Gurcharan Das Navigates Sex & Desire in India, Yesterday & Today 

Gurcharan Das decodes the misunderstood ‘Kama Sutra’ at the launch of his latest book in New Delhi.

2 min read
The emotional life of a country and civilisation is as important as its social and political life. But we have always tended to brush the emotional under the carpet, and that’s why we continue to be repressed, patriarchal and regressive in our attitudes.
Gurcharan Das, at the launch of his book ‘Kama: The Riddle of Desire’ 

Indian author and public intellectual Gurcharan Das’ latest book Kama: The Riddle of Desire was launched at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library’s auditorium on Sunday, 2 September. Moderated by journalist Barkha Dutt, the panel comprised historian and writer William Dalrymple, Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, and art historian and curator Alka Pande.

Das, while being disheartened about the condition of our society and its tendency to repress our emotional lives, expressed hope for the future, which according to him, would see more of an embrace of that which is emotional, by the younger generation.

Das said at the event, “All of us want to be happy, we want to live flourishing lives, and I have always believed, that the answer to happiness is to love the work you do, and to love the person you live with.”


He went on to say, “But the classical Indian sages had another answer. While the Rig Veda spoke of artha, dharma, and kama (emotional well being), 700 years after, the Upanishads spoke of spiritual well being... if artha, dharma, kama and spiritual well being are in harmony, then you can live a flourishing life.”

The author was quick to counter Barkha Dutt’s insinuation that the protagonist of his book Kama, ie, Amar, was actually the author himself, clarifying, much to the amusement of the audience, that he was certainly not Amar. To which Shashi Tharoor punned, that “Gurcharan is amar”, meaning Gurcharan is immortal.

Das clarified that the book is a fictional memoir, saying, “You can’t talk about desire and love in the concept of an abstract, philosophical essay – that is why I had to create a story.”

“In the very first scene, the narrator in Kama, recalls his first memory of desire – it was a cold morning, he runs into his mother’s room, nestles beside her and falls asleep... desire strikes early in one’s life, and this is true of civilisations,” said Das.

“In the Rig Veda, in the beginning was desire, and the Cosmos was created in the Sea of Desire in the mind of The One,” he added.

Tharoor responded to this comment by saying that there has always existed a conflict between those who view desire as evil, and those claim it to be the fount of all creation and existence.

Das, taking off from where Tharoor left, said there’s been a grand struggle between those who wrote and subscribed to the Kama Sutra, namely, the Kama Optimists, and the Kama Pessimists. Then there was a compromise and another group, the Kama Realists emerged, who said that sexual intercourse was acceptable, as long as it was within marriage. Das is of the view that every civilisation has gone through this compromise.

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