History with a modern twist

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 26 September 2018

National Award winning documentary filmmaker and author Trisha Das talks about her recently released book Kama’s Last Sutra which has a strong plot along with historical details and interesting characters .

Her love for history and mythology is evident in her novels. However, Trisha Das makes it a point to present the past in a contemporary way. The plots and characters are full of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. 

The National Award winning documentary filmmaker and author is back with her new book Kama’s Last Sutra that unfolds a historical romance in early Medieval India with some of the most powerful people from Indian history as its characters. 

Published by HarperCollins, the book, which was released on September 15, is all about combining a strong story with intricate historical details and interesting characters, swoon-worthy romance and unabashed sex, sassy humour and feisty fun with a serious social underlying message. Das, who previously penned Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas, The Mahabharata Re-imagined, The Art of the Television Interview and the internationally-acclaimed How to Write a Documentary Script, has written and directed over 40 documentaries.  

Here’s chatting her up: 
 
The title of the book (Kama’s Last Sutra) is interesting. How did you come up with it?  
The book is about a modern woman who travels back in time to the year 1022 CE, a turbulent time in India, and not only has an adventure that changes her life but also changes the course of history. It’s a historical romance. The title, Kama’s Last Sutra, refers to the erotic carvings on the walls of the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in Khajuraho. They are the last vestiges of a time in India when love and sexuality weren’t shrouded in shame or viewed through a myopic lens.   
 
Your books are full of romance, sex and humour, and also has a social sub-text. Can you elaborate what sub-text can readers find/ explore in this book? 
All my stories have a social sub-text, possibly because of the documentaries I made in the past. I’m unable to write without pointing out society’s deficiencies. I spent the better part of a decade travelling around the country, making films about social issues and witnessing first-hand the struggles people faced with gender inequality, the caste system, a dismal education system, unemployment, debt and a host of other issues. Something like rape, for instance, is always heinous but people in cities rarely understand how systemic it actually is in rural areas because of the feudal caste system.
In this book, I’ve tried to address caste, violence against women, child marriage, sati and gender inequality. That said, I’ve also tried to explore softer issues like female sexuality and pleasure, which are also important and related in so many ways to larger issues. 
   
Your stories have strong female historical figures. What is it about them that attracts you so that they become central figures in your books? 
I’m a feminist myself and I think that often women don’t understand what feminism means. It doesn’t mean you have to hate men or burn your bra or fight with people on social media. Being a feminist means wanting a society where men and women are given the same opportunities, regardless of the outcome. Where women aren’t forced to do what feels unnatural to them individually. Whether she wants to work in a bank or stay home and have kids — she is able to make that choice for herself. I think part of why I write books about bold, unabashed, feminist women is because I’m trying to explain what that entails and make it acceptable. Also because I think now’s the time when people are ready to talk about it, which is pretty great.  
  
Do you think women in novels are being portrayed strong, bold and unapologetic? Do you feel their desires, sexuality and fantasy are getting enough space in the literary world? 
Is an open conversation about female sexuality getting enough space in the literary world? No. Have we started talking about it? Yes. The topic is still embarrassing for the vast majority of people, even the most liberal among them. Authors often tell me they’re embarrassed to write about sex in their books and when they do, they skirt around the details to not make it explicit. Even at literary festivals, conversations about sexuality are often overly intellectualised out of embarrassment. The fact is that sex is as universal for women as it is for men. Pleasure should be too. Women need to control their own sexual dialogue in popular culture without the shackle of shame. Only then can female pleasure be anything more than a baffling, almost mythical subject.
 
Are you, at times, cautious of what you write about (history/ historical figures) because people easily get offended nowadays?  
I did six months of research for this book, doing everything, from reading history books, historical texts and academic papers to studying archaeological finds to watching videos on YouTube. I knew that people would try and point out historical discrepancies and go through the book with a toothcomb to try and find any slip ups. So I’ve tried as hard as possible to stick to watertight historical facts verified by experts in the field, outside of the story plot of course. If after that anyone takes offence, I know it’s not me, it’s them.
 
You are working on the sequel to Ms Draupadi Kuru... Tell us more on this. What new twists will unfold? 
Yes! In the sequel, Draupadi’s husbands, the Pandavas, will be coming down to Delhi from heaven and what follows is a very funny, rollicking adventure with a few surprises. Twists will indeed unfold. All I can reveal now is that it’ll be called The Misters Kuru: Return to Mahabharata and will be published in end 2019 by HarperCollins India.
 
What kind of conversations or exchange of ideas do you have with your brother Vir Das (as artists)? 
Vir and I talk about ideas quite often and we read each other’s work but write independently. Our interests are pretty different but we both have a passion for writing and telling stories. We use each other as sounding boards. He’s currently shooting an American TV show called Whiskey Cavalier in Europe, which will hit the screen next year.

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