The Blogging Devadasi

[Warning: Numerous links in this post are Not Safe for Work]

Friday night, after his outstanding comedic debut, I met up with Apul for a drink.

“I had a story left that I hadn’t got around to blogging on SM,” he whispered to me in a conspiratorial tone as his eyes darted anxiously around the bar. What had Apul come to learn that had shaken his normally unflappable demeanor? In the din of the Irish pub, which would have been smoke-filled if not for California’s strict anti-smoking measures, only three words penetrated to the heart of my blogger mind: “Escort,” “Indian,” and “blogger.” Could such a thing be? Is conservative brown society ready for a woman amongst their population who works simultaneously in the world’s two oldest professions? More importantly could she entice one even as jaded and hope-deprived as I have come to be with her blogging? Could time spent at her website, reading her blog, get me to halt the life of vice and heavy drinking that has ruled my nights since I was denied my one chance at happiness, when I was torn away from my true love and she consented to marry another? Let’s allow the story of Kama (and my own) to unfold…

devdasi3.jpg

My Grandmother was a Devadasi, but in earlier generations, my Devadasi ancestors broke with tradition and having left their place of origin, had been able to marry, enabling them to live more normal lives. I decided to become a practicing Devadasi so I could gain sexual and financial autonomy, and live independently of the South Asian patriarchy.

While studying in London I had become sexually active and I decided in that my dealing with men I could commercialize many sexual exchanges while still enjoying genuine intimacy and friendship. These relationships were often very temporary and transient, but they were also transparent, honest and allowed me to maintain my own independent identity. So having been born a Devadasi I finally came to place where I could reclaim and live a Devadasi identity.

Kama is a college student in London who works as a “Devadasi”, which others would refer to as a call-girl or a prostitute. The outstanding magazine Ego has previously interviewed Kama.

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EGO: Historically, how do Devadasis learn to please a man? Is there a special training Devadasis must undergo? In other words, how do you learn your gift?

KAMA: I do not believe that it so much about learning sexual techniques or physical bouncing around, as offering sexual intimacy with genuine affection. Many sex working women must feign affection because they have no particular feelings for a man with whom they might only meet once for a couple of hours. However, the Devadasi is married to the Gods, and our love and affection for the Male Deities is genuine. As each man is in someway an incarnation of the Male Deity, we can truly express affection for any man. So while I am a very capable lover, my gift was not learnt, but is the consequence of my genuine relationship with the Gods.

I think that Human Rights Watch for one would emphatically disagree with Kama’s views:

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The practice of devadasi, in which a girl, usually before reaching the age of puberty, is ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple, continues in several southern states including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Literally meaning “female servant of god,” devadasis usually belong to the Dalit community. Once dedicated, the girl is unable to marry, forced to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members, and eventually auctioned into an urban brothel. The age-old practice continues to legitimize the sexual violence and discrimination that have come to characterize the intersection between caste and gender.

The patrons of the devadasis are generally from the higher castes because those from the devadasis own castes are too poor to afford to [pay] for the rituals. In many cases a patron kept many girls and the number of girls used to be a yard stick of the status of that man. This system of patronage has given way to [a system of] commercial prostitution in the populated big cities.

Tehelka.com offers another detailed look at devdasis here.

I wondered however what Kama’s answer would have been if EGO’s question hadn’t ignored her other profession. What if they had asked this logical follow-up?

EGO (if Abhi worked for Ego): Historically, how do bloggers learn to please their audience? Is there a special training bloggers must undergo? In other words, how do you learn your gift?

I sat down at my computer with a glass of cheap whiskey cradled in my left hand and my back slumped only slightly, as Gollum’s must have before his rapid descent. I had come to her blog to forget the longing and growing bitterness inside of me. I had hoped that she would be able to coax “the male deity” out of me as she claimed she could. This was a very recent entry:

India’s five-year-old policeman BBC NEWS | South Asia | India’s five-year-old policeman

A more humane solution would be a proper widow’s pension, and the possibility of preferential entry into the civil service or police once the child has graduated from school.

My heart sank and I poured another glass of the dark whiskey. She was trying at least, but her blogging was not making me forget my great sadness. I had covered this same story more cleverly on this very blog. Perhaps it is I that should be the devadasi and help others forget. I continued reading…

Peeing baby temple fine reversed BBC NEWS | South Asia | Peeing baby temple fine reversed

I was so pleased to see that the Minister had intervened to overturn this heavy and unnecessary fine, almost three weeks wages for the father of the child!

It really is not fair for a wealthy temple to fine a poor family for such an accident.

I was now up to my fourth (or maybe my fifth) glass of whiskey. In addition to the pain in my heart there was now one coming from my gut somewhere. It was obvious that Kama cared for me, her reader, and wanted me to be knowledgeable about world events, but I found Manish’s entry (and Manish himself) far better able to elicit forth my “male deity.”

I don’t care for world events any longer. I just wanted someone whose blog would speak to me since my true love can’t. I wanted someone to calm my hopes and fears. To allow me release…

Too late do I realize that this pain in my gut is the grip of cirrhosis tightening around my liver. As I lay inebriated next to my laptop, finishing this entry, I swear I can hear a woman’s voice call my name just louder than the dull thump of these last few keystrokes…

39 thoughts on “The Blogging Devadasi

  1. I donÂ’t care for world events any longer. I just wanted someone whose blog would speak to me since my true love canÂ’t. I wanted someone to calm my hopes and fears. To allow me releaseÂ…

    guffaw

    Seems to me that blogging is very mastubatory in nature, so I don’t think you need to worry about Kama taking care of your release.

    lol

  2. She hails from Bangladesh and unlikely for a college student and her means of living she is much more focused in world affairs.

    She writes: (ignore typos) “As a Hindu who has experienced descrimination while living in Bangladesh I am fully aware that the Hindi can be just as bad when they have the upper hand by being the overhwhelming majority. The group mentaility that seems to affect people when they are the majority seems to then justify almost any excess as long as it is directed towards the “other”.

    It is so strange, the British are very suspicious of the Romanians, the Romanians really don’t like the Turks, the Turks can’t stand the Kurds, the Kurds are not keen on the Iranians, the Iranians don’t like the Indians, the Indians do not like the Bangladeshi, the Bangaldeshis treat the Rohingya like dogs, the Rohingya do not like the Burmese, they do not like the Thai who do not like the Khymer and so it goes on. I think it would be possible to go round the world several times using xenophobic connections as the discordant link between the various nations.”

    And when you read this (http://kamaofkingston.blogspot.com/2005/05/bangladesh-garments-aim-to-compete.html) you will certainly be compassionate for her:

  3. …I found ManishÂ’s entry (and Manish himself) far better able to elicit forth my “male deity.”

    Do you(Abhi) and Manish have something going on that we don’t know about? Your avid readers await…

  4. I hooked Abhi up with an anti-spam program awhile ago.

    So that’s what they’re calling it these days. . .

  5. It’s time to make a trip to London….. (for further reference, see my blog, post title: “Sigh”)

  6. god…why is she doing this to herself, i wonder?

    She mentions that her ancestors were Devadasi. Maybe she’s trying to combat the ignominy of being the descendant of prostitutes by treating prostitution as a respectable career.

    Or maybe she’s just in it for the dough… nothing more than an escort with a gimmick.

  7. Ummm, is it so hard to believe that maybe she also just enjoys sex?

    No, but it’s a little paradoxical that people who have issues with “sexual and financial autonomy,” and “want to live independently of the South Asian patriarchy” would become sex workers. Anyway, I’m just thinking aloud.

  8. Yeah, my fave quote of hers was “I realized that I did not want to live as a liberated Western woman nor did I want to live as a typically servile South Asian wife.” If becoming a high-paid escort with a website ain’t a very “liberated Western” thing to do, I don’t know what is.

  9. This lady is a very interesting person. I am amused by one of the commentators asking why she is doing it to herself. He has obviously not read he website. She clearly says that she enjoys it. Plus the money does not harm. Anyway, I have long felt that prostitution should be decriminalized and regulated. I am not sure if it is legal in London. No government has been able to totally ban the world’s oldest profession. Even in the stait-jacketed US there are numerous Escort services. Even the Taliban were not able to eradicate it. Any business transcation between consenting adults should be lagal as long as it does not harm anybody else. I would rather the regulate it, ensure that the providers get medical checkups, tax the practitioners and use the money to beef up policing effort against people traffickers and promoters of child prostitutes. Why should being paid for ex be illegal, when most “professionals” go to work for the highest bidder and will do things for their employers which may not be “morally” correct.

  10. How much would her ….er… services cost?

    Ofcourse I am only asking because I want to understand the economics.(Levitt should have covered this in his Freakonomics). I wanna know if legalized prostitution reduces or increases costs.

    And on a more cynical note – Dont u think she is piling on the whole exotica thing to carve out her place in the market and be able to charge premium?

    I would really like to do a study on the prostitution market, its so interesting.

  11. Ummm, is it so hard to believe that maybe she also just enjoys sex?

    Who doesn’t??

    How much would her ….er… services cost?

    150 pounds an hour is the basic package apparently……… Thanks to Abhi for the links provided.. makes engrossing reading :)

  12. smart girl, she should definitely charge extra for having to put on a sari…

  13. Personally, I believe that this whole tradition has never been about choice or personal pleasure, so the promotion of this as a ‘revival’, as a means to empowerment is hard to take seriously. I think this woman is clever, and has found a kitchy marketing scheme for her profession, which is perfectly fine.

    However, I think it’s important not to romanticize a horrible practice of sexual violence and slavery that even has the Human Rights Watch up in arms (http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-09.htm)

    There is incredible Power to rhetoric, and it’s dangerous.

  14. Didn’t anyone recognize my parody of the movie Devdas?

    Yes, Abhi, I caught it :)

    I’m actually legally obligated not to recognize the new version of Devdas by court order; all my Bangali uncles and aunties objected to the liberties it took with the story. I could be jailed for this comment.

    I’m also legally obligated to be humorless :)

  15. Okay, Can we stop being serious for a moment? Didn’t anyone recognize my parody of the movie Devdas?

    Sure Abhi, and we also heard about the “anti-spam program” that you and Manish are into these days. ;)

  16. Thanks Saurav. I was begining to think that all SM readers were in fact totally humorless. I tried to stay faithfull to the original as best I could. :)

  17. hahaha…I blogged about those dolls a few months ago–they’re wholly hilarious and somewhat disturbing It’s so nice to see them crop up again :)

    I tried to stay faithfull to the original as best I could.

    Oh, I thought you did a good job. But middle-aged and older Bangali people react to the Bollywood Devdas the way we do to the new Star Wars movies :)

  18. Heh. I did too (and my Bengali family had a rip roaring good time at Devdas, complete with making fun of accents and the like) but I really don’t want to start referring to Manish as Paro. . .

    OMG Those dolls rock!!

  19. Didn’t anyone recognize my parody of the movie Devdas?

    yes, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The only thing missing was Manish running through the house in a gorgeous 9 meter sari, tears streaming from his eyes as the gates close on his last vision of a dying drunk Abhi, laying in the yard…

    wah wah

  20. Well I am grateful for all of the interest, but the comments do seem to repeat many of the well-worn assumptions about the Devadasi and women who sell sexual services.

    The difference between the modern and corrupted Devadasi experience and the traditonal culture is huge. The Devadasi are currently mostly destitute and exploited, however rather than repress the “victims” I would like to see this matriarchy revived and those who repress the Devadasi to be constrained.

    I am proud to be a Devadasi, to be a South Asian woman who can control her own life and her own sexuality.

    Women who can provide and enjoy sex for pleasure should be able to live their lives without being second guessed by others

  21. I am proud to be a Devadasi, to be a South Asian woman who can control her own life and her own sexuality. Women who can provide and enjoy sex for pleasure should be able to live their lives without being second guessed by others

    Well said. But, out of curiosity, if you have a choice in the matter (as opposed to having been trafficked or kidnapped), why introduce money into it?

  22. Why not introduce money, I provide a service and my time and skills are valued by the men who visit me. No one has to visit me, but they choose to visit me according to the terms and conditions of my availability.

    I am married to my Deity, if men want to spend time with me as a substitute Husband for any period of time why shouldn’t they contribute to my household. Without such contributions I would not be able to be available to them.

    Most men can not afford a full-time mistress or lover, many men do not want the emotional commitment of having a wife and a full-time lover, so I am available and affordable on a temporary basis. The arrangement is transparent and allow us both to organise our lives accordingly.

  23. Dear all Let me tell all of u that if u want to see the worst type of life of devdasis , pls do visit south india maharashtra and this region where there population is high.\ Really speaking when i saw this link.i want to show Kama this place where thousands of women die and live worst kind of life. I am a male but pls i advice every male to think himself in the position of those thousands of women and then only give u r judments . I think spirituality is not at all concerend here , this ‘devdasi’ practice need to be removed from anywhere not only from south india but also from uk or any contry. Then only our children ,girls and boys will have nice social life to live

    thanks

  24. I am not ignorant of what many thousands of Devadasi suffer in India because of the repression and criminalisation of the Devadasi by the Elites.

    The problem is not the Devadasi but the exploitation and repression. The Devadasi used to be auspicious and representatives of high culture, but through the repression they have been reduced to destitution.

    It is as if someone threw you out of your house and then complained because you were homeless.

    The Devadasi are not the problem, the exploitation is…

  25. Why not introduce money, I provide a service and my time and skills are valued by the men who visit me. No one has to visit me, but they choose to visit me according to the terms and conditions of my availability.

    I find when I have to depend on something for my livelihood, it reduces my ability to say “no” when I don’t want to do something and it also takes some of the fun out of it for me. I’ve never done well-paid sex work or only talked to one person besides you who has, though, so I don’t know what the effects of it on you are though.

    Anyway, if you feel healthy and happy with yourself, that’s what counts, for you personally.

  26. The whole devadasi/ jogini thing is so beautiful..trust busybody NGOs to come along and screw things up. Devadasis are skilled dancers as well as companions of men.

  27. Excellent website. n the storm of life we struggle through myriads of stimuli of pressure, stress, and muti-problems that seek for a solution and answer. We are so suppressed by the routine of this every life style that most of us seem helpless. However, if we look closely to ancient techniques we shall discover the magnificent way to understand and realize the ones around us and mostly ourselves. If only we could stop for a moment and allow this to happen. May all beings be happy (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu)

  28. I have actually been following Kama for a while and enjoy reading her blog, she always makes me feel like I am listening to a sister, though I am not Indian I am an escort and do relate to her blog. Ironically I am a Buddhist I found her blog while researching for a new name for my blog.

  29. Sierra,

    I checked out your blog: http://www.thedevoteddevadasi.com/ I respect your choice to be a practicing Buddhist, but how, as a Western Black Female is it that you are calling yourself a “deva dasi”? In one sense, we are all slaves/servants/dasis/ghulams of THE MOST HIGH, so it that was your intent, alright. But as a Buddhist to you believe in God, a Supreme Being, of which to be a dasi to?

    Otherwise, forgive me for saying this but it seems a bit like cultural misappropriation.

    Also, how do you reconcile an active sexual life with your “faith” – Buddhism, which emphasizes celibacy, does it not?

    Just some questions, please don’t mind.