Jaya Misra’s Kama is a fictionalised account of the life and times of Vatsyayana the author of the treatise on love and lovemaking Kamasutra. An Extract:

It was early in the evening. The ghats of Varanasi were decked with flowers. The scent of orange-yellow marigolds mingled with the perfume of jasmine, camouflaging every other smell in the city. Fires burnt high and proud on sturdy wooden torches. The city’s inhabitants waited at the shores of the Ganga in keen anticipation for the boats carrying their King and his army. On the deck of the royal boat, Narsimha sat astride his horse, looking at the distant fires on the final leg of his journey. He could hear the beatings of the drums and the soulful strains of a flute. He saw his city gleaming and beckoning him in the skyline. He had planned to return on this day as the priests had proclaimed it would be most auspicious for his kingdom. It was Maha Shivaratri. The great Shiva Temple on the edge of the Ganga glowed in the distance. His great-grandfather had built the temple after he had conquered the Mandwa kingdom in Central India.

Narsimhagupta felt a surge of pride that he had fulfilled his ancestors’ legacy with his conquests. He felt as though all the dead kings of the Gupta dynasty stood towering on the ghats, blessing him for bringing glory to their bloodline.

On sighting the first boat, a set of fireworks exploded in the purple red sky, signalling to the Queen Mother and the Palace that the King had indeed arrived. The royal family stood on the marble steps of the Palace. The Queen Mother and the royal wives in all their finery waited to worship the victorious warriors. Only one person was missing from this perfect picture—the youngest wife of the King, Ratnavati.

The Queen Mother and the royal wives in all their finery waited to worship the victorious warriors. Only one person was missing from this perfect picture—the youngest wife of the King, Ratnavati.

The Queen Mother looked at Ramanna, her regal eyebrows rising in silent enquiry. Ramannna backed away from the group to the Palace and scurried up the stairs to the top floor. Rushing down the corridors, she reached Ratnavati’s chambers. The doors were locked. She took out a silver key from the bunch attached to her waistband and opened the door in two clicks.

The room was dark and Ratnavati stood like a shadow at the window, looking out at the approaching boats on the river. Ramanna observed in dismay that she was unkempt and had not even dressed to greet the King. She hurried forward to warn her of the King’s arrival but something stopped her from moving further. A light breeze ruffled through Ratnavati’s hair as she stood still as a statue.

Something about her posture and silence spelt dread. Ramanna’s blood froze as Ratnavati lifted her hand slowly.

In her hand, she held a glass vial with a jade lion’s head, filled with a purple smoky liquid. Dreamily, Ratnavati turned the vial and watched the sluggish liquid swirl inside.

She uncapped it and Ramanna screamed.

“My Queen!”

Without turning, Ratnavati calmly said, “Did you ever think that death could come in such a colourful form? That too, from the shores of a strange far-off land called China.

This game of life and death is strange, isn’t it?”

Ramanna’s heart was in her mouth. If the young Queen died tonight, heads would roll. And the first would be hers! Narsimha was a ruthless tyrant who had a talent for sniffing out the truth, no matter what tricks one used to camouflage it. And the truth would lead him to Ramanna’s house. Visions of torture flashed before her eyes. Trembling in horror, she injected some strength into her voice and said, “To die on this auspicious day will bring upon you Lord Shiva’s wrath! You will descend straight to hell.” Ratnavati retorted bitterly, “I’m living in hell. How does it matter if it is hell I will descend to, after death?”

“To die on this auspicious day will bring upon you Lord Shiva’s wrath! You will descend straight to hell.” Ratnavati retorted bitterly, “I’m living in hell. How does it matter if it is hell I will descend to, after death?”

This angered Ramanna. She scoffed, “What does a Princess who has lived all her life cushioned in luxuries know about living in hell? Six years ago, it was I who showed you how to turn your sadness and weakness into your strength. Have we not prepared you for today? Will you fail us now, at this crucial hour?”

Looking at her sadly, Ratnavati replied, “I have lived my life according to others. My death will be my own.”

Then softly, she added, “You have given me the greatest joy of my life. Since then, I have lived in a dream. But today that dream will turn into a nightmare. I have no choice. Death awaits me.”

Ramanna was a survivor. She had made it her business to negotiate with all odds and survive any circumstance in life. Now, she asked coldly, “What do you want? What can I do for you?”

Ramanna was a survivor. She had made it her business to negotiate with all odds and survive any circumstance in life. Now, she asked coldly, “What do you want? What can I do for you?”

Ratnavati looked at her. Her eyes were large with grief as a teardrop trickled down her face. She uttered a single word.

“Vatsyayana.”

Her sorrow, her longing, her love and her desperation—everything was in that single word. It flew across the room, cascading over Ramanna’s frozen form.

“I want to see him one last time. Please.”

‘This had to happen today,’ Ramanna thought viciously. On the day the world was worshipping the great lord of destruction, her carefully built world would collapse. Only because of the boy she had built her world for—the only man she worshipped. Her son. Her life. The apple of her eye—Vatsyayana.

Excerpted with permission from  Kama, The Story of Kama Sutra, Jaya Misra, Om Books International, MRP 295; Pages: 335

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Also Read: The Changing Notion Of Freedom: An Interview With Anuradha Roy

Picture Credit: Om Books International/Jaya Misra

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