(Hi)Stories of Desire is set to be a landmark publication on culture in modern India. It maps this via the route of sexualities and draws upon a diverse set of disciplinary locations and research to do so. In addition to a very comprehensive introductory chapter co-authored by the editors Rajeev Kumaramkandath and Sanjay Srivastava, the book has eleven very fascinating chapters written by a mix of young and seasoned scholars from diverse perspectives. And yet, the connecting link in the book is the attempt by all scholars to draw the reader’s attention to the tenuous nature of concepts such as culture and sexualities. It is also held together by an attempt to bring out the various conversations in India on the theme without adopting a nativist stand that seeks to proclaim either the antiquity or originality of such discussions. Histories and literatures of India are two very important entry points that this book employs to engage with the theme of sexualities. Sexuality as it has been experienced and lived by men, women and others and the accounts of this in fiction, memoirs and life narratives drawn from Bengali, Malayalam and other Indian languages add a very distinct flavour to this collection.
The editors identify the willingness of recent scholarship to acknowledge and engage with the specificities of sexual cultures as a very significant development in this area of inquiry. This has helped locate the study of sexualities within specific social and cultural contexts rather than thinking of it as an eternal and unchanging biological aspect of human lives. The shift in the approach has also enabled scholars to establish that matters of sexuality have a bearing on both the private as well as public realms.
Europe from around the eighteenth century witnessed the categorization of human beings into sexual beings such as the ‘homosexual’, ‘heterosexual’, the ‘pervert’ and so on. This was a result of sexuality emerging as a distinct field of study that drew upon medicine, law, education and other discourses. The focus of these studies came to rest upon the unit of the family that was charged with the responsibility of producing the ideal worker, citizen and sexual being who would cater to the requirements of capitalism. The editors contrast this ‘domestication’ of sexuality in Europe with the very different trajectory in India. Here, multiple pathways and diverse constructions of the private and the public spheres thwarted the emergence of any one model of sexuality acquiring a hegemonic status. Disjuncture rather than unilinear and uniform routes characterize the circulation of ideas regarding sexuality in India—this is the basic argument that this volume seeks to establish. In order to demonstrate it, the volume brings together temporally and spatially divergent accounts of sexualities in India.