Chocolate and Other Writings on Male Homoeroticism

Overview


This volume makes available for the first time in English the work of a significant Indian nationalist author, Pandey Bechan Sharma, better known in India as “Ugra,” meaning “extreme.” His book Chocolate, a 1927 collection of eight stories, was the first work of Hindi fiction to focus on male same-sex relations, and its publication sparked India’s first public debates about homosexuality. Many prominent figures, including Gandhi, weighed in on the debates, which lasted into the 1950s. This edition, translated ...
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Overview


This volume makes available for the first time in English the work of a significant Indian nationalist author, Pandey Bechan Sharma, better known in India as “Ugra,” meaning “extreme.” His book Chocolate, a 1927 collection of eight stories, was the first work of Hindi fiction to focus on male same-sex relations, and its publication sparked India’s first public debates about homosexuality. Many prominent figures, including Gandhi, weighed in on the debates, which lasted into the 1950s. This edition, translated and with an introduction by Ruth Vanita, includes the full text of Chocolate along with an excerpt from Ugra’s novel Letters of Some Beautiful Ones (also published in 1927). In her introduction, Vanita situates Ugra and his writings in relation to Indian nationalist struggles and Hindi literary movements and feuds, and she analyzes the controversies that surrounded Chocolate. Those outraged by its titillating portrayal of homosexuality labeled the collection obscene. On the other side, although no one explicitly defended homosexuality in public, some justified Ugra’s work by arguing that it was the artist’s job to educate through provocation.

The stories depict male homoeroticism in quotidian situations: a man brings a lover to his disapproving friend’s house; a good-looking young man becomes the object of desire at his school. The love never ends well, but the depictions are not always unsympathetic. Although Ugra claimed that the stories were aimed at suppressing homosexuality by exposing it, Vanita highlights the ambivalence of his characterizations. Cosmopolitan, educated, and hedonistic, the Hindu and Muslim men he portrayed quote Hindi and Urdu poetry to express their love, and they justify same-sex desire by drawing on literature, philosophy, and world history. Vanita’s introduction includes anecdotal evidence that Chocolate was enthusiastically received by India’s homosexual communities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Vanita’s introduction and translated stories will be useful to anyone interested in same-sex love and the intersections of homophobia and nationalism in India. [S]he provides a valuable interpretation of the stories and Ugra’s ambivalent stance on homosexuality. The stories could be read alone, but Vanita’s contextualization is critical for understanding the debate around homosexuality in India and thus the significance of Chocolate.” - Lisa I. Knight, International Journal of Hindu Studies

“A resplendent translation of an underground classic on a subject—homosexual desire – that still remains largely confined to the closet in India. Ruth Vanita has done an admirable service to Indian literature by giving this important work of Hindi fiction another life through her translation and a luminous introduction that brings out the ambiguities of the text and the ambivalences of its path-breaking author. A rare book that will delight and enlighten the common as well as the scholarly reader.”—Krishna Baldev Vaid, Hindi novelist

“This book is an extraordinarily valuable resource on sexuality. Ruth Vanita’s translations of ‘Ugra’ are fluid and comfortable (no small feat when one is translating from colloquial Hindi); her introduction is well researched, thoroughly documented, and written in lovely style; and her arguments are subtle and replete with enough material to introduce South Asia to a novice and to keep the attention of a reader well versed in the region.”—Geeta Patel, author of Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry

Lisa I. Knight

“Vanita’s introduction and translated stories will be useful to anyone interested in same-sex love and the intersections of homophobia and nationalism in India. [S]he provides a valuable interpretation of the stories and Ugra’s ambivalent stance on homosexuality. The stories could be read alone, but Vanita’s contextualization is critical for understanding the debate around homosexuality in India and thus the significance of Chocolate.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822343820
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2009
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Pandey Bechan Sharma (1900–1967) was a nationalist writer who edited and wrote for many Indian newspapers, was the author of several novels and short story collections, and was dubbed a founder of the genre of ghaslet (inflammatory literature). He lived in Benares, Calcutta, Bombay (where he wrote film scripts), and Delhi. Ruth Vanita is Professor of Liberal Studies at the University of Montana. Her books include Gandhi’s Tiger and Sita’s Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Culture; Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West; and (with Saleem Kidwai) Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History.

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Read an Excerpt

Chocolate AND OTHER WRITINGS ON MALE HOMOEROTICISM


By Pandey Bechan Sharma "Ugra"

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4382-0


Chapter One

Chocolate

1.

"Oh how I suffer, love has made me its prey.

Never has my heart been so wounded as today." Softly reciting this verse in a pathetic tone, my friend Babu Dinkar Prasad, B.A., flopped on to a chair, like an intoxicated person. I silently wondered what had happened. Why was he so languorous today? I asked, "Are you all right? You seem like a Majnun today."

Dinkar Babu sighed deeply once more, and said, "I had no acquaintance with grief, no knowledge of sorrow.

Those were happy days before I fell in love."

A verse, a sigh, and then a full stop! Somewhat annoyed, I remarked to my other friend, Manohar Chandra, who was also sitting there, "Do you see this, Mannu? Today he's inaugurated a poetry recital. He's started keeping secrets even from us. I wonder who's enchanted him."

Manohar Chandra was also fed up with Dinkar Prasad's riddles. It was surprising that he had kept quiet so long, because Manohar was a chatterbox. Now he said, "Babu Dinkar Prasad is a being from another planet. His idea is:

'I kissed the eyebrow that I found so beautiful

I felt as if a sword had struck my lips.'"

"Oh. Such a beautiful Banarasi poem! Whose is it, buddy? Kissing the eyebrow, a sword on the lips. Eyebrows compared to a sword striking the lips! Wow!"

"Has your fine lady, Urdu, been defeated by such a simple simile?" said Manohar, smiling. "Hear another one:

'I asked, Why have you put collyrium in your eyes?

She laughed and said, A knife is sharpened on a stone.'"

Dinkar: "Excellent. Eyes and a knife, collyrium and a stone. It's really very good."

When Dinkar praised the verse so highly, I said to Manohar, "Recite the one about the noose. Dinkar Babu will enjoy it very much."

"Yes, yes! Listen, Dinkar Babu!" said Manohar, and began:

"Ever since I fell into the noose of your locks,

O God! I wander, lost, as if in a maze.

I look at you through half-closed eyes,

O God! neither am I drugged nor am I able to sleep.

Alas, caught in the rope of your love,

Kings, thieves, and wise men all wait for slaughter.

'I am renouncing the world in your alley,'

So saying to my companions, I came here today."

I clearly remember what happened next. Manohar had not quite finished reciting the poem when someone called out from the door: "Dinkar Babu!"

"Yes, yes, it's you! I'm coming."

"Excuse me, brothers. It's urgent. I'll see you tomorrow." So saying, Dinkar Babu leapt towards the door. We saw that a beautiful lad of thirteen or fourteen was waiting for him there!

2.

I asked Manohar, "Who was that boy? Is he a relative of Dinkar?"

"Oh no. He's Dinkar's 'chocolate.'"

"Chocolate?? What do you mean chocolate?"

"Pocketbook."

"Explain what you mean, stop joking! Your chocolates and pocketbooks are Latin and Greek to me."

"It's easier to understand Latin and Greek, brother; to study these chocolates is very difficult. This chocolate disease is spreading in our country faster than plague or cholera. Society sees it all but pretends to be blind. People oppose prostitution, and are angered by widow remarriage, but will not even mention this. Why? Because society is embarrassed. The house is on fire but these gentlemen are too ashamed to put it out!"

"Explain a little more. I haven't really understood."

"All right, let me tell you clearly, memorize this definition of chocolate. It's possible you too may have to face it. 'Chocolate' is a name for those innocent, tender, and beautiful boys of our country, whom society's demons push into the mouth of destruction to quench their own desires. Highly respectable people in our society destroy these boys and make them bad charactered. There are many different names for them in different regions. In our United Provinces, people call them 'chocolate' and 'pocketbook.' There are also many names for them which cannot be written in civilized language."

"What? Can an educated person like Dinkar Babu fall into such a swamp of sin? Impossible! You must be mistaken, Manohar."

"Mistaken! All right, you talk to him about this subject in a sympathetic way and see what he says. He'll sift through history, finish off the Puranas, and prove to you that love of boys is not unnatural but natural. When I talked to him about it, he told me, on the basis of an English book, that even Socrates was guilty of this offence. He said that Shakespeare too was a slave of some beautiful friend of his. He spoke of Mr. Oscar Wilde as well. If you don't believe me talk to him yourself and see if I'm right."

3.

"Dear Gopal!

"Last evening I discussed 'chocolate' with you. When I returned home I felt that I had not explained the topic to you properly so I am writing this letter today. I would have liked to meet you, but I have to go to Prayag right now for some urgent work.

"I have reflected a lot on this matter. Society is suffering terrible harm because of it. The youth of this country are becoming effeminate. When a boy sees that many people are attracted to one of his companions, he, too, tries to imitate that companion. He starts trying to become a chocolate by using Venolea and then White Rose and then Pears Soap. Instead of studying, boys spend their time trying to look handsome. And once they fall into the trade of beauty their intellect is weakened, their desires are strengthened, and they develop loath-some habits. Many boys are destroyed because of their guardians' incompetence. Most guardians do not try to reform the secret lives of their sons. It's enough for them if the boys go to school and come back home, and pass at the end of the year or at least get promoted.

"There are all kinds of places in this country where boys can get ruined. Most of the efforts to mislead boys occur at boarding schools, Brahmacharya ashrams, Company Gardens, fairs and festivals. One often hears of teachers being responsible for boys' ruin. There are few schools where five to ten such cases do not come before the headmaster each year. Despite this, people do not bother about reform. There are few students who do not have a handsome friend. Students say their beautiful friends are just friends or relatives. But it is impossible to describe how they behave with these friends and relatives.

"Therefore, Gopu, this bad custom must be put an end to. Otherwise, the present generation in our country will destroy future generations as well. Very soon, bravery, virtue, and humanity will be completely destroyed. Enough-more when we meet.

Your Manohar."

* * *

A sigh escaped me when I read Manohar's letter. Even fate is opposed to the weak! How many ailments afflict enslaved India?

By chance, that very day, at about ten in the morning, Dinkar Babu arrived at my house with his young friend. The boy's face showed that he was intelligent. His bright eyes indicated that if he took the right path he could become a 'beautiful Indian.' To throw such a beautiful flower into the furnace! To put a gift of the Gods at the feet of a donkey!! Dinkar Babu disgusted me. I asked him, "Who is he to you?"

"He-he's my friend, the lawyer Mr. Banwarilal's son."

I said, "That doesn't answer my question. What is he to you?"

"He is nothing special to me. I'm his father's friend, so he sometimes comes to study with me. You can consider him my younger brother."

"Fine; please sit down, and I'll bring something to eat."

I deliberately left the two of them alone. As I went into the house I saw that the boy's eyes were lowered in shame. Telling my wife to put some snacks on two plates for the guests, I hid behind the door to watch Dinkar Babu and his 'younger brother.' They were both sitting at the table, somewhat apart from each other.

There was a moment's silence. Then Dinkar said, "Well?"

The boy looked at him and remained silent.

"Where were you yesterday?"

He still kept quiet.

"Answer me. How come you forgot me yesterday? You know I cannot be happy without you for even a moment. I couldn't sleep at night. I kept wondering whether you were angry with me. Oh! How much I love you. Come here!!"

This time, the boy replied, with a mixture of fear and indifference, "What nonsense you talk. If someone hears us, what will they think?"

"Let them think what they like. Does one need anyone's permission to love? I love you. Come here!

'Love is a pain, a fever, a torment.

Shaikh, how can you know what love is?'

Come here, Ramesh!"

"Say whatever you want from there. I won't come any nearer."

"I want to tell you in your ear. It's a secret. Come, I beg you, come!"

"Ugh! No."

"'A fleeting glance of love is the price of this heart.

This bargain is on sale, what are your orders?'"

This time Dinkar Babu sang the verse softly and repeated, "Come, Ramesh."

"What nonsense! This is someone else's house. Say what you have to say. Who else is here to overhear?"

"You won't come. Fine, then I'll come to you. If Mohammad won't go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammad.

'Mir dies a thousand times in an instant.

He has devised a new way to live.'"

As he sang, Dinkar Babu, aflame with desire, drew his chair towards Ramesh.

"Someone will come. Your friend ..."

Ramesh got up from his chair and stood next to the table. He said, "Please don't ever talk to me in future."

"Why, why, beloved? Why are you angry with me?" said Dinkar, moving towards him.

A bottle of blue-black ink stood on the table. Ramesh picked it up and said, "Don't come any closer. Otherwise I will hit you with this. Someone else's house-have you no shame?"

The breeze of anger stirred desire's intoxication. Dinkar became even more excited. Making a move to pounce on the boy, he said, "You are mine. I have a right to you. Why are you angry? Come here."

Seeing him pounce, Ramesh pretended to throw the ink bottle at him, merely intending to frighten him. But look at this!! The bottle remained in his hand, but the cork came off. Dinkar Babu was soaked in ink!! As if he had played Holi, he was drenched from head to foot.

Dinkar was overcome with humiliation, anger, shame, and desire all at once. Ramesh stood stunned by this sudden turn of events. Dinkar caught hold of him and began to embrace and kiss him: "Angry with me? With me? Darling, darling!"

* * *

Just then, I entered the room. Hearing my step, Dinkar released Ramesh. Ramesh's face was also black from contact with his ink-stained face!

I said, "Dinkar Babu, I had just arranged snacks for you but now I will also have to fetch soap, water, and towels. Perhaps I should give you clothes to change into as well. Your love for your 'younger brother' is worth witnessing. Very well, you stay here. I will take Ramesh to his father's house."

4.

After this incident, Dinkar was not to be found anywhere. Six months have passed, but no one has heard anything of him.

Ramesh's father has begun to keep a strict eye on his son's private life. May God protect Ramesh!

Kept Boy

1.

'Love has shown me so many things

Ah! You too must see them!'

The third bell had rung, indicating that the movie was about to begin. I was sitting with three or four companions in the second class. One of the friends sitting next to me said, "Mahashayji has not yet come?"

"He must be having a paan. He'll be here soon. Look, the comedy shorts have begun." Having dismissed my friend's concern, I looked at the screen, but this behavior of mine was contrary to the norms prevailing in my group. Whenever we went out for fun or to a play or movie, we always stayed together. Mahashayji, whose full name is Shriramcharanji, is a very popular member of my group. All of us are very fond of him because of his love of laughter and his high spirits. The fun of the movie would have been spoilt if he had not come. Mahashayji's comments were funnier than Charlie Chaplin's antics. Finally, my friend spoke again, "We all had paan together, so he couldn't have stopped for paan. I hope he hasn't got into a quarrel with anyone? Shall I go out and see?"

Somewhat annoyed by this interruption to my enjoyment of the shorts, I replied, "He must be on his way. He's not a kid. If he needs to, he can fight with a couple of guys. Why are you so worried? See what you have come here to see. Great! Now the scene is over. The lights are on-go and look for him."

All of us, still seated, began to scan the cinema for Mahashayji. In a moment, we saw him-sitting in the first class! "Why?" I was surprised. "We all bought second-class tickets together. Why is Mahashayji sitting apart from us, in the first class? What's going on? Why did he change his ticket?"

I called out to Mahashayji, "Hey buddy! Why are you on your own?"

Mahashayji: "Sitting there strains my eyes."

I: "But you'd save some money by sitting with us. And our seats are not very far away from yours."

Mahashayji: "I don't care about the money. 'The body is indeed the instrument of dharma.' Have a paan. Oh paanwala! Over here!"

Amazing! Beyond amazing! Mahashayji was never known to be so generous. Not that he never treated us to paan. He did, but only after much wrangling. But today he was offering a treat on his own! I asked the friend sitting next to me, "What's going on? What's happened to Mahashayji?"

"I think I've guessed what's happened to him. But I'm not sure. We'll ask when he comes over."

"What's your guess? Let's hear."

"Look at the seat that is three seats away from him, to his right."

I looked over, and said, "It's a boy. What do you mean?"

"Wait till the intercession and then hear what I mean. He's a very good-looking boy. Do you know whose son he is?"

"How would I know? Am I a schoolteacher or a headmaster? What do I care whose son he is?"

The movie started. The paanwala, instructed by Mahashayji, came over to our seats and gave us paan.

2.

As soon as the intercession began, we all surrounded Mahashayji. All together, we asked, "Well, what's going on?"

Mahashayji, smiling, replied to all of us at once:

"'Why do you ask how I am?

Do you ever find me well?'"

This answer did not content us. We bombarded him with questions. "Meaning?"

"What does that mean?"

"What do you mean?"

Mahashayji said, "After a very long time, brothers-

'I too am devoted to the lock falling on someone's cheek,

I too am the prey of time, of the passing days and nights.'

It's been a long time since I saw such a beautiful sight."

One of us asked, "What sight? Have you fallen in love with a film star? Tell us who it is."

Mahashayji: "Films-to hell with films. Look there! He-he is the one who has stolen my heart."

He drew our attention to the boy. He was eating something at the snack bar. I slapped Mahashayji on the back and said, "What kind of dirty fellow are you? You joke around with boys?"

But the rest of my friends wholeheartedly sympathized with Mahashayji. Aniruddh said, "Yes, Mahashayji, you have good taste. He is definitely a number one chocolate."

Kalyanchandra said, "Where does he live, you old rogue?3 This bird should not be allowed to fly away."

Mahashayji went on, "Just look at his eyes. Oh my, they are so wonderful. It is of such eyes that the poet says,

'It is from those half-open eyes,

That the bud has learnt to open slowly.'"

Shivmohan responded, "Mahashayji, your verse is not the right one. Bihari's couplet is more suited to the occasion:

'I have never seen eyes so enchanting.

God! Those eyes are like the eyes of a doe.'"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Chocolate AND OTHER WRITINGS ON MALE HOMOEROTICISM by Pandey Bechan Sharma "Ugra" Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS....................ix
NOTE ON THIS TRANSLATION....................xi
INTRODUCTION....................xv
ORIGINAL PREFATORY MATERIALS....................1
Chocolate....................11
Kept Boy....................19
We Are in Love with Lucknow....................30
Waist Curved Like a She-Cobra....................37
Discussing Chocolate....................47
O Beautiful Young Man....................52
Dissolute Love....................58
In Prison....................67
From Letters of Some Beautiful Ones....................73
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