I’d suggested to Ananth we meet at Cocktails & Dreams, Speakeasy, in Gurgaon’s Sector 15A market, one of the few places in the greater NCR region where you can get great cocktails. Ananth Padmanabhan, who prefers to use his given name only as a writer, is the author of Play with Me, an erotic novel published by Penguin India this month. He walks in at 6pm sharp, a copy of the book in hand. I think to myself that I could have saved the cost of the Kindle version I’d bought yesterday. But, then, I’d have been deprived of reading the half of it I had. Ananth orders a Dirty Martini, and I, a Clover Club.

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late
for me) –
Between the end of the
“Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

Philip Larkin’s memorable lines from Annus Mirabilis have been stuck in my head ever since I read them more than three decades ago. In India, however, the sexual revolution, though alive and kicking behind closed doors, has largely bypassed the popular culture of television, Bollywood and literature. So, it isn’t surprising that works of pure erotic fiction have been few and far between in the country, restricted largely to short stories. But, with short stories, “you’re only saddling the horse, not taking it to the water”, says Ananth. Play with Me, I can confirm fits right into the erotic genre, up there with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. If you have teenage children at home, it’s a book you should hide from curious eyes.

Play with Me checks in at a slim 246 pages and is every (single) man’s sodden dream. Sid is a talented partner in Alpha, a boutique photography-related creative agency. Into this sea of testosterone swims drop-dead gorgeous Cara, fresh off the boat from New York. She is attracted to Alpha by Sid’s work (Ananth is a photographer too, and one wonders if there’s any self-actualisation happening here). No surprises, Sid and Cara begin to get it on, in every way possible, and then some, with the sex flying off the pages almost before you’ve got your Kindle powered up. I could almost feel the battery heat up.

Play with Me is populated with a set of sharply etched characters, but the one that stands out the most is Cara. In between cautious sips of his martini (Ananth is particular about his cocktails and orders his with vodka), he says, “She’s so comfortable in her skin, completely in control. She’s not apologetic, she’s not guilty, she’s completely aware of the men around her and the effect she has on them.” Erotica for the author came calling a few years ago over a cup of coffee in Saravana Bhavan (unsurprising given his Tam-Brahm antecedents). It was written and parked away, desultorily trotted out now and then for the odd anthology, which found his stuff too hot for their binding. Ananth is head honcho for sales at Penguin India, and, at a commissioning meeting in 2013, publisher Chiki Sarkar turned to him and said, “You’re it.” One thing led to another, and, before you know it, a book that’s barely a month old gets sold out.

Play with Me is set in new India — one that is brash, confident, brand conscious, sexually aware and uninhibited. As Ananth says, “It’s a story about pleasure. What pleasure can do to love and what love can do to pleasure.” Need more persuasion? Read the teaser.

EXCERPT

Book-PicCara came back with a bottle of Jim Beam and headed for the bar. She had also brought ice. She poured herself a large drink on the rocks and some rum for me, and turned around to ask what I’d like it with. ‘There’s Coke on the table,’ I replied, organizing the pictures in the order in which I wanted us to go over them, so she could get a sense of what I had in mind.

She brought the drinks and sat down next to me. ‘So?’

I turned to her. The perfume she was wearing was subtle but lovely.

I couldn’t help it any longer. ‘What are we doing? You, what are you doing?’

‘Looking at the pictures?’ she replied, looking straight into my eyes. Her lips curved in a naughty smile, and I felt her hand on my thigh.

‘Actually,’ she began and squeezing herself between the table and me, sat on my lap with her back to me.

‘Cara!’

‘What?’

Whatever I’d meant to say fled my mind. Having her in my lap, her full body leaning against mine, smelling as wonderful as she did, I couldn’t help but lean forward and take a whiff of her, not just the perfume she was wearing.

‘You are heavy for someone so … lithe,’ I said, my hands on her thighs. She giggled. ‘Lithe? My boobs are my secret weapon; they’re what’s heavy. Feel them?’

Instantly, as if her mind were controlling me, my hands moved up her body to her breasts, bringing back memories of last night. I slowly massaged her breasts as she leaned back into me, arching her back, firmly pushing her boobs into my hands. My fingers found her nipples through her dress and I began pinching and rubbing them as they turned hard. She put her left hand over mine and kneaded her breasts harder and with her right hand guided my other hand down her body to between her legs, spreading them to make room for me.


Excerpted from Play With Me by Ananth (Penguin India, Rs 186)