Long post alert!
Disclaimer: If you are expecting the usual breezy travel related musing today or some soppy identity crisis situation out of my memory palace, let me warn you this post falls on the other side of the hemisphere, my friend! Beware, as you are about to tread on the land of the hush-hush!
Pssst…Its 2020, in case you have forgotten! Identity issues and travel destinations have become too luxurious to even dream about…
“NOOOOO! Most definitely NOT!“
That was my high and mighty Shakespeare-quoting Dad, vehemently forbidding my sister from reading a book.
The year was 1997. She had just turned 18. College and ‘cool’ friends opened up my sister’s world to new sights and newer experiences. Voracious reader that she was, experimenting with genres she hadn’t yet given a try became her newest fad.
2 decades ago, a middle-class Indian kid had to seek permission from the parents for pretty much everything. More so if it were a daughter. That she wasn’t rationed her quota of breaths per day, was enough reason to be grateful to God! Pretty much everything was banned and out of reach, without as much as a teeny tiny thought for a reason, let alone an explanation.
I remember my parents barring us siblings from watching Hindi movies starring Raj Kapoor, allegedly for spicy content! Luckily for us, we hated the man! He was too fair, too plump and too boring to elicit any interest in us to secretly indulge in his extravagant cinematic adventures, what with a woman in white invariably under a waterfall! We didn’t care about a hippo when there were drop-dead gorgeous zebras grazing in the pastures, grabbing our eyeballs. That’s also one reason why I have never watched Sangam and Satyam Shivam Sundaram till date. More lack of interest, less fear of Dad…but the fear lurks nonetheless. Parental pressure and conditioning is a barb wire that is bound to leave you bleeding, the harder you try to break free.
Cable TV didn’t do much although it did offer us wider choice and variety in terms of entertainment. Hollywood movies were allowed to beam at home but the remote control was snatched away from us to switch channels swiftly every time a man/woman leaned in to give a kiss; cheek or lips no bar! Mostly the parent wielding the remote never reverted back to the movie! You have no idea of the countless number of movies that we had to leave hanging in the air!
2 years later, a prominent newspaper published an article on the author of the aforesaid book in its Sunday Special Edition and it became juicy fodder for my Dad to masticate over lunch.
Cut to 1999. I was turning 18. And my Dad repeated the same words he had, 2 years ago when my sister was on the threshold of adulthood. this time to me! Indian fathers rarely change. Especially with matters related to their daughters.
The notorious book was Lady Chatterley’s lover and the article that was dissected at that lunch was about its infamous author D.H. Lawrence ( D.H.L, that’s how I will be addressing the writer from here on)
Forbidden and banned for many years since it was published, Lady Chatterley’s lover came to me as part of a gigantic ebook titled 50 masterpieces you need to read before you die many years ago. For FREE! Hail Amazon for that!
Although it stands tall alongside The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo and Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I never as much as opened the book! My Dad’s prejudice had rubbed on me and fear of the forbidden fruit kept me as far away as possible from it. If only I were Eve! What would have happened to the world, eh?
Recently the very same newspaper published a piece about the same writer bringing into perspective the lingering aspect of claustrophobia and loneliness addressed in his works. It hits closer home, now that each one of us is left to struggle on his/her own as the pandemic rages to suffocate all humanity. Quite literally!
And that’s what made me come back to the book. Thank God it’s an ebook! For 2 reasons: One, it would have been GIGANTIC to hold as a paperback! A hardbound would have surely killed me. Or my sister, since I was cooped up with her during the draconian lockdown festival that never seems to end in India! (It would have made a handy weapon, no?) Two, my Dad doesn’t know that I have finally read it! I didn’t need to pretend I was reading Swami Vivekananda or Norman Vincent Peale hiding the book behind a faux cover like my gawky teenage sister read Harold Robbins back in the day. I was finally indulging in some forbidden rhapsodies without feeling guilty and I was so damn proud!
I am no longer 18! But try saying that to my Dad, please!
Lady Chatterley’s lover does indeed have sexual content. Obviously! With a name like that, the book couldn’t be a book of flowery thoughts for the day, could it?
Is it Explicit? Hmmm…not really, atleast to me. Erotic, OH YES! D.H.L’s exalting prose is enthusiastic and moving, forceful and expressive. Insensitive at times but that’s owing to the writer being a sexist. If you have read Sidney Sheldon or Danielle Steele in your heydays you have probably read some pretentiously corny content masquerading as erotica! And I mean this: The lights are dimmed, scented candles are lit while a seductive crystal bowl is brimming with strawberries and cream. There’s the ubiquitous Kenny.G whining away with his saxophone on the loop, while the pair go Slam! Bam! Jing! Bang! Rustling silken sheets slide off the 4 poster bed made of exquisite rosewood while sweaty satiny shadows glide on the antique furniture from the Victorian era. All the while a lonely but beautiful antique drape made of French Chantilly lace waltzes with existential crisis dangling off its arms, losing sheen and meaning as the saxophone finally reaches its climactic note. Where’s the sex, darling? And why didn’t no one tell those authors that Kenny.G was sleep inducing? Quite counter-productive if you ask me!
Is it Uninhibited? Certainly! Written in 1928, it is still as wild as a bluebell and as carefree as a soaring eagle . Its not sedate, meandering or boring like the over-hyped Anna Karenina which didn’t do anything to me except leave me with a wrist pain for holding the bloody heavy book waiting in vain for some excitement to kick in as the page kept turning! After all, the premise of both books is the same; extra marital affairs by the women belonging to the upper echelons of the society with men from the lower class, more so a commoner! Alas, Leo Tolstoy completely lost the plot. Or so yours truly thinks.
Is it Obscene? Hell NO! Most definitely not. I have read books where the physical act is written like as if a worker is quarrying limestone in a deep pit! The words seem to scream to an unconscious reader and never really come off the pages alive. Harold Robbins, anyone?
D.H.L maintains a certain level of mysticism in the book despite writing about sex. It is never crass or crude. He brings out the most heart-warming facet of the physical act : Yes, sex is pleasure. Just as there’s pain in the pleasure, there’s pleasure in the pain. More importantly, what a woman goes through and feels before, during and after the act is NEVER the same as the man’s experiences. They are a world apart and the twain rarely meets.
The book begins with the Body but ends with the Soul. Mind over Body. Heart over Mind. Soul over Heart.
I have NEVER been one to read about sex in books or even watch such scenes in movies without feeling guilty. I come from a household with strict parentage where the word sex was never uttered! Combine that with an abused past and you have a life that has been a mixture of doubt, fear, disgust and shame. But D.H.L liberated me from the clutches of all those negative feelings in one fell swoop of a book!
While it all sounds so exotic and dreamy in the syrupy books of Sheldon/Steele, that’s not how it works in the real world. You and I both know how hard it is to come by love that is not toxic or complicated. A love that is grounded in simple truth yet allows you the freedom to indulge in fluffy dreams. A love that challenges your ability to become a better version of yourself without the trappings of new age mumbo-jumbo. A love that is captivating, not captivity; where being bonded with one person actually liberates you from your prison of self-hate instead of shackling you to the whims and fancies of chauvinism and hypocrisy in attitude and behaviour.
Lady Chatterley’s lover is a book about finding real and realistic love unexpectedly, in places we don’t dare to look. Beyond the nonsensical aura of flaky movies and obnoxiously fake dystopian world of porn. Which is what the world around us blindly believes in today.
Alone in closely bonded relationships. Lonely in a group. Incessantly seeking a sense of belonging and identity from the minute we open our eyes to the day to the minute we close our eyes to the night. Searching and scouring the virtual world of internet and social media for authenticity.
We wake up alone to look at the walking, talking human being lying next to us and wonder who she/he really is. We hug and cuddle our phones rather than the human beings breathing next to us. Living with a vague sense of hollowness, questioning everything and finding meaning in nothing at all.
We were obeying the unsaid laws of physical and social distancing much before Covid-19 forced us into it. Loneliness, Mental health issues and Depression were real issues that were hidden behind our cold eyes and stormy minds much before the pandemic knocked on our deaf doors and deafer ears. We were all stifling our breaths even before a raging virus found homes in our haunted lungs. We were all dead inside rummaging around the outside world for a tiny speck of love that would be easy to touch and easier to feel unlike the dead but deadly electronic screen that grew out of hands like ghostly tendrils of poison ivy.
Real, authentic love is tough. It’s not rocket science but it also isn’t like making 2-minute Maggi instant noodles. It requires us to be naked; not in our bodies but our souls. It requires us to ascend from the clutches of deep seated prejudice and years of society-bred conditioning. Real love forces us to abandon all egos and be present and vulnerable to each other at all times. It challenges us to empty ourselves of all fear, disgust and shame to become open hearted, fearless and shame-less. It persists in expanding us to give more. It consumes us to live more, love more and understand more. It insists on shedding the dead weight of our past that we so addictively cling to.
Real love is sheer work! Its hard labour. But it’s the only thing that gives you a good night’s sleep. Without distracting dreams or horrifying nightmares. And that’s worth it all.
Lady Chatterley’s lover highlights this broad theme of apathy between relationships: be in personal, social or communal. How important physical touch is in a relationship, more so between couples. How a silent warm brush of the hand, a pat on the cheek communicates more than a verbose conversation. Why the physical act of sex is the most effective form of communication between lovers; at times even allowing spiritual ascension thus rendering all barriers of prejudice and hatred null and void between the warring twosome.
D.H. Lawrence, the English writer, to me is akin to Passion fruit. If you have had the fortune to taste the ambiguously named fruit, you would know that it tastes funny. It is sweet, sour, pungent, tart, crunchy and gooey; all at the same time! It is an explosion of flavours in the mouth. I was left totally shaken and stirred the first time I had it. It is for sure an acquired taste. But what I remember the most of my first taste is how I was left flabbergasted! It didn’t arouse any passion in me! Nor was it exotic in looks or taste. But it’s something that lingers in my memory for the element of surprise it provided on that fine evening in a beautiful room with dashes of blue and slanted rays of the setting Sun in Nairobi last year.
Likewise D.H.L and his rapturous words.. It’s even said that his apparently outrageous and scandalous works are events and episodes taken from his own life. He was a curious case of which I am every bit certain now!
Most writers hide behind a holier than thou veneer while writing erotica. D.H.L rises above the flim flam and expresses sex for the physical act that it is, instead of hiding behind floral words that makes no sense at all when tied together. Instead of garlanding the book with outrageously scented orchids, Lawrence lays down a carpet of the common bluebells throughout the book. A bluebell which is a symbol of humility, constancy, gratitude and everlasting love is indeed the silent narrator of the story of love between Constance and Oliver. Ordinary in looks. Extraordinary in character. It’s the one thing that is constant throughout the course of the book lining the edges, the forest, the woods and the lives of people caught up in a world that is fast changing men into machines through industrialization; yet trying to hold on to their honour when poverty has stripped them of all dignity.
If anything, D. H. Lawrence was far sighted. Like George Orwell’s seminal work 1984, Lady Chatterley’s work is prophetic. Written almost a century ago, it stands the test of time. We could all use a bit of D.H.L in our current lives where the line between man and machine blurs. And dig really deep to accept the D.H.L lying dormant within us. Its time we look beyond the literal and move in to read between the lines. Often, that is where the purity of truth hides.
There’s more to an onion than just tears! There’s a story lying in desperation to be discovered behind every layer. Likewise D.H. Lawrence’s work is neither salacious nor perverted. He enlivens a time when touch could make inroads to the soul when words couldn’t. A time much before touch became a love language sold virtually through podcasts and apps! A period in history which proved that wars may come and go but love, humanity and the inherent love within humanity always figure their way out of the wretched pandemonium.
Alas! Artists and their most profound works of art almost always are much ahead of their time. Thus critically panned but never understood for its true value. Even Vincent Van Gogh had to die to attain immortality. D. H. Lawrence although regarded now as an influential writer of the 20th century for his prolific works expanding from short stories to paintings was brushed off in his time as nothing more than a sleazy pornographer.
Wildly imaginative, I heard in his forbidden words, rhapsodies yet to be composed. As the writer says, Sex like art is creation, far more than procreation.
The rays of the Sun are the same at dawn and dusk. What matters is perspective : Which side are you on?
Dedicated to my guiding light. Happy Birthday Rhino!