Book Review: Rosalyn D'Mello's A Handbook for my Lover
Rosalyn D’Mello’s A Handbook for my Lover, which she asserts isn’t entirely fictional, is so exquisitely crafted and erotically charged it took my breath away. A young writer strips her relationship with her much older photographer lover of every scrap of clothing, leaving it nakedly exposed and bathed in the intense glow cast by the sheer poetry of her elegant prose, inviting bystanders to revel in the haze of sensuous introspection and be a voyeuristic onlooker, included within a love affair in progress.
This is one striptease that is remarkably free of all things obscene even at its most brazen when the stripper dwells at length on the taboo thrill of “…manusturprare, to defile with the hand”, intercourse during “monthly spillage”, the perils and pleasures of traversing “the universe of love and the paradise of sex”, discovering the ecstasy of feasting on the delights down under or the hazards posed by an unbearably long dry spell in the boudoir in the course of a relationship that occasionally flounders because it has no destination. No subject pertaining to matters of the heart is shied away from and D’Mello flashes a light on every hidden nook, cranny and unwashed crevice in the landscape of love, scrutinizing it till she and her passenger have both had their fill of gazing.
A skilfully constructed memorabilia, this handbook celebrates the joy of living life voraciously, hedonistically and with wild abandon, greedily gorging on every particle of pleasure that the human existence affords, be it a Chilean Red with wood – fired pizza, truly epic sex or the slow honing of one’s craft against the flesh and blood of an all – consuming passion. Interestingly enough for a work of erotica, A Handbook offers equal if not more insight into the fine art of conceiving and creating art be it writing or photography as it does love and lovemaking.
Bolstered by pithy inputs from fellow romantic conquistadors skilled in gathering together gems of wisdom and pinning it down on paper like Roland Barthes, Alain de Botton, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, Jacques Derrida and Kamala Das, D’Mello lovingly assembles the pieces of her grand love story while flipping the bird at absurd convention. With endearing candour she reveals her insecurity about her dark complexion which pre-empted her need to be desired and deep – seated wish for “earthly delights with all the seven deadly sins for company.” Her lusty revelations of sexual escapades, tampons made of toilet paper, and inability to walk away from the man who was the fount of her agony and ecstasy makes for a book that is to be slowly savoured and thoroughly enjoyed.
Too many books, TV shows and movies have been devoted to the tired subject of romantic love with its attendant mundane, low octane drama rendered at a feverish pitch, inclusive of every form of physical and emotional chouchou that is usually irritating and occasionally uplifting or arousing. What makes A Handbook stand out is the raw honesty and sheer ballsiness of the author, who is also possessed of an impressive ability to string together a sentence with stylish craftsmanship as well as profound intensity.
Even more importantly, it is a formidable effort in an increasingly intolerant climate where women are encourage to cower behind their dupattas and pretend to be coy, inexperienced virgins till they kick the bucket. How then can it be possible to resist the unstoppable D’Mello who says of herself, “I am all cunt, all receptacle, all slush.”? More power to her and the other women out there who refuse to be afraid.
This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express