The Kama Sutra is a book that has fascinated many. While we eagerly imbibe tips and stories offered by the book, it’s seldom that we think about the author of this treatise on love and lovemaking — Vatsyayana. However, debutante novelist Jaya Misra was so intrigued by him, that she decided to write a novel on his life’s story. Titled Kama: The Story of Kama Sutra, Jaya’s novel presents a fictionalised account of Vatsyayana’s life. Talking about what drove her to pen this story, Jaya says, “I was so fascinated by this man, who has taken thousands of pages of ancient erotic texts and culled them into two-line sutras. I wondered what his life was like? How were the times he lived in? These questions motivated me to write the book, and the story just flowed out. While this book is my version of what his life could have been like, it can be a version of the truth, because not much is known about him.”
Although the book is set in 273 A.D. a time span nestled between the Maurya and Gupta dynasties, the narrative structure of the book is a disjointed one, giving us sudden, but well-timed peeks into the past, present and future of the characters. “We meet a 25-years-old Vatsyayana, the adopted son of a eunuch. As the story unravels, we keep delving into his past, as well as the pasts of other characters in the book. We see how Vatsyayana’s upbringing in a courtesan’s palace influenced his understanding of women and a woman’s sexuality. We see how his own struggles with love, betrayal and heartbreak colour his understanding of the power and purpose of love. We discover the life experiences that led him to write the Kama Sutra,” says Jaya. Because the book is set in a time long gone past, extensive research had to be done to get the setting right.
Talking about her research, the author says, “There were two things I wanted to get right. One was everything about the Kama Sutra and second, the background and setting.” To get this right, the author travelled to Varanasi, where she stayed for a considerable amount of time, soaking in information about ancient Varanasi and the beauty of yesteryear-architectural sites. She also took help from academics to reconstruct a faithful picture of the past.
Kama:The Story Of Kamasutra by Jaya Misra Om Books International pp. 335, Rs 295
The author has also drawn inspiration from British and Chinese histories and says that the book is peppered with interesting historical incidents, something a sharp reader will easily spot. While the story is set in a time quite distant from ours, Jaya is certain that the contemporary audiences will be able to relate to the themes of the book.
“Love is an important theme, so is eroticism. Having read the works of staunch feminists like Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and others, I was inspired to write candidly about sex and I think I have achieved this,” she smiles. Quite naturally, feminism too is a powerful and ubiquitous theme in the book and comes to light through the lives of the female characters.
“I would call him the first feminist of India. He wrote the Kama Sutra during barbaric times when women were treated as receptacles. He had a very contemporary thought process towards women and he wanted to explore that. There are other strong female characters, like Nayantara, who is a courtesan. She is a powerful, dark and sexy character. There is also Ratnavati, who although married to a king, experiences harrowing situations and still manages to make it in life. In this book, the female characters go through journeys and come out stronger than the men,” says Jaya. The book is written evocatively and presents a world that is bubbling with layered characters, riveting experiences and truths. It beautifully fuses fact and myth, reality and imagination.