(puns always intended)

In Delhi people are everywhere and the pressure of people is atmospheres and atmospheres. Think of this. Each place you go being full of relationships that must be confronted. There is no singing that embarrassing song alone in the car with all your might, there is no serene and empty wilderness through which to walk,  no coffee shop with headphones on, no back of the class with a a private better-than-textbook book. There is nothing but the pulsing of the throng, rioting for multiple and separate demands. This book and its teenage protagonist uses that as grounds for exploration.

Anamika Sharma is a smart teenager, but more than that she’s curious in a real way. Normal teenage curiosity seems to consist of wondering what adults do or think about something and then approximating it. Anamika wants something closer to the real truth and it’s actively irritating not to have it. This is how the book wins me over. I have a desperate need to figure things through. If you could grant me the wish of knowing everything I would take it I guess, but if you could grant me the wish of figuring everything out I would burst from joy. Look, right now you are reading me blab about reading, both are me trying to figure shit out. Where essentially my only options are literature in English and my own mind Anamika has a diverse multitude acknowledging and interacting with her. There are teachers, Hindu traditionalists, pragmatists, hipsters, wretches, lechers, lectures, but mostly there are lovers. She starts out using mostly science and literature to cipher all her urgent questions, but quickly gets turned on to social resources. Others are a most excellent reference and her life in Delhi is the Library of Alexandria in terms of material. She has a sophisticated divorcee, a servant from the ghetto, and a girl from school with whom she explores not only her sexuality but a host of existential concerns.

People are a good reference but you have to pay a certain amount of attention or drag them into conversation they might not be capable of carrying on. Sometimes it helps to rely on certain shorthands. Sex is probably the shortest hand we can get. Well, I don’t really want to presume what kind of sex you might be having, but here’s how I see it: Sex creates this sort of hyper-state where the brain is roiled simultaneously with a million square of thoughts, emotions, and senses.  It’s like–  the sound of cloth falling folds in the cloth make that sound fold fingers into fingers press against one or other chest where heartbeats heartbeats are vibrations, sound, making sounds the origin of sounds is the mouth a kiss then memory of kissing near the sea then eyes blue eyes are the worst getting wider seing more things dust is floating slowly in the light that forms a shell around a curve, a line, a curve, a bone with muscle and skin and nerves, and nerves, and nerves, and nerves. Sex is when you answer the question “how do you open this door?” with “Grip the metal handle with your right hand, adjust to its coolness, squeeze pulling your four fingers three centimetres closer to your palm, flex bicep and twist wrist thrity degrees downward, pull arm and door toward body.” Or at least it, uh, can be that way…

To cope Anamika must exist in all directions simultaneously like a sphere with spikes, an emotional hedgehog. Each member of the crowd is pricked with a pine, and each spine is a particular inclination or question that an intelligent teenager is likely to have. There’s freedom in all that anonymity. Poke someone’s finger with a fine point, (the spine of how to be smooth? for example), and they don’t react much because it is a small injury. Poke another finger, and another until eventually there is enough blood to write the answer with. This is how Anamika uses her lovers. When a concern arises she disperses it among them by mentioning it and then throwing herself at them, and afterward she seems to have some new clarity on whatever the problem. It isn’t always this way, she seems to have some genuine desire even if a lot of it seems to be sublimated from other emotions she can’t confront directly, but there is definitely a trope of erasure. The strange thing is Anamika rages when she detects anyone directing ulterior motives at her through sexual pursuit.

And that’s something that happens on a nearly constant basis because having an intellectual’s narcissism she seems to find that everyone is desperate for her. When this happens she generally tries to redirect them by gently, even surreptitiously addressing what she thinks the real problem is. Seem like you need her and she’ll help you get a job. In that there is a desperate need to feel powerful and adult because part of the problem with having a lot of questions is that it make you realize there is all this shit you don’t know. When people around her act out like the sinister Chakra Dev placing a condom on her paramour’s desk it belittles her own use of sex to explore. So she, still having that intellectual’s narcissism, goes to the root and reclaims her sex and her lovers as only hers, as under her power, as safe for use. In other words, get your sticky hands off of the books, I the educated and authorized will show you how to find what you need.

It’s not surprising she views her a relationship with a live-in servant whom she rescued from an abusive husband and teaches rudimentary English to (when it is convenient) as a point of personal pride rather than completely unethical and manipulative.  She thinks with pride several times of “owning” Rani and of her being a kept woman. She has a passing thought or two that it might be a problem to hold complete, emotional, intellectual, social, medical, housing, and sexual control over another human being.

I loved this book, but it’s hard. It’s not a great book for the anxious and the lonely, namely me. I have so many similar curiosities but my approach is so different. None of the things she does would be emotionally safe to me so reading them can be a bit like watching a horror movie. Not that I care if her schemes or relationships fail (I assume so many of mine will it’s ain’t even a thang), more that I imagine myself in them as they are playing out and feeling completely on edge. That means I am there with here which means the story is compelling enough to keep involved, but in a way that makes me a little tense the way reading about having a stroke might.

Here’s the other thing, for a book so loaded with sex– the large majority isn’t that compelling. At a certain point the reader is desensitized. It’s often graphic but rarely lurid. When I read about sex I want to feel those certain triggers, I want to have to regulate my blush on BART by hiding behind the covers and the sheets, and that only happened a couple times. I mean, (guy in the $800 banana suit?) come on! it’s sex. I don’t want to think, “Oh she grabbed that woman’s ass… I wonder if she will pass that chemistry test.” even if that is what she’s thinking. I think it boils down to what I talked about earlier with the hedgehog. It’s a very safe sort of living disturbing people with only the slightest pin wound and being in no danger yourself. What’s thrilling to me is to learn with danger. To put something on the line. I want to go forth with only a rapier, my blood kept in and my flesh kept whole a result of good form alone, form that could be matched or surpassed at any touch. Though after reading this book I kinda think I’ll start to keep a dagger in my boot, you know, just in case.