When my Khala, who was a supporter and voter of Jamat-e-Islami, ‘caught’ me reading Ismat Chughtai’s ‘Masooma’ at the age of 11, she immediately ratted on me to my mother. To her horror, Amma nonchalantly replied: “I’m glad he is reading fine literature and not trash.” But my father was not as forgiving when he caught me reading Harold Robins’ ‘Carpet Beggars’. “Have you read all English, American, Urdu, French, Russian, Persian classical and contemporary literature that now you have moved on to trash?” he asked me. I still haven’t read all that but it has not stopped me from reading trash. After all, who listens to good parental advice?
So, ‘trash’, as our elders called it, has always appealed to me greatly when it comes to reading. But that ‘trash’ has to be spicy, racy, raunchy, funny and of course, simply offer some kind of information and knowledge about human behaviour. Naturally, erotica composes a big part of this ‘trash’ in the world of the written word.
My almost compulsive attraction to this particular genre led me to discover Chhalava that was serially published back in the 1970s and 1980s in Alf Laila digest. This was my first conscious exposure to erotica. Courtesy ‘Life is Too Short’, everyone in the literary circles who has interest in Pakistani writing knows about Chhlava now – the sensational, sexy story of a lesbian spy, Sabiha Bano. It was shocking for literati today that Chhlava was part of Pakistani popular literature back then. Not many today know that once this literature was openly published and sold on streets and footpaths and in the busses plying our roads.
When we were young – and so poor we could only afford rickety, thick-grey, smoke-spewing public transport – we often saw vendors climbing up the slow-moving busses in Saddar with booklets of nude, erotic pictures of women with titles like Sexy Kahaniyaan, Jinsy Mazay and others. Curiosity and hormones forced us to collect money and buy these sizzling-sounding and looking rags. And my God! The stories sent not just a shiver down our young spines but a heat-wave through the head and neck. And I shall restrict myself to the upper torso as I am not writing one of those stories.
This was Pakistan’s erotica. Popular, openly sold on the streets and men buying and reading them just as people read various literature while commuting on tubes or subways around the world. No shame, no hiding, though like a young, hot keep they could not be taken home.
Erotica was common. In fact, Urdu’s popular weekly magazine Akhbar-e-Jehan had a section of small stories called ‘Teen Aurtain Teen Kahaniyaan’. Often these stories were about so called love, lust and other related emotional issues. In those stories, lovers would invariably ‘jazbaat mein behak jatay’ and then a soft-porn description of the act was described in spicy innuendos. Chitrali, a periodical covering film news, also had sensational pictures and stories and also adorned footpaths and street bookstalls.
So, erotic literature was part and parcel of almost everyone’s daily lives in Pakistan, those who stepped out of the house and commuted by busses or walked alongside footpaths of busy bazaars.
[quote]Video not only killed the radio star but porn literature too[/quote]
Then Zia ul Haq’s Islamisation and the video industry arrived in Pakistan almost hand in hand. Video not only killed the radio star but porn literature too and gave birth to porn stars. Whatever little life was left in erotic literature in the public domain, Zia’s Islamisaton forced it to live under the table/stalls like so many other things deemed unislamic. People became more and more hypocritical. Doing ‘dirty’ things in private became kosher, caught doing them became a crime and a matter of shame. But to read porn is, perhaps, a basic need. You can suppress it, you can’t eradicate it.
To test my hypothesis, last year while getting bored, I went to Saddar in Karachi, parked my car and started walking around…for old time’s sake. Thinking after a long spell of democracy, especially after the so-called liberal dictatorship of the Musharaf era when media burst open on the national social scene, erotica must have resurfaced, wooing commuters and passersby with sensational, spicy titles. I was naïve and expected a great deal from democracy.
I started asking around. To my surprise and dismay, most bookstall owners gave me a stern look and sometimes a harsher, monosyllabic ‘no’ as a reply. Out of 14 stalls, just one owner paid attention to me. And then looking round, in a very shady manner, he went under the table, opened a small box and took out some booklets. Once again the stall-owner’s nervous demeanour was a reminder of the fact that Zia’s Islamisation has outlived the vicious dictator and made us puritans as a society rather than pure. And I went back to my adolescence: Jinsy Kahaniyaan, Sex ke Khazanay, Sexy Stories and a couple more.
The titles of these books are almost always rather bland, showing lack of creativity and imagination. The style of writing is also rather basic, the storyline develops fast with its crescendo always being sex. Of course, details and nuances or any socio-religio-politico-cultural commentary should not be expected in these small stories as they are not written with that intent.
However, recurring themes in these short stories unknowingly reveal one issue for sure: the sexual repression and sexual fantasies of our society.
However, recurring themes in these short stories unknowingly reveal one issue for sure: sexual repression and sexual fantasies found in our society. Anal sex is a theme that surfaces in almost every other story, if not every. Extra marital sex and forced sex are other commonly found trends. The most disturbing theme that surfaces is incest. Lesbian sex or sex with two women remains a big trend proving that it is one of the biggest fantasies men harbour.
[quote]They sound rather obscene, at times hilarious, in Urdu[/quote]
The titles of the stories are of course extremely graphic and arousing. Strangely enough, they sound rather obscene, at times hilarious, in Urdu.
Despite inconsistency in style and narrative, one thing that emerges in the print/rag erotica as a pattern is that most writers seem to sound like men. Hardly any women writers. But again it could be my limited reading and knowledge to blame. Now you will ask me how I know the difference. Answer: I have read enough of Xavaria Hollander, Wajida Tabassum, Ismat Chughtai, Manto and Harold Robins to recognize the voices of male and female writers writing about sex, sexual intimacy and sexuality.
In the first era of technology video was partly to blame for the fall of erotic literature in Pakistan, but I was almost shocked to see that the second coming of technology i.e the Internet has actually given a boost to it. Just Google ‘Pakistan sexy stories’ and you will discover sites upon sites carrying porn literature.
On the Internet the stories are found in Urdu and roman scripts. Some of them are really well written with an emotional tinge and good structure. The level of writing is far better and sophisticated than found in booklets/rags on footpaths, showing some of their writers are regular readers of fiction.
Interestingly, while sex with two women or watching two women having sex is a popular theme, gay sex is not found in footpath literature. However, it makes frequent appearance on the Internet editions. Mostly voices of young males regale the reader tales of their first experiences, emotional involvement with their partners/lovers, affairs and self-discoveries. Surprisingly, rather well written, fluid and highlighting societal trends, these stories never once lose focus on raunchy, steamy sex.
Apart from providing pleasure to readers, these sites serve as a space for coming out and unloading the secret that often becomes a huge burden on young male minds. They also provide a kind of relief through the knowledge that they are not alone and there are many out there who go through the same experiences. This proves to be a very healthy outlet in our claustrophobic, homophobic, judgmental society. The internet provides a space to gay people to express themselves without fears of being ostracized in a society like Pakistan.
Some sites have developing stories, which is a very engaging, almost addictive, concept. Writer starts writing a story, posts one episode, asks for reader feedback, and then writes the next episodes taking into account readers’ expectations and suggestions. Highly interactive, these sites have regular readers and some of them are even exclusively for members.
[quote]One gets to read female perspective on sexual experiences[/quote]
Another salient feature of this New Erotica is that female voices make their presence felt unlike in the old print editions. One gets to read female perspective on sexual experiences. Themes mostly remain the same with graphic details adorning the narrative, and an intensity that rivals the male writers’.
But ‘piety’ and ‘Islamisation’ has invaded cyberspace too. Recently, researching for this article, I found that most such sites have now been blocked in Pakistan. In 2012, in an attempt to cleanse and purify society, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) took notice of ‘objectionable’ and ‘obscene’ content on the Internet. As a result more than 13,000 sites were blocked; sites that were not in conjunction with our ‘eastern’ and ‘Islamic’ values and would lead to the ‘corruption’ of our values and youth. The irony is that the ‘diligent’ and ‘pious’ PTA was aided in this ‘noble’ task by a 15-year-old called Ghazi Muhammad Abdullah. The teenager compiled a list of a staggering 780,000 sites. The ugly question that remains unanswered is: How did Ghazi know about these sites if he had not visited them and gone through their content? But then of course, what’s the harm in viewing ‘pornographic’ sites for a ‘noble’ cause and saving Muslims from evil. This is the real tragedy: instead of enjoying content on these 780,000 sites, Muhammad thought it better to rat on them and block pleasure for millions of his contemporaries. God bless the inventor of a miracle called proxy.
As Ghalib said:
paatay naheen hai raah tau chahrh jaatay hain naalay
rukti hai meri tab’aa tau hoti hai rawaan aur
In all this PTA and Ghazi Muhamamd emerge as poor students of human behaviour. But when technology is there to assist human behaviour, no blocking, no firewalls can be erected in the way of seeking pleasure and fulfilling needs.
Recently, while looking for the Instagram app on Google playstore for my newly gifted Samsung, I came across apps of Pakistani sex literature. Yes, erotic literature apps with names like Pakistan Sex Stories, Urdu Sex Kahani and others are available for free downloading like any other customized app for Pakistan. Fasten your seatbelts — Adab-e-Mubasrat (Etiquettes of fornication) — apps are found teeming on mobile playstores. Tum kitna porn maro ge, har phone se porn niklay ga…
The journey of erotic literature from print to mobile screen leads me to believe that reading porn is a not a luxury or a literary pursuit; it is actually a basic human need. It is exactly like the need to read, perhaps, because no amount of visuals can fire your imagination the way a few words can.
With cellular technology outreach in Pakistan, availability of various amazingly cheap packages, and China making smart phone technology more affordable by the day, it’s heartening to observe that Erotica seems to be even far reaching and popular than the good old days of print or VCR, or even the recent era of the Internet where technology was limited to limited segments of society. Truly, technology is empowering. Now the genie cannot be forced back into the bottle. Wake up, PTA and all the guardians of morality and download an app!