usually administered a lot of jaributis that I had to consume daily, along with observing rigorous fasts. Every evening almost, there was a satsang. Then one day, my husband came along. I was led to Guruji's kutir alone. There was no one. Since I knew him by then, I wasn't scared of being in his presence, but kept asking him what was the purpose of this sudden visit, if I had not observed his strict diet etc. Guruji, almost in his 60s then placed my left hand over his organ. It's how things started… the first time… after he explained how the body is simply a medium, and how it is my dharma and karma as a woman to procreate - that sex is like a sadhana. I broke down, telling Guruji the darkest secret of my life. My husband's problem - the fact that I suspected he was impotent, his sexual prowess unsatisfactory, and how it wasn't my fault. I was still weeping, when I felt him behind me. His loin pressed into my buttocks. I was shocked and tried fighting him. Guruji placed his hands over my neck. Then. We did it from the rear. Technically, I was still a virgin. I walked with a limp for days…"
"Is that your son?" I interrupted, turning her cell phone around, peering into the honey-glazed eyes of a little child. Maybe three or four.
Neeti asked for another glass of water. Chilled, she clarified.
"You say you are writing a story of an ordinary, Indian, middle class housewife… but, will you have the strength to tell the story as it happened… will they believe you? The people reading… after all, this is India. Here, politicians and religious leaders can get away with murder… rape… anything. And women, like Sita maiyya must always go through a strict agnipariksha. Besides, I am not here today to create some sensation. What happened to me is my fate. I must fight it, somehow. Tell my son, the truth if I can. I also want to write… one day… about why mother-in-laws parade their bahus to all these dhongi Baba's… and why we all prefer silence… like a coward… the hawas… behind those havans… and how easy it is for sex and spirituality to be confused under the guise of women unable to have children… impotent men who never really own up to their physical limitations… gay men marrying for family pressure… or men… who decides what is punya and what is paap? A man? Or a God?" she grit her teeth.
The woman in me, more, much more than the writer felt defeated at this point.
"Did you ever think of telling your husband, Neeti? At least him? Ever?" was all I could manage. Placing my hands over hers.
For a while, we remained like that.
"Woh…" she drank a sip of water.
I cleared the bill, as a strange restlessness gathered inside.
"Woh hamesha bahar baithe hote rehte hain…," her dupatta slid off, finally.
Neeti's neck was burnt.
My book Sita's Curse came and went. For some, it will be called "India's first feminist erotica" that rocked the literary charts. But to me, Sita's Curse stands as a colossal failure - our collective shortcoming as a society to shield our women. To educate them, insulate them from the damaging effects of religious superstitions, that are mostly man-made, and a whole lot of mumbo jumbo, aimed to tighten the patriarchal noose around her frail neck. To save them the sheer disgrace and humiliation of being prostrated before men, sometimes old enough to be their fathers, in saffron or white, flowing robes. For something as banal and regressive as being a Manglik or a Baanjh. For being single too long, failing to conceive, being in an unhappy marriage, or producing a healthy, male heir.
For defining a woman's purpose with the same orthodox rigidity, as her penance. For our impotent rage every time a news headline breaks out about self proclaimed Godmen and sagas of their gory sexual exploitation, where along with images of the molested victim whose face is often blurred, we witness a sea of blind followers, vociferously arguing his innocence, their eyes ablaze, citing all the miracles he may have performed, grey ash smeared all over their foreheads, as they point to the charities he runs, hospitals, free beds, Yoga camps, Ayurvedic medicines, before observing austere fasts, waiting with their hands, folded, outside countless courtrooms, and ashrams. As if both must have the same purpose - to read out a verdict on a man.
Mahapurush? Mafia head? Molestor? Messiah?
Even as I sit writing this, the country's top headlines scream of one such Baba Rampal who holds Hisar to ransom. Charged for conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court, Baba Rampal has missed his High Court hearing thrice - November 5, November 10 and the latest, being November 17. Around 30,000 supporters (Baba's commandoes who wear black and operate under the name, Rashtriya Samaj Sewa Samiti) are allegedly inside his ashram controlled from a "war room," guarding the fortified 12-acre ashram with 20 firing trenches, some of them even carrying .315 caliber rifles. Around 200 people, including 40 policemen, are being treated in various hospitals for injuries. What's however startling is the statistics that his followers allegedly hold people, including women and children as a human shield to prevent his arrest.
There is no dearth of paapi posterboys in a country that looks to religion for everything. No wonder then that joining rapists and child sex offenders and netas with criminal records are an odd bunch of self styled Godmen. Like, Asaram Bapu, for instance, who openly delivers sex sermons, that even a customary search on YouTube throws up - videos where the tainted sanyasi is seen dispensing sex gyaan to his shishyas. "Avoid sex during amavasya, purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on these days will be born handicapped," one of his pathshalas declares, with dire celestial consequences, "even if a child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence and the man could face several other problems. Similarly, if a child is conceived between 12.30 and 2.30 during the day, he or she will go on to become a highly intelligent person."
Asaram, who is currently embroiled in a highly publicised sex case was arrested by the Jodhpur police for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl in his ashram. Earlier in 2008, the Guru who declared that masturbation or homosexuality in men is a waste of energy, sapping them of physical and mental stamina, was charged in a criminal case when two young boys died in his Motera ashram in Gujarat.
"There has been a conspiracy to malign him for many years," Asaram Bapu's most trusted media manager Sunil Wankhede has gone on record to claim, further adding that his mentor lacks sexual desires as he is not a "common man." "He is a sant (saint). And saints don't have sexual desires,"Wankhede asserts.
Like Asaram, Swami Nithyananda of the Dhyanapeeta Charitable Trust in Bidadi, near Bangalore was also caught on local TV channels in 2010 in a compromising position with a Tamil actress. The same year, Aarthi Rao, a former follower of Swami Nithyananda, filed a complaint with the criminal investigation department, Bangalore, alleging sexual harassment by him. Nithyananda was arrested subsequently, but freed in 53 days.
"Doctors at the state-run Victoria Hospital in Bangalore, who are yet to submit the medical report to the police, said that the potency test conducted on Nithyananda is incomplete, as he had reportedly ducked a part of the test. Maintaining that he was a "Sanyasi" and had not indulged in any sexual activity, Nithyananda initially did not cooperate with some of the tests, but underwent them later, sources said," the Daily Mail shamefully highlighted, as recently as September 11.this year.
Religion in India is risky business. Hinduism sadly reduced to its lowest common denominator, relying greatly on puja path, vraths, daan, dakshina and suraksha kawach's to help espouse its moral fiber, while being conveniently tight-lipped about its deep-rooted sexual delineations - parading sex as a magical healing tool for the unsuspecting victim, mostly women. Take for instance, the esoteric tradition of tantra where spiritual salvation is sought through sexual union, commonly misused to trap foreigners who often travel to India, in search of nirvana, be it in the copiously crowded ghats of Benaras or in the misty foothills of Rishikesh.
Though we prefer not to own up to the eroticism that is latent in our cultural consciousness, sacredness and sex go back a long way. The ancient temples of Khajuraho and Konark revel in broad hipped and plump-breasted nymphs (apsaras)with intricately carved bodies indulging in shringaar, washing their tresses, playing games, dancing, and knotting and unknotting their girdles. Besides, the celestial nymphs exist griffins, guardian deities and passionately interlocked maithunas, or lovemaking couples. Noted American art historian, Stella Kramrisch, describes this state, which is, "like a man and woman in close embrace," as a symbol of moksha, the final release or reunion of two principles, the essence (Purusha) and the nature (Prakriti.)
A family friend who first visited India, from UK in 1987, recalls an experience that she describes as "sexual enslavement", when on a visit to a Guru's ashram in Haridwar to perfect Kundalini yoga, she was asked to perform a complicated ceremony, at first. "He said it was some rudrabhishek... where basically I must pour milk on his penis and drink the same liquid… the Guru insisting I suck on his organ, claiming it would prepare me for my session - that I had to be one with the energy of the universe. It was sick. I somehow ran out, though I still feel the man had me in some kind of hypnotic trance all the while… it was easy to be attracted to this version of divine Indian male virility," quotes Amanda, who has since then travelled to India six times, staying clear of tantric touts, as she labels them.
India's historical and mythological past too corroborates this primordial relationship between sex and religion. The Mahabharata, one of our greatest epics, is spilling over with debauchery, lechery, and sexual immorality. Ved Vyasa for starters was the illegitimate son of Rishi Parasara and Satyavati. His mother after her sexual romp with the Rishi married King Santanu. From whom she had a son called Vichitra-virya, who died childless. Ved Vyasa was later roped in to impregnate Vichitravirya's two widows at the insistence of Satyavati, and along came two sons Dhritrashtra and Pandu, between whose descendants the mighty war of Mahabharata was subsequently fought.
Before her nupitals with Pandu, Kunti is famously known to have had a son from Surya Devta - her eldest Karna who was later thrown into a river. Since Pandu was sterile, Kunti at his behest again invoked the mantra given by Durvasa Muni, and bore three sons: Yudhisthira (Son of Dharmraj, Lord of justice), Bhima (Son of Vayu), and Arjun (Son of Indra). Before passing on her shakti to Madri, who became a mother to Nakula and Sahadeva.
Sexual promiscuity is not new in India with many ancient texts even pointing to games like "Ghatkancuki" where some a group of elite men and women were made to indulge in sexual acts for the entertainment of the audience. The game was said to continue until every man would have had sexual intercourse with every woman. There is also reference to incest, a subject that we squirm at today. It is said that Shatrupa, sage Vasishta's daughter had a sexual relationship with him assuming him to be her husband. The Rig Veda, also bears traces of a conversation between a brother-sister duo Yam and Yami where Yami expresses her desire to initiate a sexual relationship with Yam and when he refuses to entertain the same, she claims that a brother is of no use if he cannot fulfill his sister innermost wishes. Narada, another popular mythological character too was born after Daksha gave his daughter to his father, Brahmadev.
Who are we then? As a race? Perhaps it's time to question. And introspect. And what becomes of our swacch sexual intentions? Who will save our souls? Which Guru must we trust? Who will sell them?
What is the price generations of God-fearing Indians must pay? How many more women must be violated? Touched? Tormented?