Cyber Sutra: India's online eroticism

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Now known for strict conservatism, India was the birthplace of erotica, famed for its sensual literature and carvings. Andrew Buncombe looks at a modern expression of an ancient urge.

India's cultural gifts to the world include the Kama Sutra and the sexually charged carvings that lure and intrigue tourists at Khajuraho. But the country's reputation today is as a much more conservative, buttoned-up society where couples risk opprobrium even for something as chaste as daring to hold hands in public.

Little surprise then, perhaps, at the roaring success of 21st century India's most recent contribution to the world of eroticism. The country's first online pornographic comic book strip is luring tens of thousands of internet viewers, who are logging on for a daily dose of stimulation and humour courtesy of the buxom Savita Bhabhi.

Savita Bhabhi is a busty and artfully drawn Indian housewife who loves her husband, Ashok Patel, but gets bored during the long days she spends alone at home while he is busy at the office. The full colour cartoons detail her fun-filled adventures with everyone from the door-to-door lingerie salesman ("Can you help me please... The hook is stuck.") to two energetic young men who lose their cricket ball in her garden and a hunky cousin visiting from the US. In every episode, Savita's bountiful charms and washboard-flat abdomen ensure she always snares her target.

But just who are the creators of Savita Bhabhi? The website of the full-colour cartoons, which appear in English and a number of Indian languages, including Marathi, Tamil and Malayalam, says the cartoons are the work of the Indian Porn Empire, which has so far declined attempts by local journalists to find out more about its increasingly popular housewife. It also failed to respond to a series of emailed questions from The Independent.

On the homepage and an online forum in which they interact with Savita's army of fans, the individuals involved use only screen names. "Deshmukh" is the site administrator and the writer of the storylines, based – viewers are informed – on his "hot" real-life companion. In turn, the cartoons are drawn by "Dexta" and "Mad". Given the fantastical nature of the stories and the Lara Croft-like dimensions of the dark-haired, doe-eyed Savita, one has to presume that the creators are men. Either that or resourceful teenagers.

Yet, in addition to the team's refusal to speak, even anonymously, about their creation, there are other curious things about Savita's authors.

Not only do they use plenty of American slang but on the online forum they reveal they do not speak Hindi. At the same time, the cartoon characters and the settings are very Indian. Bhabhi is Hindi for sister-in-law, and in northern India in particular there is a long tradition in popular culture of flirtation between a man and his elder brother's wife. Could it be that the creators are Indians who moved overseas and have now returned to their mother country hoping to cash in with their saucy idea?

"I do think that India was waiting for some mature and contemporary pornography," said Patricia Oberoi, a Delhi-based sociologist and editor of Family, Kinship and Marriage in India. "And this is certainly Indian. It has a very Indian touch. A number of the themes are no doubt universal but the settings are very Indian. And in India there is this tradition of authorised flirtation between a man and his sister-in-law."

The cartoons about Savita and her late-home-from-the-office husband began appearing in March. Since then, largely by word of mouth, the site appears to have attracted up to 30,000 registered users. In true comic strip style, every day a new cartoon is posted by the administrators as the month-long story steadily builds to a climax. The administrators say they are keen to be contacted by viewers with script ideas to contribute, and by people who can translate the cartoons into other regional Indian languages.

Many commentators believe that Savita – who in true Hindu style is drawn complete with a traditional red dot or bindi on her forehead – is more about titillation than hardcore stimulation, and point out the intentionally ironic tone of the cartoons, even if the comments of some of the forum users and the real-life photographs they eagerly post would not merit such a description.

For all its history as a birthplace of some of eroticism's most famous works – the Kama Sutra dates back perhaps 2,000 years and includes chapters not just on sexual positions but also on how to deal with lack of sexual energy, while countless statues and carvings in southern India feature bare-breasted people and even naked Hindu deities – modern India remains a country seemingly ill at ease with sex and relationships.

Gone is the sensuality contained in traditional Indian art, dance and literature, and the enforced conservatism at times seems suffocating. The overwhelming majority of people's marriages are still arranged by their parents – though that may have been the case in centuries past – and a woman is still expected to be a virgin on her wedding night. So-called honour killings, when family members murder a woman who dares to marry outside her caste or tribe, remain common.

Some of those attitudes may be slowly changing, at least in some parts of urbanised, educated India. While mainstream Bollywood films remain remarkably chaste (the majority of actors and actresses refuse even to kiss on screen for fear that it will damage their reputations) Indian audiences are getting used to seeing a lot more flesh than ever before. Indeed, many of the latest music videos are all but indistinguishable from a US rap music production.

Publishing too, is seeing a change, with the growth of so-called Indian chick-lit that could hardly be described as pornography but which is still far more frank and forthcoming than lots of other genres. Last month saw the publication of Almost Single, the first work by Advaita Kala, a confessional-blogger-turned-novelist. Her publishers went out of their way to promote the story of a single young professional woman's experiences in Delhi as decadent and daring.

Urvashi Butalia, a feminist writer and publisher, said comic strips and graphic novels were an increasingly important part of English-language publishing in India. She also believed the success of the Savita Bhabhi project mirrored a shift in parts of Indian society towards a more progressive sensibility. "Bollywood is increasingly focussing on bodies, male and female, and there is an increasing acceptance of sexuality," she said. "Also, Mills and Boon, which is mildly pornographic, is coming to India in a very big way."

But other commentators believe the inspiration to create Savita must, at least in part, be a result of India's continued repressive atmosphere.

Sarnath Banerjee, a graphic novelist who is currently working on a book of stories about sexuality in India, said that writing pornography required a number of different skills. "Writing good pornography, or erotica, needs rigour and an understanding of humanity. You are an anthropologist looking at socio-psychology," he told the news magazine Tehelka, which recently devoted a lengthy feature to Savita.

"You have to be repressed to write good pornography. For me, I was fascinated when I saw these prostitutes in Amsterdam, coming as I did from the usual anal middle class and its protected environment, where sexy was Ms Peters, the geography teacher."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits