Trisha Das’s new historical fiction novel addresses the issue of consent
She has a soft spot for the past, especially Indian mythology
“Why do you think it’s obscene?” a medieval king asks Tara Singh, the protagonist of author Trisha Das’s new novel, Kama’s Last Sutra (HarperCollins; on stands now). Singh, a spunky archaeologist, has arrived in the year 1022 CE thanks to a tantric’s spell, and is unsettled by the detailed sex carvings lining the walls of Kandariya Mahadeva temple in Khajuraho. But the king convinces her to regard the act as purely spiritual. Das’s third novel gives historical context to some of our most pertinent issues today, including caste divisions, gender inequality, the power of feminism, and the politics of sex and consent.
Das has a soft spot for the past, especially Indian mythology, as her last two books, The Mahabharata Re-Imagined: A Collection Of Scenes From The Epic (2009), and Ms Draupadi Kuru: After The Pandavas (2016), prove. Her latest work follows the adventures of Singh, who has spent two years excavating the UNESCO World Heritage site of Khajuraho, as she tries to find her way back to the present from an ancient world of queens, concubines, courtiers, and the aforementioned rather woke king of Chandela, King Vidyadhara.
The author’s biggest inspiration for the novel was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, a book and TV series about a World War II nurse who time travels. “It’s the perfect read for history buffs: loads of period details and politics; an action packed romance with a healthy dose of the erotic,” she says of Gabaldon’s pop culture sensation. Das, however, is fairly confident that her own writing, which is unafraid to describe sexual positions in explicit detail, is going to offend someone. She also confidently doesn’t care. “Trying to please everyone is an exercise in pointlessness,” she says, and it shows. Her unapologetic writing makes this book a real page-turner.
Writing wasn’t always her first choice of profession: an unfortunate computer crash in college cost Das 150 pages of the novel she was working on. Dejected by the incident, she moved to films, where she went on to flourish—she won a National Award in 2005 for her instructional film Fiddlers On The Thatch, and has written and directed over 40 documentaries, including the much-acclaimed How To Write A Documentary Script. It took Das an immense amount of courage and persistence to return to the word—and she treats it like a hard-won second chance, writing every day, even when she’s not in the mood. “There’s a Post-It on my laptop. It reads, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs.’”