"If you are daunted by the 550 page 'door-stopper', which is how one critic referred to my latest book, Kama: The Riddle of Desire, here is a short appetizer that an international online magazine offered as a Christmas gift to its readers in the West. I pass it along with my best wishes for 2019!"

A Hindu's Reflections on Desire and the Human Condition


"Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness," wrote Vladimir Nabokov in the opening lines of his memoir, Speak Memory.

Nabokov believed that human beings are more afraid of the abyss after death and viewed the one before birth more calmly.

Whereas the fearful unknown of the dark voids drove my Hindu father to mystical religion, I was drawn to the bright side. There I found kama or "desire" in Sanskrit.

Unlike animals, human beings are not governed by instinct alone. Instinctual desire travels from our senses to our imagination, from where it creates a fantasy around a specific individual.

These fantasies become the source of intense "pleasure," and this happens to be the other meaning of kama. Ever fearful of too much devotion to erotic love, most societies are worried about this charming human inclination, and instituted monogamy via the institution of marriage.

This was done for the sake of social harmony. Fancying a neighbour's wife or husband can be an intoxicating temptation. Reaching for it can bring pain and tragedy, destroying families and peace.

Kama can be a desire for anything, but like the English word "desire," it refers generally to erotic desire.

Read More: http://gurcharandas.org/magazines/hindus-reflections-desire-and-the-human-condition

Gurcharan Das - Writer of Year Award 2018




India is the only civilization to elevate kama—desire and pleasure—to a goal of life. Kama is both a cosmic and human energy, animating life and holding it in place.

Gurcharan Das weaves a compelling narrative filled with philosophical, historical and literary ideas in the third volume of his trilogy on life's goals—India Unbound was the first, on artha, 'material well-being'; The Difficulty of Being Good was the second on dharma, 'moral well-being'. Here, in his magnificent prose, he examines how to cherish desire in order to live a rich, flourishing life, arguing that if dharma is a duty to another, kama is a duty to oneself.

This fascinating account of love and desire sheds new light on love, marriage, family, adultery, and jealousy as it wrestles with questions such as these: How to nurture desire without harming others or oneself? Are the erotic and the ascetic two aspects of our same human nature? What is the relationship between romantic love and bhakti, the love of god? Desire is a lack of something and once fulfilled, it declines inevitably: how do we prepare for the day when it disappears and turns bitter?

Gurcharan Das shows that kama is a product of culture and its history is the struggle between kama pessimists and optimists. The yogis and renouncers regarded kama as an enemy of their spiritual project. Opposed to them were kama optimists, who flowered in the courtly culture in the first millennium CE, especially in the classical Gupta Age, culminating in Sanskrit love poetry and the Kamasutra. In the clash between the two emerged kama realists, who offered a compromise in the dharma texts by confining sex to marriage. Ultimately, this ground-breaking narrative leaves us with puzzles and enigmas that reveal the riddle of kama.


Gurcharan Das on his trilogy on life and why he wrote KAMA : The Riddle Of Desire


Gurcharan Das explores the pleasure principle in his new book on desire

Pleasure and desire, in contemporary India, are contentious subjects. The rights of the citizens to indulge their appetites, for food or love, are being curtailed by the state and the judiciary. Gurcharan Das' latest book, Kama: The Riddle Of Desire, is pertinent reading in this context. Going back to ancient India and further, to the cosmic spheres, it revisits philosophies, mythologies and cultures of love.

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Excerpt from the book "Kama: The Riddle of Desire"

Arranged marriages are a compromise between kama optimists and kama pessimists, writes Gurcharan Das

Das's new book explores kama through personal experiences and philosophical readings.

Arranged marriages are a compromise between kama optimists and kama pessimists, writes Gurcharan Das

Sharma-ji was itching to talk about what was uppermost in his mind. At the first opportunity, he asked if we could suggest a suitable boy for Avanti. Both his wife and daughter were embarrassed but they were resigned to his coarse ways.

"Avanti is still young, what's the hurry?" asked my mother.

With self-important gravity, Sharma-ji rose to his full height, like a doctor proclaiming a diagnosis, and explained that the problem lay in an inherent conflict between the biological and social nature of women. Quoting Manu, he asserted, "Every woman desires every man she sees."

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Is sex more important than friendship in marriage?

Is sex more important than friendship in marriage?

After more than a dozen years of marriage, I suffered from the inescapable sulk of a lover. Avanti no longer felt the same physical desire. I remembered wistfully the blissful months immediately after our marriage when both of us used to rush home from work in anticipation of the evenings and nights of utter delight. But slowly and inexplicably, desire receded from her end, especially after the children came along. I felt resentful. My work too became more demanding and I came home later and later. I felt our marriage was caught in a middle-age inertia and it was beginning to dull my sensual feelings. Every desire seemed to become a decision in our unloving proximity.

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Gurcharan Das’ Acceptance Speech at the GQ Writer of the Year Award 2018


Open Magazine 5th Oct 2018 (by Arshia Sattar)

"Kama: The Riddle of Desire is a book about desire in the fullest sense of the word—it is about love and vulnerability, about self-doubt and betrayal, about wanting more of everything and being haunted by settling for less….When we read Kama, Das offers us a journey into the life of a body as much as the life of a mind, and in Das' narrative, the body diminishes through life but the mind expands. There are multiple strands in this complex book which is part memoir, part treatise, part life-lesson and most obviously, a tantalising roman-à-clef.

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/magazines/infinite-passions

Scroll.in 6th Nov 2018

"If you are someone who has ever loved, or lost, or dreamed of loving, or is frustrated by its paradoxes, this book is definitely for you."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/interviews/kama-unique-blend-theory-and-fiction-asks-what-desire-and-provides-no-definitive-answer

Hindustan Times, 10 November 2018

With an astute mind and a romantic eye, Das pieces together the riddle of desire, leading to the meaning of life. He concludes, like Proust, that 'what matters in life is not whom or what one loves… it is the fact of loving'… He deserves praise for tracing the history of kama and its multiple strands across the history, cultures and philosophies of both the East and the West.

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/the-riddle-desire-gurcharan-das

The Hindu, 11 November 2018

"Das has created this sense of enchantment, using memory as a device to summon the many forms of desire that play upon the mind [thus] entering an imagined world of beauty…. In evoking those moments of beauty in a lifetime of memories, Gurcharan Das is a poet-philosopher to be cherished."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/memoir-passion

Indian Express, 17 November 2018

"A fascinating narrative, it weaves the story of Amar, the protagonist, into a philosophical journey… It could have been a treatise, instead it's a grand novel with a gentle message of acceptance. Not unlike Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, which is a study of Western concepts, Das's  unique success is to tell the Indian story of "desire" which is much beyond sexuality…So seamless is the plot created by the author, it is the greatest kind [of fiction] that speaks of an era of social transformation."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/commentary/newspapers/shades-desire

The Week 28th Oct 2018 (By Sanjaya Baru)

"With this book and others, Das has established himself as a truly modern Indian thinker grappling with the complexity of the mind of the urban middle class Indian.

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/magazines/theweek/mind-the-mixed-indian

The Tribune 16th Sep 2018

"With empathy, effortless humour and doses of the philosophies of the great masters, Das examines romance, love, rejection, nuptials, family, infidelity, ennui and jealousy in the relationship of a couple. His book challenges the reader, placing paradoxes and riddles before him…The key word is balance, which underlies the civilisational equipoise— a good life demands a balance between the plural goals of human life."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/newspapers/tribune/chronicles-the-carnal

Business Line, 10 Dec 2018

"It is a ground-breaking narrative that is engaging and enlightening, shedding new light on the irresistibility of desire. It assigns new meanings to kama and tells us that it is our duty to live every moment as though it were our last because making creative use of kama serves a higher purpose of life."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/newspapers/business-line/the-tao-desire

Outlook India 5th Oct 2018 (by Manu Pillai)

"Is there really, one wonders, 550 pages worth of fresh insight into what Das describes as a 'sense-intoxicating emotion'? As it happens, there is, and Kama is a creditable attempt to encapsulate in a single, voluminous tome the author's informed grasp of the subject of desire. The prose flows smoothly…and there is strength in Das's exposition, enriched by an insightful reading of texts."

READ FULL REVIEW: http://gurcharandas.org/magazines/outlook/expatiation-riddled-tale

In conversation with Penguin India

Editor Tarini Uppal : Talking about his love for the written word, the life of a writer and his new book, 'Kama:The Riddle of Desire'.

“Something tremendous is happening in India, and Das, with his keen eye and often elegant prose, has his finger firmly on the pulse of the transformation.”

The New York Times

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