Each one of the ten tales in Aranyani’s collection of erotica cannot quite be graded for its queer essence. Every story defies the normative carnal customs one way or the other. This article, however, is a joint portrait of women who seek pleasure from other women in Aranyani’s textual canvas. I critically deconstruct A Nice, Polite Girl and Stolen, two stories which dedicatedly delve into the angularity, smells and liquidity of queer women, and their sexual desire for each other. The following account maps the contours of pleasure, pain and pining that the characters come to transcribe across the erotic texture that Aranyani weaves together. I critically situate these narratives within and against the cultural imagination of lesbian desire in subcontinental sexual schemes, and identify a few missing ingredients and a bit of undercooked mush in Aranyani’s otherwise deliciously sensual stories.
A Nice, Polite Girl
The story traces Chellama’s journey from Dadar local station to the hasty halts at Hendaye, from Nambiar Hall cotton white briefs to boy-bottom lace panties from Monoprix, and from Tamil nicety to transnational notoriety. Having spent a few summers of her early twenties gallivanting in and out of the gates of Nanterre Université X, in the quest of food that had more than boiled meat to it, Chellama crafted a carefully curated universe in Paris. On a particular afternoon, however, enraged at her fiancé Nauzer’s sexual escapade and titillated by the beautifully blonde Evelina with whom he came to consummate infidelity, Chellama finds herself questioning many things. Her Franco-Tamoul friend Gayatri coaxing Chellama into coming to terms with her part broken, part stimulated heart, commands “don’t hunt the snark, cheri, be the snark”.
“I’m not generally attracted to women, but then again I’m not generally attracted to men either, realizes Chellama, not even to Nauzer. I’m attracted to Desire.” (95)
In that moment she unbridles her sexuality, which in her own account, had been sealed like a stubborn Kissan jam bottle, jolted open only by the sharpest of knives. Latisha proves to be her blade, pinning Chellama against the red door of a bathroom stall. That night proved to be the final nail in the coffin of her engagement with Nauzer. Chellama’s jellied erotic self was now melting into the stickiest syrup, turning her into the sultriest siren.
In a tale set closer home, three bodies thrive through a rather moist summer afternoon. The narration follows the events preceding and following an elaborate Tamil feast. Uma and Parvathi spend much of the day toiling in the kitchen, filling the house with the aroma of freshly tempered rasam and loud growls of the mixie mincing chutney. Sunita, the mistress hosting the grand lunch in proxy for her mother Mrs. Subramanium, yells commands at Uma and Parvathi with an authority which doesn’t come quite organically to her. Young Uma, however, was amidst her masochist mooring, obediently following Sunita’s diktats, knowing that the fatigued mistress after the day-long meet and greet was meant to find comfort in her, as she always did.
The afternoon sours for Uma as Mrs. Subramanium commands over the phone the older and wiser Parvathi instead to concoct the thailam oil for Sunita’s massage and instructs codes of proper application. Fuming with jealousy, the incorrigible Uma watches Sunita heave to Parvathi’s touch through the keyhole of a locked door. In the room fogged with fat orange-scented candles Sunita is bestowed with numerous orgasms which were never to be acknowledged or reciprocated. The fuck which shall not be named. As Sunita is soothed into post-coital slumber, Parvathi slips out of the room only to find the raging Uma waiting to pounce at her, taking her to territories Sunita had just travelled. Between Uma and Parvathi, however, desire is pronounced and shared, not cunningly extracted and unappreciated.
Contemplating the Queer in Aranyani’s Writing
The two stories effectively bring the quintessential queer woman out of her perpetual state of sexual aberration to a certain everydayness, thus normalizing lesbian desire. More importantly, it negates the ‘ontology of lack’ which otherwise comes to be associated with women’s libidinal desires. What I found particularly intriguing in Ayanyani’s construction of these characters is that women’s sexual agency is not written outside the grids of power they exist in. In A Nice, Polite Girl the control Nauzer has over Chellama in offering the “safe” heterosexual choice is explicit. Similarly, in Stolen caste has a clear presence and access to pleasure is structured accordingly.
While one can appreciate fiction which is critically situated in social relations which constitute our lives, I also envision erotica as a site where boundaries can be potently blurred. Chellama gets betrothed to a Muslim man at Montmartre, finds desire in a Black woman in a Parisian bar and indulges in public sex on an airplane [literally a no wo(man)’s land]. Why are all scripts of “transgressing” sexual boundaries essentially non-native? Why are norms of religion, race and space not defied in our perpetually disobedient homeland? Thus, in my reading, A Nice, Polite Girl somewhat approximates the diasporic trope of continental liberation.
Stolen, on the other hand, is undergird by a peculiar queer girlhood, which renders sexual dissidence pubescent and experimental. When will we get to know queer women in their sexual maturation? When will we meet queer women who have sustained nurturing relationships deceiving, or rather rejecting heteropatriarchy? When will our queer women evoke erotics without perpetually relying on the fetishized ‘feminine’? When will our queer women be the snark? In my understanding, these are some important questions to be asked and possibilities to be imagined.
Depending on how definitively you come to define queerness, or rather don’t, A Nice, Polite Girl and Stolen might not be the only stories of queer desire. Leaving Broken Bridge is a story of voyeuristic woman who craves to see her boyfriend with another man. A Pleasant Kind of Heavy, the concluding story of the book, is where pleasure palates are quite literally devoted to food, often not requiring more than one partner. Aranyani’s writing most certainly has a sensory charm and no two people are going to experience her narration the same way. I wish you a happy and gloriously gay reading of this fleshy collection of erotic stories!
* Aleph Book Company, 2013