When I was a child, I would see my mother giving Mills and Boon to my older cousins. They would banter about the ‘stories’ and I would look at the cover, and blush. A man and a woman in a semi-hug, eyes half closed and expressions of physical love. ‘Why were they reading this?’ I would wonder. In school, surrounded by Patrician Brothers and all things disciplined, the library was a “holy” place. And Blyton to Drew to Wodehouse to maybe Robin Cook to Quiz books to perhaps Jeffrey Archer to definitely Limca Book of Records a traditionally set way. Sidney Sheldon exchanged hands between friends and Harold Robbins only in the inner circle. Blush and hush remained, somewhat. I read the classics, felt safe and sane. And a prudish Miss Muffet too.
It was on the very first day of pledging 5 whole academic years to studying Literature that I was made to grow up. A professor distributed ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, aghast that we had not read it. Suddenly, the sword meant the male organ in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and all references to ‘pen’ and ‘orbs’ in ‘MacFlecknoe’ were exactly those too. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was a political satire and George Eliot was actually a woman, writing under a male pseudonym. So many wrote hidden in attics away from all eyes, and an equal number put sex and their sexuality out there just as they deemed fit. I was amazed.
I read Literatures from all continents, and I gradually grew. Not just away from the blush but into a woman who now realized the importance of that Voice – behind the printed word, and in between the written lines. The politics of Silencing too! Reality unfolded, and not just the art of expression but the Right to Express took on a new meaning. And the right to be Read. Just like raising your hand and getting a chance to answer was important to a child’s evolving mind, so was picking up that pen and letting it write for you what the mind held inside. For so many, that moment between the pen and the paper meant reclaiming a sense of Self, true bits of it that social norms and graces often stole away.
And I was introduced to the idea of a ‘Banned Book’, much like the letter ‘A’ in scarlet an adulteress was supposed to wear on her lapel once...
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