NAVARASAS – the nine rasas (or flavors) of experience and art (particularly drama) according to 2nd century Indian scholar.
SHRINGARA – the rasa (flavor) of eroticism
HASYA – the rasa of comedy
VIRA – the rasa of heroism.
I OFTEN write with Hasya (comic) tone. I want to make people laugh. I enjoy being the clown. This year and last year my Halloween costume, unlike most women anywhere near my age, was funny and playful, not sexy. On Halloween, the one day where you have nearly carte blanche to embody some flavor other than your everyday ones, I veered far away from the temptress. I was “Finn the Human” a cartoon boy living in a fantasy world where he is the hero of the land, warding off their strange monsters and problems – curing a giants stomach ache or an accidental zombie outbreak.
I’M REMINDED of the story I wrote about losing my virginity (which I allowed to be read aloud in my own high school English class – again, comically heroic) was much less erotic and much more comic.
NOT THAT I think losing your virginity in this culture is really ever “erotic.” As opposed to say, discovering a treasured and priceless jewel, it’s more like running a race with one shriveled, untrained leg. You reach the finish line and are just relieved it’s over and time to go home. You are tired, confused, scared – not much celebration to speak of. Not for me anyway. Maybe there is some Vira (heroism) in this story for most of us – an accomplishment reached despite the terrifying monsters introduced to us in health class, Sunday school, etc. As a sexually-active youngster you risk guilt, shame, STDS, hell, or even worse, pregnancy.
IN MY story there was heroism. I ran 3 miles, in the middle of the night, to my boyfriend’s house on my own doughy, untrained legs. All alone. In the dark. Braving the specter of his large and hairy temperamental step-dad lest I be caught.
TRYING TO use a condom for the first time has to be one of the LEAST erotic experiences. You’re reminded of all those monsters again – pregnancy, STDs, guilt, shame, possible death – maybe we should use two? And the oh so alluring smell and feel of latex.
SO THERE’S me – unsexy, unerotic – just comically heroic, like a hobbit.
SO, WHY? Where did Shringara go? Where does it even come from? I certainly didn’t inherit it – there wasn’t anything erotic, or even sensual for me to experience as a kid. At least not that I knew of, or until I was allowed to watch television after 8 PM. Our home was utilitarian, hard surfaces, warm but rough afghan blankets knitted by old ladies, nourishing but bland and quickly prepared food. Even my parents’ bodies seemed utilitarian – their physical smallness lent endurance, and maybe cuteness ; certainly not sensuality or even grace.
ONE HINT at physical sweetness I can remember was during summers at my uncle’s lake-house: my female cousins wore a kaleidoscope of bikinis from dawn to dusk and their brothers grew brown and sinewy from swimming and wake-boarding. I remember my Grandma hissing her disapproval to an aunt. I had one, one-piece bathing-suit, white skin and a round belly.
THEN THERE was my next-door neighbor; her homemade ylang-ylang perfume and candles. They had down -filled pillows and comforters and silk sheets. She and her Mom owned actual pajamas, while my family wore mostly oversize t-shirts or L.L. Bean flannel. Once we visited her Dad’s mansion and sneaked into his bedroom. He also had silk sheets, and a copy of the Kama Sutra stowed in his nightstand. I admit I was always relieved to get home.
MAYBE IT is heroic that I even managed to discover sensuality in this context. It was certainly messy and ridiculous, but my nature demanded it from me. I invested heavily in flavored lip gloss and vanilla scented body lotion – I fell crazily in love at age 15 and was consumed by all the torment, jealousy, fear and anger that came with it.
I SUPPOSE that all the rasas are inherent to all of us and cannot be suppressed. Consider the “nature versus nuture” debate – perhaps our own particular “cocktail” of rasas is determined by our innate humanity, and by our environment. In my own life I’d like to nurture Shringara. Only 12 more months till next Halloween…