Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
There’s nothing wrong with writing a sex-saturated novel. But IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri says this book is “all about spirituality.”
In 2010, Rajendra Pachauri was interviewed by the UK’s Independent newspaper. Given an opportunity to respond to media reports that his recently released book, Return to Almora, was a “sex novel,” he declared that this was “totally off the mark.”
In that characteristic, dismissive Pachauri style, he continued:
This is absolutely ridiculous. This is a novel of 400 pages about a person who is trying to look at the meaning of life, what happens to the human soul when we die, where does it go, and in the course of this he falls in love and he has a few relationships, but I’m not describing any explicit sex scenes. That’s a totally false impression. I’m happy to send you a copy if you have the patience to go through it, but it’s 400 pages all about spirituality. [bold added, news clipping backed up here]
Well, let’s see, now. My Kindle tells me I’m 50% of the way through this work. The main character, Sanjay, has reached his mid-20s. I’ve already mentioned the bit about the two women who “shared their most intimate secrets” with each other. In reality, that amounted to an uncomfortable (for the reader, at least) discussion of birth control measures.
Prior to that, there’d been the scene in which the girlfriend of a much older Sanjay exclaims: “You are absolutely superb after meditation. Why don’t we make love every time immediately after you have meditated?”
Masturbation also comes up. We hear about the teacher who lectures the teenagers about “the evils of self-abuse,” the “constant urge” Sanjay feels to engage in this “revolting act,” the guilt and the worry after he succumbs, and the discussions he has with other boys. This passage follows shortly afterward:
Sanjay knew that some boys at school were ‘lendrics’, as those who were willing to be sodomised by anyone were called. Sometimes, they were available for merely a treat at the tuck shop. Sanjay, who frequently dreamed of making love to a girl, never understood why fellows at school wanted to have sex with each other. All he wanted was to get close to a girl. Sex would be wrong, of course. Still, he couldn’t help wondering what it would be like. Would it be like masturbation? But, he thought, it would be a sin to desire a physical relationship with a girl, at this stage of his life.
A few pages later, Sanjay follows a girl he doesn’t know for some distance, abandoning his quest when his erection becomes noticeable due to the fact that “he had forgotten to wear his underwear.”
When his friends get him drunk for the first time, he spouts “hilarious nonsense” such as:
Thelma is so damned ugly that I would have to drink all night before wanting to have anything to do with her. I haven’t yet reached the stage of wanting to make love to a buffalo. Frankly, every time she reminded me that I should shower her with kisses, I felt like showering her with pisses. I would have invited all of you to join in and help out.
Soon, Sanjay is one of six young men taking turns with a willing young woman. Pressured by his pals, he’s initially horrified and, afterwards, ashamed of himself. Nevertheless, this is his first time with a girl and we have ringside seats.
As a college graduate, Sanjoy interviews for a job with an oil company. The person conducting the interview takes a telephone call that ends up discussing his female office assistant in sexual terms. For laughs, Sanjay repeats those remarks to a third party.
Shortly afterward, he visits a Hindu temple:
Even though the deity before which he stood was shaped so authentically like the vagina, he no longer questioned why people coming here to worship and to pay homage did not feel embarrassed. So true to life was the whole construct and ambience of the stone carving depicting the vagina that it was kept constantly moist by the waters of a permanent underground spring.
Sometime later, our hero is in a train compartment occupied by another male traveler who has been generous with his whiskey. We’re told that Sanjay had
had three, fairly large drinks, which left him feeling light-headed and sexually aroused. The window shutters were down, the compartment was dark, and his neighbour was asleep. Should I? Why not! thought Sanjay to himself. He looked around for a piece of cloth that he could use for the purpose. He noticed a red handkerchief under the pillow of his companion. He pulled it out gently and imagined Pooja [a moody girl he has been wooing] naked and ready by his side, closed his eyes, and got busy with his right hand. He had never performed this act before with Pooja as the object of desire. But he wanted to get even with her today and bring her down to earth…With every movement he performed with his right hand, the pedestal on which he had placed her rocked to a stage of collapsing. The deification of Pooja was over.
After he starts his first job, the middle-aged wife of the company doctor invites him to dinner when her husband is out-of-town, and attempts to seduce him. Sanjay concocts a story about penile dysfunction, extricates himself, and is soon laughing “uncontrollably” and congratulating himself on his acting ability.
While visiting his parents, Sanjay gives a young woman a tour of his brother’s art studio. There is, of course, a painting that makes his companion blush – featuring “a couple in intimate embrace.”
Fast forward a bit, and Sanjay decides to move to America in order to continue his studies. This brings back memories of the hazing that Sanjay underwent at college in India. Quelle surprise, that, too, was of a sexual nature. Soon we’re hearing about the “not very bright” but “stunningly beautiful” girl who sits next to him in class – but that’s just a teaser.
One Saturday afternoon Sanjay finds himself teaching meditation to a dozen American gals. Deep-breathing exercises and shapely, “heaving breasts” are involved, followed by some intimacy with one of them later.
As far as I know, Pachauri has never been accused of writing “explicit sex scenes.” An article in the Telegraph called this book “racy,” perhaps “smutty.” It observed that Sanjay “enjoys sex – a lot of sex – with a lot of women” and that the author “details sexual encounter after sexual encounter.” Others have used the term “soft core porn” to describe this book. On the strength of these descriptions, I thought the novel was akin to a bodice ripper – but those are entertaining and better written.
There’s nothing wrong with writing about sex. I’m a big fan of sex. But Pachauri says his novel is “all about spirituality.”
We’ll come back to this question when I’ve finished reading the rest of the book. But these first 200 pages fall short of that mark.