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Explained: 'Is he worthwhile?' Kamasutra as a guide to social life


Updated: April 29, 2013, 3:21 PM IST
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Explained: 'Is he worthwhile?' Kamasutra as a guide to social life
The Kama Sutra is shedding its 'closet status' and could soon be mainstream reading.

New Delhi: Perceived as a byword for sex and appropriated over centuries to sell products and services with sexual implications, the Kama Sutra is shedding its 'closet status' and could soon be mainstream reading, says AND Haksar, whose book on the ancient text in now in paperback.

"I feel that the book, which has been seen only in terms of sex, is receiving the kind of notice which I feel has been deprived in the past," says Haksar, who has translated Vatsyayana's commentary on the art of love and social conduct
into English.

While numerous books with the title Kama Sutra have flooded the market over the years, those which have reproduced the authentic text are few and far between, claims Haksar, a former diplomat who has translated several Sanskrit classics.
Commissioned by Penguin Books to do a translation for their Classics series, Haksar says he had never previously read the text.

"I had seen picture books of Kama Sutra everywhere, more of illustrated versions with very little or absolutely no text. I got hold of the original text and going through it discovered that it was made up of seven books or chapters and only one out of them related to sex and that had achieved such celebrity or rather notoriety," the author told PTI in an interview.

The time has arrived to bring the book out in its totality, claims Haksar whose translation 'Kamasutra: A Guide to the art of Pleasure' was first published to much critical acclaim in the UK in the year 2011.

"Sex is certainly there but so are the guidelines on social life, about courtship, married life, ways of gracious living. Details of lifestyle of an elegant man or lady is also described in detail, advice which holds true even today," says the author. Scholars have placed the Kama Sutra to be written around 200 to 300 AD. "It is about 1700 or 1800 years old. Some say it's 2000 years old but just about that." says Haksar.

The author points out that Richard Burton had translated the text into English in the 19th century. "Burton was employed with the office of the East India company and most of the postings in west India in Bombay involved in Sindh War. He was also in other parts of the world and is better known as an explorer and a linguist and his translation was printed privately because of Victorian times prudishness."

The text accompanied by erotic illustrations, says the author, has had many pirated versions in English as well as other European languages and this went on for 80-odd years till the book was published formally in the middle of the 20th century. "Maybe it had got to do with some kind of revision of public attitude."

"Kama Sutra had a surreptitious circulation. My opinion is that this surreptitious circulation gave it the impression of being a closet book or one that should be kept away...In this country because of the lasting influence of Western values it persisted in the system longer.." says Haksar.

Even bookshops do not display the book prominently. "I tried out a small experiment and enquired about my book at a bookshop in Delhi and they too stacked it discreetly towards the rear. Very recently, however that trend seems to be changing with many version of KS coming out again in a public way. It is now been written seriously and not just a sex book.

It is actually an account of social life as well as sex life," says the author. The book is divided into sections with chapter headings that read "The training of girls", "The quarrel in Love", "Girls to avoid","The only wife", "Making a Pass," "Sending love tokens" ,"His background", "Is he worthwhile?", "Kinds of doubt" etc.

Haksar is faithful to the original text and presents a book sans illustrations, confining himself to its basic concept. "The book conceptualises the ends and motivations of life as a whole. Basically the three ends of human life and endeavour - Dharma, or righteous living, Aartha or material benefit which includes prosperity, security and lastly kama or desire. Kama Sutra says that these three legitimate ends should be pursued in balance and not one at the cost of the other," he says.

The text also names authorities who have written about the other ends. An interesting factor to be considered, says Haksar, is that the text is "addressed specifically both to men and woman. There are sections in it which describe education for women and it has long descriptions for example on what type of a girl a man should look for what kind of girls to avoid. What kind of man a woman should look for and whom to avoid."

The author also points out that even though the book is a product of a definite patriarchal society of ancient times, "The approach is quite liberal and is addressed to both men and woman . It describes education for women, calls for mutual caring interesting description of a whole chapter on enhancing attraction, various types of medicines used and general living directives."

The best known original Sanskrit text on the Kama Sutra is still published in Varansi , there has been another publication from Delhi with corrections, says Haksar who has researched the text and took the help of friends and family to
typeset the book, for which he says "there is no age limit to begin reading."

First Published: April 29, 2013, 3:21 PM IST
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