Divya Dubey is the publisher of EARTHEN LAMP JOURNAL, and the editor/instructor at AUTHORZ CORACLE. Her collection of short stories, Turtle Dove, uncovers the strange and the bizarre in the everyday, with six tantalizing stories about love, sex, relationships and desires. Here, she writes about why forbidden relationships have always tempted writers:
The Forbidden has always held great attraction for humans. Standing on the edge of the precipice, the temptation to jump headlong into the abyss is the strongest, and even more so when it comes to relationships. In literature, the Forbidden Fruit isn’t new or unfamiliar. A whole body of academic study deals with the history of human sex and sexuality, and religion and society have entwined into the double helix that has impacted the concept of ‘unnatural sex’ and ‘sin’ in poetry as well as prose the world over throughout history. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74 CE), for instance, counted non-marital sex, adultery, seduction, rape, incest, sodomy, bestiality, even masturbation as ‘sin’ or acts against nature.
To yearn for the illicit or impossible is very human; it prompts an incomparable adrenaline rush. To push boundaries, to reach for the sun, is a grand ambition by itself. The most complex of these relationships is love and sexual intimacy. To quote Octavio Paz, ‘Eroticism and love are forms derived from the sexual instinct: crystallizations, perversions, and condensations which transform sexuality […] As in the case of concentric circles, sex is the centre and the pivot point of this geometry of passion.’
World literature has explored the concept of sex and sexuality with their myriad implications and ramifications right from ancient times. For example, while the Bible banned sexual relationship between close relatives, they did not bar endogamous marriages. Similarly, the Greek and Hellenistic orgia or ‘ecstatic rites’ are well known and often mentioned in literary texts.
From Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, to the writings of Marquis de Sade, to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or Ada or Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things or Raj Kamal Jha’s The Blue Bedspread (and Meera Nair and Akhil Sharma) closer home, certain writers have dared to ask disquieting questions.
On the other hand, homoerotic literature dates back to Homer’s Illiad (8th century BC), and more recently, Thomas Mann or EM Forster, or contemporary Asian writers such as Shyam Selvadurai, Parvati Sharma, Rahul Mehta or Mahesh Natarajan. In Indian circuits too, instances of forbidden relationships appear in the Ramayana (Ravana was believed to have had relations with young women who were like daughters to him; Bali, the monkey king, forcibly married his brother Sugreeva’s wife), the Mahabharata (which is replete with such stories; Ved Vyas is one known example), Bhavishya Purana (Samba, Krishna’s son and Pradyumn’s half brother, was seduced by Krishna’s junior wife, Nandini, who, in turn was cursed by Krishna) etcetera.
Is ‘unnatural sex’ simply a matter of social conditioning? If fair can be foul and foul fair, can the unnatural be natural and vice versa? Why is it that the very idea unsettles us? Can consensual sex between two adults, regardless of who they are, be exempt from the moral compass? Why do we refuse to think about it? Aren’t some alternative sexualities natural, and hence, acceptable? Who decides? Who should? Should we, as readers and writers, not explore what on the surface might seem bizarre and perplexing hypotheses? Some of us do, which is perhaps why today Literotica, Straight Erotica (or ‘vanilla’ heterosexual sex), Queer Erotica, Group Erotica, etc. have emerged as literary genres or sub genres.
Turtle Dove too is an exploration of many of these abstractions. Some of the stories view passion, sex and violence from unconventional perspectives. What interests me is not the sexual act by itself but the context in which it occurs. Sex can be dark, yet transcendental; it can have elements of philosophy. But in all sexual acts, the human psyche takes centre stage. We return to Freud and Jung. The important thing is to keep an open mind, to think the unthinkable, to keep wading in the realm of the all-possible.