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All's fine with the Kama Sutra

Janet Fine's Reading The Kama Sutra, 2003, at the Oxford Bookstore, provided a forum for readers and writers to talk about things we normally won't, or can't, talk about in public.



Janet Fine with designer Manoviraj Khosla

HER FATHER was an executive editor at The New York Times but she lives in Mumbai and writes for Fantasy and Debonair. Erotic literature is her passion. Her father got her reading Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and Anais Nin when she was 10 or so. Collecting sensuous writing was his passion, and his daughter, Janet Fine, continues the tradition today with a publication exclusively devoted to erotica. "Classex Books," says Fine, "is an imprint dedicated to launching classic erotic books never before published." She hopes to do this by hunting out lost erotic manuscripts in the adventurous spirit of Sir Richard Burton, explorer and translator of The Arabian Nights, who unearthed arcane erotica from various cultures. Her first discovery is Lazzat Un Nisa (The Pleasure of Woman), which she stumbled on when researching for another project. The moment she saw it in manuscript form she knew it was precious. She co-translated it with an Urdu writer (who remains anonymous).

Janet Fine was in Bangalore recently to read from the book at the Oxford Bookstore. This was the first in a series of weeklong readings, talks, and discussions on sex called "Reading The Kama Sutra, 2003" at Oxford. Conducted across all their stores, the other events included looking at sexual myths, sex, marriage, and extramarital sex and censorship, Internet, and advertising. The level of discussion at these events was unexciting. Sometimes close to boring. This may well have been because both panelists and audience were a bit inhibited on the subject. But what is truly exciting about Reading Kamasutra, 2003, is that it was about sex. It was daring of Oxford. It provided a forum for readers and writers to talk about things we normally won't, or can't, talk about in public. For instance, Lizzat Un Nisa got everyone wondering about the art of sex. The role of jewellery and perfume in lovemaking, erotic writing as literature, and pornography as aphrodisiac.

Husky-voiced Janet Fine is attractive in a Barbara Streisand kind of way. After graduating from the famous Columbia School of Journalism, she lived in New York and wrote on cinema. She came to India several years ago to learn dance and stayed. She is the author of several books, one of which is a guide to the palaces of India. What I find strange and wonderful about her is that she writes for Fantasy magazine. I don't know anyone else — man or woman — who specialises in writing erotica. In fact, parts of Lizzat Un Nisa were first published in Fantasy. "Under the guidance of a commissioning ruler," says the book's introduction, "Lizzat Un Nisa was hand-illustrated and hand-copied in Urdu and Persian in 1850 by writer Mohammed Abdul Latif Muzdar Mehdune."

"The book differs from the Kama Sutra both in fantasy and prose," says Fine, "but contains similar exciting and exquisite erotic paintings with diagrams for secret medicines and stimulants in the Eastern form of ancient sexual alchemy." Fine's theory is that the real author of Lizzat Un Nisa is none other than Sir Richard Burton and she hopes to prove it.

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

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