Seema deals in the realm of what she dubs ‘soft power’ and the many female narratives which speak through traditional mythology. A London-based mythologist, expert storyteller and lecturer on the Kama Sutra, the Doctor specialises in the cure for a unique sort of human ailment: social distortion. “Stories determine our roles within the community,” she told us. “If we talk of how a woman’s identity only exists according to her husband we come to believe it’s true. Do you know how many folk stories exist about the ‘good wife’? For instance the one about the husband who gets drunk and beats his wife but she's so 'good' she puts ointment on the husband’s hand where it hurts from hitting her! Because he's her husband and her God! What role does this story establish for women? Stories truly are all powerful - they define us, they shape our actions and behaviours." Indeed, Seema acts on this herself by standing a strong role model, extending her narrative activism to the highest echelons of the corporate world: “because storytelling is such a powerful ‘performance orientated’ leadership tool, it is indispensable in the business world. Today, multinationals are facing a whole new challenge of producing ‘global leaders’ who can understand and acknowledge a multitude of perspectives and incorporate them into a single vision going forwards – managers have the task of bringing together incredibly diverse people into a cohesive team and the only effective way is through stories.”
Seema has instructed world leaders, consulted on film scripts, and contributed her visionary insights to the revival of the oral literature of India, in association with the UNESCO project for endangered traditions. Ultimately, the charismatic speaker doesn’t just seek to progress society and enforce a regulative standard, but pushes for people to be better and richer versions of themselves, having been freed from the corrosion of judgement: “building up a clean and healthy self-narrative is essential because that’s how you present yourself to the world” she aptly added. “How we view the outside and our internal landscapes is one in the same. That’s why my activism always comes back to the stories we tell. Let's not tell stories of the voiceless weakness of women but rather of their intrepid resourcefulness. If we tell stories of independent and strong women, they will eventually get into the atmosphere and become part of our identities.” (Seema also holds the Guinness Book World Record for the largest Rangoli so it seems the universe agrees!)
What grips you most about the magical and labyrinthine world of mythology?
Exactly that! The enchantment and the diversity and the wisdom hidden therein.
Does talking openly about sex have a progressive relationship with women’s rights?
When you silence someone, you automatically disenfranchise them. It's not that 'talking about sex' is important - it's that one should be able to discuss it if one wants. It shouldn't be taboo. But for women the subject of sex is still a double-edged sword. On the one hand its a taboo subject - 'good girls' don't talk about sex and yet women are judged and regulated through 'sex'! It is the biggest tool of control over women. If the subject was taken out from under its cloak of darkness and everyone was permitted to discuss it rationally, without the attending innuendos and stupidity, do you know how much of the fog and silent suffering would be lifted?
In a TED talk, you mentioned that ‘sexual energy is the highest power in the world’: is there a strong relationship with spiritualism?
It's too large a subject to discuss in a couple of lines but basically they say the greatest miracle in the universe is the creation of life and the sexual act is what leads to this miracle so it is seen as the most powerful energy in the world. The spiritualists theorised that if this energy could be harnessed properly, imagine what else it could achieve.
But 'Sexual energy' is NOT a 3 minute toss around or a drunken romp. It is a disciplined meditation.
How did you come to specialise in erotology; what got you invested in the early stages?
So - at the beginning the woman was supreme because she could create life. That's what made her the goddess. And then at some point that same ability to create life is what becomes the cause of her enslavement - suddenly she no longer creates life because she can, she does it because she is told to do so; she is told when and with whom. And if you look at the narrative the only thing that gets removed is the woman’s right to her own body, her right to her sexuality. I was writing a paper on this and had expected to finish in 4 months but 8 years on, and I’ve barely scratched the surface!
What is at the core of Tantric philosophy to you? What’s it telling us about the art of pleasure?
That because everything was created by the divine there is no distinction pure and impure or good and bad knowledge - everything needs to be learnt in our journey towards achieving God.
While we are on the subjects of myths, what’s an interesting mythology about sex?
Oh god - you want me to pick one? I could do a whole book! Here’s one: 'Short sighted women are more sexually motivated'. The reasoning was that if a woman could see desirable men at any distance then they would be more prone to committing adultery; short sighted and they’d stay morally safe!
You are a storyteller too; what theme do your stories usually have?
I love all stories by my favourite are the dark stories - the darker the better. And I love really, really old stories, such as the medieval Sanskrit literature.
Do you think there are many gender parallels between western and eastern mythologies?
Definitely. Mythologies represent human nature and describe human behaviours and gender conflict and power has been the basis for all civilisations!
Finally, what’s been a recent discovery that really spoke to you?
Ancient storytellers using the agency of repetition because the repeat- rhythm stimulates the alpha waves in the brain - you can energise or hypnotise a person. Isn't that cool? I had always thought repetition was purely for metrical symmetry.