Economist and British Labour politician Meghnad Desai was in Ahmedabad earlier this year for the Literature Festival. The well-known writer and orator is eloquent about matters of the economy and politics, but it is also a pleasure to hear him speak about the chaos in our relationships and the shifting patterns of sexuality. I caught up with him during the festival for a quick chat about sexuality and relationships and he made some rather interesting observations that made me sit up and think.
“In a sense, all morality itself is imposed. People voluntarily accept it because of parental control, etc. The biggest hindrance to free sexuality was (unwanted) pregnancies and then AIDS. In my lifetime HIV Aids was the biggest revolution – just when sex had become possible, you were gripped with this fear. Now we have the antidote to both. Also, now people can even have the DNA test to ascertain whether it is their child or not. So, why this whole commotion about it now?” he questions.
Desai wonders why are we obsessed with the idea of a “trouble-free life.” He said, “Jealousy is a flavour of life. When jealousy happens, envy may happen, when envy happens friendship happens. You might get really upset if your partner does not get jealous - doesn't he value me? Why isn't he jealous?” While he admits jealousy has it's importance, he adds, “But things like jealousy, envy, inferiority complex, superiority complex, interpersonal aggression - they can't be eliminated. Life wouldn't be fun if you eliminated it. What seems awful when you are 18, you forget when you are 25. I always say - when you are 18 and your date doesn't show up, you feel devastated. When you are 25, you do not have time for a free evening.”
Desai, who has three children, believes young couples “have to pretend they are not vulnerable.” But they “definitely are vulnerable,” and “When you are vulnerable, the slightest things will hurt you much more.” A piece of advice from the septuagenarian, who’s been there, done that: “I always say that when something happens think of it from tomorrow's perspective. All of it will seem trivial. That is part of maturity - growing up is full of problem, full of fun.”
We could not but ask Desai, who married Kishwar Ahluwalia (he was 64 she was 47) in 2004 after his divorce from his former wife, about the biggest rewards of a long-term relationship. “Trust,” he says. “No matter where you are, you are confident when your partner is with you, is fond of you, loves you. It may or may not involve much physical relationship. And you are always glad to see each other.”
Desai also drew my attention to the idea of celibacy which he feels is rooted in men’s fear of women. “A classic thing about all stories about sainthood is heterosexual celibacy, which is internationally widespread. Why are men afraid of women? Why are some political outfits afraid of women? Why is it virtuous for someone to be celibate -for someone to say - it's fear of women - the classical theory that muni is doing tapasya to get power, and an apsara comes and she charms him and he loses all his power. So the whole power complex is built around the celibacy context,” he argues, adding, “The whole biological theory here - you abstain from sex or the semen goes up to your head...And It is not just an Indian problem - this is believed worldwide, all religions emphasize on it.”
What do you think of his take on sexuality? Do you agree that religion and cultures teach men to be afraid of women? Or is it much more than that?
On the Bonobology community: When jealousy happens, envy may happen, when envy happens friendship happens. Would you get really upset if your partner does not get jealous of you getting closer to someone else?