Of course I had heard the name Mallinaga Vatsyayana countless times before I entered the house, starting work as a serving girl, and not always in the warmest of terms.
“That young dreamer,” scoffed the old gossips of Benares, “thinks he’s writing the secret to spiritual enlightenment. Well, so he says, and if he really believes it, more fool him.”
“Calls himself a writer,” others frowned disapprovingly, “he’s besmirching the paper he writes on.”
“Sacrilege,” spat the Hindu priests, averting their eyes in disgust as he passed, “simply sacrilege.”
My own family warned me when I took the job that he was not a man of good reputation. “He’s not the sort of man a nice girl ought to be associated with,” my mother said anxiously. “You should hear the things they’re saying in the village.”
“What things?” I asked. But nobody ever quite said. All I knew was that Mallinaga Vatsyatana’s ‘masterpiece’ was either the butt of everyone’s jokes or the source of their deep-seated disapproval. Still, the only thing I knew for sure was that he was a writer, and he was willing to pay me to bring him meals and sweep his floors, so I took the job. He was a man of education and philosophy – how shocking could his mysterious writings really be?
I have to admit I entered his house with some trepidation after what I had heard in the village, but he was nothing out of the ordinary. Tall and lean, with deep, gentle eyes and a kind, slightly absent-minded smile, he looked exactly like a philosopher should.
“Your duties will speak for themselves,” he told me when I arrived. “If something is dirty, clean it. If I call you, answer me and do as I ask. Can you read, girl?”
I shook my head.
“What a pity – but I dare say you might have an appreciation for the spiritual, if properly instructed. My work is little appreciated for its true nature.”
“What is your work?” I asked, burning with curiosity to know what it was which met with such strong reactions from everyone I knew.
“It is about a way of living higher and more spiritual than most can grasp,” he replied.
It sounded dull and far beyond my knowledge or understanding. But how could such a thing lead to such censure? My curiosity was not remotely sated by this vague reply.
The house was large and opulent, but the other servants were hushed on the topic of his work, shaking their heads when I brought it up, indulgent of the whims of their master but slightly disapproving, even embarrassed. I realized that if I were ever to find out what it was he was writing, I would have to do it alone. I had not been working in the house for more than a few days before I found an opportunity to enter Mallinaga’s chamber, under the pretense of dusting if anyone came to disturb me. It was late in the evening, and I had heard no sound of scratching quill for hours. I was sure that my master must have retired for the night. Noiselessly pushing open the door, my vision was immediately captured by sheaves and sheaves of parchment spread out on the desk. Tightly-knit writing, unintelligible to me, was crammed into every inch of available space, so that barely any of the original white remained. Stacks of notes were piled high, ink and quills were jumbled into a little pot in the center. The sheer quantity of the work was astonishing. But, when I drew closer to examine the papers more carefully, what made me gasp were the pictures.
All were of men and women, naked, most of them contorted into strange and obscene positions. Was it a torture manual? But then I looked closer. The nearest picture showed a woman, her back arched, her legs bent beneath her so that the back of her head rested on her feet, thighs apart, and a man, on his knees, supporting the arch of her back as he penetrated her. My eyes widened. These pictures were – the priests had been right, this was forbidden, it was wrong! But why, then, did I feel my flesh getting warm, my nether regions moistening with arousal?
“Are you going to censure me too?”
I actually screamed at the sound of Mallinaga’s voice, low and despondent, coming from a darkened corner of the room. I whipped around and saw him watching me, his chin on his palms, frowning, preoccupied.
“I- I was-”
“Curious, I expect. And now you’re horrified. I’m a pervert in your eyes.”
“No!” The word came out of my mouth before I could consider what my true feelings were. “Well I- I was shocked,” I confessed. “I’ve never seen such things done before.”
“And? Do you believe that there can be a spiritual level to such things?”
I stared. Why was he asking me, a serving girl, such questions?
“Erotic pleasure is a desire we all have. To repress it is nonsensical. To embrace it can be dangerous – but with my work, I can find ways to harness it, to bring spiritual completion, how to make something which so many people think of as base and crude into something profound, something beyond temporal comprehension.”
I didn’t know what to say. I only understood half the words issuing from his lips. He was clearly agitated, frustrated at people misunderstanding him. I couldn’t lie – I was also shocked, scandalized even. But I was also strangely excited, my heart thudding in my chest, my thighs moist, my breasts tingling. Knowing that I shouldn’t, half of me incredulous at my own behavior, I took a step forward and boldly took one of his hands, placing it over my left breast.
“I’m just a simple girl,” I said. “I don’t understand concepts like that. But you could show me.”
“You – you mean,” Mallinaga looked at me with his dark, sincere eyes.
“I want you to take me,” I whispered, dragging his hand down my body until it was between my thighs. The material of my dress hindered us, but I knew he could still feel the heat radiating from my arousal.