Chandrika was shocked. She was listening to a senior woman writer, an award winner, telling her how she found it difficult to read Chandrika’s new book Pranayakamasoothram-Aayiram Ummakal. The woman told Chandrika she didn’t have a writing space of her own, she had to use the common dining space. And she was afraid her husband or sons or the driver would pass by when she opened Chandrika’s book, and so she hid Pranayakamasoothram among other books.
“It reminded me of the time I was a girl and was reading Madhavikutty’s Ente Katha. I was in the ninth grade then and my brother, who saw me reading it, took it away. When I heard this senior writer tell me about her fears, I was shocked that it was happening even now. Someone like her could not open a book and read it inside her home. I was sad to know it, but it was also a realisation. How can we say that the society will ever be saved,” asks Chandrika, sitting at a corner of the DC Books store in Thiruvananthapuram, about to read from Pranayakamasoothram.
Before she reads, she also narrates another incident when her book Ente Pacha Karimbe won an award and someone had brought it wrapped and covered. “We are all very secretive, we want to hide what we do. It only means we don’t want to take any risks to get out of the moral policing system. That’s why I decided to write this book. And I could write it only because I have had the realisation of love.”
She too had concerns about writing a book such as this, based on her own experiences of love, at a time when the Hindutva forces of fascism were at large, Chandrika admits. “Especially when they try to bring under control women’s bodies and their expression of love and sexuality. I feared for my school-going daughter, if she would be in trouble for this. There was a time when we didn’t need to worry about all this. But even now, why do we think of these other matters when we want to write. It is a sort of self-censorship. An experience of social conflict. But I have written in this book what I want to say,” Chandrika says, before opening the first pages of her book.
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New wings of a beautiful spirit, that's free and considerate, are blooming for personal expressions of intense mutual love. That would perhaps be a very unjust translation of the words Chandrika uses to describe what Pranayakamasoothram is. “The biggest challenge I faced was to find a language for it,” she says.
She has divided the book into lessons, she says, and each in a different form. Some appear as prose, some as conversations between the sun and the moonlight (nilavu). From one of her first chapters, Chandrika reads out her experience of taking classes on sexuality to women in villages. “I asked them questions on their sexual life and this made them shy. I helped them evaluate their sexual lives. They are women who haven’t seen themselves nude in a mirror. They don’t know how to express their sexual desires. They are not free to do so. I became sad with them. They cried, they asked how could they make their husbands happy. I asked if I shall write a book for them and what I heard in reply are shouts of celebration (aaravam). It is for this aaravam that I wrote the book,” Chandrika says.
But as Chandrika read parts from every ‘lesson’, someone in the audience wondered how these women whom she wrote for could read the book freely if, like she had said in the beginning, a senior woman writer feared to do that in her home. Someone else critiqued that she seemed stuck in an older time, with the endearing terms of romanticism. Another said it sounded partly genuine and partly fake. Chandrika replied that it was her experiences of love that she wrote about, it can be written any way she chose to. “Why can’t there be romanticism? I would question anyone who says there is no more romanticism,” she says.
The book, she hopes, shall encourage more people to speak of their experiences of love and sex. She is just showing the way.