The Khajuraho temples in Chhatarpur, MP, are renowned for their nagara-style architectural symbolism expressed in the form of erotic carvings. While there is little historical evidence as to the precise intent of the sexual imagery, experts believe they were meant to celebrate all aspects of human life. If one were to rashly apply statistics to kama, only 10% of the artwork is sexual in nature; no prizes for guessing that these attract the most attention. While Shakti and Shiva are portrayed in various manifestations, only human figures are depicted in the mithunas, the Tantric term that describes sexual union.
Allow me a minute, dear reader, to establish context: the temples, built by the Chandela dynasty between 900 AD and 1300 AD, present ample evidence that we were an evolved culture. We may not have channeled our inner Caligula, or indulged in the sort of debauchery seen in Pompeii before Vesuvius erupted but the exquisitely carved mithunas clearly establish that we were ‘hot to trot’ way back then. What happened to our sense and sensibility; did Victorian prudery stamp it out of our collective consciousness?
Clearly the Mary Poppins mindset has influenced the training manual for the official guides who attach themselves like fleas to the unwary visitor. Once the fee is settled, they size up the clientele prior to offering “extras” for baksheesh. Dear oh dear, my uncle visited Khajuraho in the 80’s and he still hasn’t heard the end of it. When their guide offered to privately show him the “success pose”, poor maama must have thought he was getting a time-machine Viagra. He rejoined the sightseeing party rather sheepishly after 10 minutes and confessed during interrogation that he’d been to see, “three womens pleasuring one mans,” as Mukesh their guide so elegantly put it. Sexcess, geddit? Aunty, an early convert to the Me Too brigade, belligerently demanded to know why she had been excluded before denouncing the sculptors for sexism. “What nonsense is this? Why not one womans and 3 mans?” she thundered, whereupon the hapless Mukesh paled visibly.
The Talibanic mindset persists: take the case of the live bands in Mumbai where the SC ruling is sought to be subverted by the Fadnavis administration. Or the imbecilic rules framed in the Excise Act preventing the employment of women in bars. My friend, Shatbi Basu, an authority on wines and spirits, who conducts national bartending competitions is distraught. ‘It’s very sad that women are prevented from giving Tom (Cocktail) Cruise a run for his money by these archaic rules. Female bartenders are just a no-no.’ Naturally the statute is selectively implemented, colonial hangovers being an excellent method for that quaint British custom known as hafta.
But why blame the Brits, especially after 72 years. Perhaps Clive and Co visited Khajuraho and was justifiably worried whether pale Englishmen would be able to handle the sutra with ‘hot-blooded natives.’ Maybe they wanted to ensure that any hanky panky on the part of her Majesty’s army was restricted to military bordellos. The legislation was firm: no working gals where booze is served.
Which brings me to my friend, Prakash, a nightclub owner who came up with a plan best described as the Fillipina Method. With a view to dispel the gloom and doom post 9/11, he fondly hoped that three Phillipino nightingales would be easy on the eye and the ear. Being a shrewd Sindhi, he decided to apply for official permission to preclude any problems from the police. Despite several meetings, the all- important NOC remained as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. ‘Anything else you want, you take it I say,’ said his fixer, ‘But this female band is banned item.’ He eventually managed to get the licence and was over the moon until he read the fine print: “Male artistes only”. To his credit, he briefly toyed with the idea of passing them off transvestites but abandoned the idea due to concerns about body searches.
Tickets had been bought, visas procured and Prakash was all set to transform the pub scene with Manila Spice but was forced to abandon his plans by an unfeeling bureaucracy. ‘This bloody rule is crazy, yaar, and still they haven’t changed it,’ he moaned piteously. ‘These clowns will change Bangalore to Bengaluru but they can’t make one change to these stupid English rules.’ Ah well, Saudi Crown Prince MBS will be visiting soon: perhaps we can ask him for inputs on setting up a Ministry for the Promotion of Vice and the Suppression of Virtue?...