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Story of city boy’s American dream

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days — Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Fitting words by Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys, to flag off the launch of former student and debutante author Sameer Kumar’s book, American Vaganza. Also present at the launch was Michael Shane Calvert, the principal of National Gems Higher Secondary School and another former teacher of the author.

“I had been blessed with two marvellous English language teachers during my years in school. And I have memories of both praising and urging me to pursue writing. But then, when I was in the US, there was so much happening to me. I had lost a job, had no money to pay my rent and worked as an assistant to my landlord, who was a handyman. Now that was something I’d have never done had I been in this country and the experience taught me to value life and all the little things in it. So I started writing down all of it,” said a jet-lagged Sameer at Oxford Bookstore. American Vaganza (Power Publishers, Rs 399) is about all this and more.

After listening to the author read out a chapter, The Girl in The Rags, from the book and comment about every Indian’s “American dream”, Michael Shane Calvert, said, “Call it what you may, but a dream is a dream and it needs to be fulfilled. The first chapter of the book, titled Biryani, sums up the essence of the book. What is biryani? It’s nothing but a mix of rice and curry. However, the end result has a distinctive taste and is enjoyed by everybody. In this book, Sameer has allowed the mix of different cultures and has created a separate blend from that mixture.”

The chapters of Sameer’s story, inspired by true events, are written with the date and place mentioned above each and sewn together in a haphazard manner.

“Each chapter is meant to convey a meaning or value across to the reader. Each of them is a story in itself. One need not read the entire book,” the Wall Street professional-turned-author said.

Shades of desire

All erotic novels are not Fifty Shades of Grey. They can deal with issues such as marital rape, sex with godmen and soulless marriages too. That is what author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu had to say about her second book, Sita’s Curse — The Language of Desire.

The Delhi-based journalist-turned-author was back in the city to launch her novel at The Park and read sections from it along with actor Adil Hussain. Filmmaker Srijit Mukherji also participated in the talk.

“Why an erotica after a classic romance? Why this shift in genre?” asked Srijit about the author’s second work.

“The decision was not deliberate. While I was working on Sita’s Curse, I never realised it would be a full-blown novel. This book is my tribute to a woman I used to pass everyday on my way to work in Mumbai,” said Sreemoyee. “Sita’s Curse was my tribute to the woman who was trapped soulless in the irony of her life. This has turned out to be the most personal book till now.”

As passages were read out from the book, the audience got a picture of the difficult and unconventional journey that Meera, the protagonist, undertakes in life. There are pages of unapologetic sexual encounter between Meera and an ascetic as well as her final liberation with a man she meets on an adult chat site.

The book often takes a bold stand on religious beliefs and customs. Any fear of repercussions, Srijit wanted to know, as the conversation veered towards a woman’s sexuality and right to watch pornography.

“Conservatism is in some shades cowardice,” said the gutsy author as she explained how she has come across many women, especially from small towns and cities, whose lives were similar to Meera’s and who have faced sexual abuse and exploitation. “It has been an overwhelming experience,” she added.

From the importance of male gaze to feminist erotica as a genre, the exciting conversation ended on a musical note with Malabika Brahma performing for the audience.