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Literary Review

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Erotic encounters


Gitanjali Kolanad's evocative prose leaves one wishing for more.

Sleeping with Movie Stars; Gitanjali Kolanad, Penguin, Rs. 225.

Eight stories strung like natural pearls, of uneven size and sheen on the thread that is the dancer-narrator's self, form the slim novel that is Sleeping with Movie Stars. The structure follows the traditional order of a margam, as the dancer prepares to perform those on stage someday, though life flows on unrehearsed, offering ambiguous opportunities for erotic encounters that are reluctantly seized, as in “Aalok Lodge”.

The ‘I' in Gitanjali Kolanad's book occupies perhaps the same relationship with Gitanjali as her dancing self does with her body. “In dance, art and the real are inextricably mixed — in every particular it is the dancer's face, her body, her real body. But the dancer and the person are different. Somehow, they co-exist in the same body.”

Curious paradox

It is a curious paradox that the female body that lures Krishna in the abandon of dance is expected to be chaste off-stage to the point of wearing one “legs together braid” and never the “legs apart” two that look like “a girl standing baaah”. But our protagonist, already ‘spoilt' by age 16, embraces the sensuous in real life as also the sensual in dance and her many encounters allow us a glimpse of female sexuality in a way that is not explicit so much as delectably oblique.

Set in Chennai and Delhi, her experiences offer an unvarnished but benign picture of the Indian male as a lover, found wanting in comparison with the daring amorous Krishna. The ideal lover does exist — a phantom conjured up in parts by the real, the possible and the imagined.

That is why in “Miracles”, a story about a woman dying of breast cancer, while the setting and mood is the immediacy of the monsoon and rain, the erotic element can only be imagined, in third person once removed. The dancer's guru builds upon one line of thought “your lips are as black as your heart”, addressing the errant lover who, though unfaithful, is still worthy of her passionate attention.

Undercurrent of humour

A wry undercurrent of humour runs through Gitanjali's seascape of female desire, sometimes manifest, sometimes delivered through juxtaposition as in: “At Kalakshetra we were learning alaripu…The other students got it right away and the teacher mocked me. I didn't care, I discovered a truth about art — that ineptitude doesn't lessen the pleasure, and I enjoyed the dance as much as the girls who did it well. They flew like birds; I fell like Icarus.” The next paragraph begins, “I hadn't yet figured out why people had sex”, conjuring a droll image of her grappling with this thought while also struggling to master the cross-rhythms of the alaripu.

The protagonist clearly has a mind that registers everything, even at a time when the rush of passion ought to snuff out coherent thought, the ‘I' surrendering to petit mort. The mind that observes, resolutely distant from the interactive self, records post-tillana metaphysics in the last story “A Different Lion”, where “head-butted by a lion, during a photo shoot” the narrator perceives her body as both subject and object.

It is very difficult to capture the erotic in the particular way that it electrifies each individual. Gitanjali does so with ease, a natural ease that inhabits the body of words with no self-consciousness. The sloppy work of a careless editor is evident in sentences missing key grammatical elements but overall the original, elliptical prose is highly evocative and for those who don't ‘get' it; their loss entirely.

While the less-is-more approach works very well, this eight-bone skeleton is so lovely that one wishes, in all greediness, it was padded with a more robust meat.

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Literary Review

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