A day after he flew to Paris, I found the copy of Kama Sutra that was meant for him.
He is a friend, a good friend. A friend who went under the flyovers of Jakarta with me to get an up, close, and personal look at street art; a friend who did that while quoting the American anthropologist David Graeber all the way. Like my other good friends, I got him a copy of Kama Sutra from a special bookshop in Bangalore, but unlike my other good friends, he hasn’t received his copy and the special magic that comes with it.
When I said magic, I did not mean the magic of suddenly enhanced sexual prowess. Contrary to popular belief that is partly caused by its modern iterations, the Kama Sutra is not a sex manual. The original manuscript, written by the early centuries Hindu philosopher Vatsyayana, is a collection of prose meant to be a guide on courtship, love, and pleasures in human relationship. Yes, some of its chapters discuss sexual positions, but it does so in a rather academic way and describes at length the types of biting, marking with nails, and slapping along with kissing, embracing, and the standard operating procedure of what to do if a man says the wrong name in bed. The majority of the compendium, which has no illustrations in its original version, also discusses the various forms of marriage, duties and privileges of the wife, how to treat other men’s wives, and courtesans. The original text described one of the characteristics of an undesirable woman as “a woman who smells”. Kama Sutra, in its original version, speaks volumes about the gender relations and stereotypes in ancient India and it does so through the universally enticing topic of love and sex. It is funny, it is eye opening, and it is, to me, perhaps the best thing from a trip to India that I can share with my friends.
I started the tradition of giving Kama Sutra to my friends in 2010, when I stayed in Bangalore for my field research and discovered the wonder that is the Blossom Book House. The second hand bookshop is a three-story labyrinth where books of nearly every genre snaked in and over their bookshelves – horizontally, vertically, and diagonally at times. It’s a mess of a bookshop, a beautiful mess because it is a mess of a place that loves books to much that they overflow and fill the place with the perfume of old papers that people like me crave constantly.
I found a copy of Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra in Blossoms’ erotica alley and read half of it in one visit. I decided to ask the shop for all of the second hand English copies they have, and they gave me four. I gave each one to my good friends in The Hague: two boys and two girls, all in relationships but only one was long term with plans for marriage. Within a year’s time, all four tied the knot!
When I went back to Blossom in 2012, I again asked for all the second hand copies to give to my good friends in Jakarta. Unfortunately, they only had two. I thought of this friend, the friend whose head is always up in the academia clouds, and his unlucky-in-love history, so I reserved a copy for him. I didn’t have the chance to give it to him upon my return and his Kama Sutra occupied a sliver of my bookshelf until he flew to the land of Michel Foucault, chasing his academia dream and (hopefully) leaving behind his tragic tendencies in romance. I wrote to him and promised to keep his Kama Sutra save until his return, because everyone can always use a little magic when it comes to love.
As for the other copy from 2012, I gave it to Twosocks. You can ask him yourself whether the Kama Sutra of Blossom worked any magic for him. 😉
Jakarta, November 2013