| September 22, 2020

Book chat: Talking about taboos

Book chat: Talking about taboos
Bestselling author Ira Trivedi had a riveting session at the recently concluded Nepal Literature Festival. Though it was her light romantic novels that caught people’s attention, her take on the changing notions of love, sex and marriage, in her first non-fiction India in Love really cemented her status. Priyanka Gurung caught up with the writer to talk about her study of sexuality in middle class India.

Love and relationships seem to be major fixtures in both your fiction and non-fiction works. What is it about these issues that you find so appealing?

To be great at something people have to follow their passion. They must be passionate about that ‘thing’ to the degree of being obsessed with it. So, am I obsessed with writing? The honest answer would be: Not really. I have difficulty writing on many days. Am I obsessed with reading? Yes, but so are millions of other people out there.

I actually sat down and tried to figure it out. I wondered if I am not obsessed with writing, then will I be a great writer? And if I am not a great writer, what is the point? But I slowly realized that I do have an obsession: It is love. The obsession is to understand, examine and write about love. It’s not necessarily love in its romantic form either, just love on the whole and what it means. I enjoy approaching it from different angles.

India in Love has been praised as a conversation starter. How do you feel about its reception?

I am very pleased with all the talk surrounding the book because that means people are thinking about these issues. I don’t believe I alone can influence people’s stance on these matters but I am glad I could provide a platform to discuss them. I feel like there is still so much potential to be written about as we move forward with this book.

Of course, there were those who were upset at the content and information of India in Love. But the fact that my research was thorough has kept them at bay.

While carrying out your extensive research you got many people talking about intimate details of their lives. How did you get such confessions?

It was definitely hard. I had no journalistic training but down the line, I think I developed some skills. I dedicated five years to digging up the stories. I spent a lot of time with the interviewees. I didn’t have other friends in that time period. You have to earn their trust. That is the best way to help them share. I believe it is an art to spend some time with people and get them to open up to you.

I also consider myself lucky though. Being a young woman made this job easier. If I were a middle aged man, it would have been very difficult. Even while dealing with the men, I found them to be supportive.

So what would you say are the factors influencing India’s changing attitude towards sex?

I think it has a lot to do with globalization, media, consumerism, capitalism and urbanization. We have come a long way. In India, we have 36 people coming to the cities every one minute so that is a huge influence. Just look at Bollywood, 10 years ago we couldn’t kiss on screen but now we have a porn star as one of the most prominent faces of the scene. Similarly, I am also on a board of a dating app company in India and there are two million people on it. The only way forward is modernization. We are definitely going through a sexual revolution of sorts right now.

You call it a sexual revolution but in the two years since the book has been published has there been any progress?

Yes, I’d say there is progress every day. Section 377 and the biases against sexual minorities in India, for example, it is now being revised with the Supreme Court judgment. Also going back to the dating apps, did you know, I don’t have chapter on them in my book? I find it very bizarre that I didn’t touch on this topic now but I remember when I was writing the book, there was no Tinder. It didn’t exist. So in every aspect, from laws to simple openness of the society, there have been changes and some progress.

You have traveled and talked to readers from various part of the world. Do you feel like other South Asian nations are going through the same thing?

In some capacity, I do believe every South Asian nation is going through similar sexual revolution. The orthodox and modern views are both trying to find a space in our youth’s lives. Different countries may come out of it in different ways but to some degree, I believe we can all relate to one another.

Did you personally have any preconceived notions which were shattered after your research?

I didn’t have any preconceived notions. But I was surprised at the sheer number of people involved in this sexual revolution. It wasn’t only the big cities as expected. It was evident in small and big towns alike. My hypothesis was strong. Our attitude towards relationships, sex and sexuality were indeed changing, but it was really interesting to see the extent to which it was playing out.

As a South Asian writer trying to reach the global market how has your experience been?

There is definitely a lot of interest from global readers at large. I think festivals like the Nepal Literature Festival are a good way to gauge it.

I have spoken about India in Love everywhere. However, it is easier to access the global audience with a work of fiction. It gets more challenging with non-fiction. For instance India in Love is not published in the US because the publishers believe these books don’t have a market there. I obviously disagree and I hope I can contribute to help build this market

On Trivedi’s Bookhelf

After You
by George Amos
Because I am writing a love story, I am also reading many love stories. Where fiction is concerned, I really admire this author and adore his book, After You.

Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
I always have a spiritual book on my bedside table. At the moment, I am going through this Yogananda read. So far I am immensely enjoying it. Turns out, it is also a very culturally significant book.

Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
I’ll confess I have not read many Murakami novels because his plots tend to be a little depressing. However, Norwegian Wood is an exception.

Peppa the Pig
by E1 Kids
I believe in getting kids involved in reading early on in their lives. I have even begun writing childrens books. I am currently working on it and for those looking for interesting reads for their young kids, I’d recommend Peppa the Pig.

Gumrah: End of Innocence
by Ira Trivedi
This collection of short stories is based on real life incidents. Based on the TV show Gumrah, the message of the book is aimed especially at the younger generation. It should prove to not only be an interesting but an important read as well.'