Richa Kaul Padte waited a long time for someone to publish a book on women who watch and enjoy porn in India. When that didn’t happen, she wrote one herself. Cyber Sexy, a book that sets out to “rethink pornography in the Indian context” will be published by Penguin Random House in April 2018.
In a green, quiet village in North Goa called Nerul, Richa lives in an apartment overlooking a forest with her two cats, Kenshi and Kitana, who are smaller than the length of her hand. She is part-Goan but says she mostly lives in Goa “because I was adopted by Kenshi and Kitana, and they are full Goan cats.” There’s a balcony filled with plants facing the road, and one at the back which opens on to an imli tree that houses “so much life: from birds to squirrels to bees to occasionally Kenshi, who likes to climb up way higher into its branches than I’m comfortable with.” She is terrified some builder is going to tear it down, and she has “visualised chaining myself to it, if that day comes.”
“I’m not a city girl,” she says. The clean air and verdant greenery of Nerul are far gentler on her recovery from a chronic illness. She grew up in Kodaikanal where “I literally spent all day playing in the shola forests.”
Her desk is a collection of objects that comfort her – a It’s Britney, Bitch! mug, a fish bowl half-filled with string lights, polaroids, and an iBook without an internet connection “that has revolutionised” her writing life. A framed Guerrilla Girls poster of the Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, a collection of Ayqa Khan artwork, and Uma Thurman shot by David LaChappelle are some of the images that surround her workspace.
She’s currently reading The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. When the blues come, she turns to a birthday present from her mother – Ann Patchett’s book of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Her Instagram feed is full of photos of her writing process including what she’s reading, researching and editing. Inspired by Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work which encourages artists (including writers) to share their works-in-progress, she’s determined to demystify what happens behind the scenes. She says “You have this image of a writer toiling away in secrecy. It’s really intimidating to make your own work, because you imagine other people have some magical process that you can never have access to.”
How does she navigate being upfront about sexuality? When she started out, she was never “personally candid”. She would write about the importance of feminist porn without putting herself on the line and say, “I like feminist porn because my body has this weird thing, and feminist porn seems to think that weird thing is okay.” In the past year, she has moved towards writing openly about her own experiences. This has been driven by her realisation that the non-fiction she enjoys reading like Lab Girl by Hope Jahren or The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit has “a strong element of the author within it” which makes for powerful reading.
But it isn’t easy, Richa points out, “as a woman, and especially as an Indian woman”. In the middle of a sentence she’s writing for Cyber Sexy, she’ll suddenly think “my dad is going to read this, and become temporarily paralysed.” Even though her father is progressive and reads all her writing, she acknowledges that it’s “still weird, and it’s something I have to consciously push past.”
She’s been writing Cyber Sexy since the start of 2016, interviewing Indian women and men about their experience with porn, and is in currently working on final edits. Two female friends who also love porn are serving as a second pair of eyes for the manuscript. If she needs another, we're happy to help.
Getting there: Cyber Sexy, published by Random House, will be out in 2018.
This story was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer based in New Delhi.
Photo source: www.twitter.com/hirishitalkies
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