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.



Insights with Gurcharan Das

Gurcharan Das used to be the CEO of Proctor & Gamble India and managing director of Procter & Gamble (worldwide) until he quit to become a full-time writer. His bestselling work include India Unbound and The Difficulty of Being Good.

He studied philosophy and business management at Harvard and has become over the years a bit of a sage of Dalal Street, often turned to for sagacious advice by business leaders.

He says that he sees his new big book Kama: The Riddle of Desire as the third part of a trilogy that deals with human emotions as seen in Indian philosophy - artha (weath), dharma (the morality of justice) and kama (desire).

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Modi didn’t sell reforms… We still reform by stealth, India grows at night when govt sleeps: Gurcharan Das

"Demonetisation has long-term positives... But why it is a mistake is the cost was too high. You don’t punish your people. So it’s not just an economic failure, but a dharma failure,” said Gurcharan Das.

Author-commentator Gurcharan Das with Books Editor Pratik Kanjilal at The Indian Express office in Delhi

Author and commentator Gurcharan Das elaborates on exploring the concept of desire, talks about the promises the Modi government has kept and its failures, including silence on incidents like lynchings, says lack of an alternative means he may return to power, and advises the Left to engage with Hindutva advocates.

Why Gurcharan Das?

After focusing on Artha or economic well-being in India Unbound, and exploring Dharma or moral well-being in The Difficulty Of Being Good, in his latest book, Kama: The Riddle Of Desire, the third of a trilogy, author and commentator Gurcharan Das reflects on emotional well-being of the country through what he calls a 'fictional memoir'. A Harvard University graduate, Das was the CEO of Procter & Gamble India and later managing director, Procter & Gamble Worldwide (Strategic Planning). In the mid-'90s, he took early retirement to become a full-time writer.

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“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

Read his latest column

My son is gay and i no longer feel reluctant to admit it. He has been in a loyal, happy relationship with his partner for 20 years and my family and close friends have accepted it gracefully. I didn't dare speak about it in public, however, for fear of bringing him any harm – that is until 12.35pm on Thursday when the Supreme Court (SC) decriminalised homosexuality. My wife and i suddenl...

Growth is good: Acche din comes only on the back of brute economic growth and jobs Arvind Subramanian's recent parting shot as chief economic adviser added a new phrase to our vocabulary, "stigmatised capitalism". By it, he was suggesting that the free market had still not found a comfortable home in India. The problem goes deeper. Many Indians have unthinkingly embraced the latest Western fad of...