CHURUMURI POLL: Is Samskara a little too sexy?

The demand by some teachers of Mangalore University for the withdrawal of U.R. Anantha Murthy‘s novel Samskara from the Hindi syllabus because the explicit details of the relationship of the central character in the book, Praneshacharya, with Chandri were difficult to teach in co-ed classrooms, raises the usual questions: are the floodgates of fundamentalism closing in on our minds? Are we increasingly becoming incapable of confronting the uncomfortable, of distinguishing fact from fiction? Is the rise of right-wing Hindu fundamentalism pushing the land of Kama Sutra back towards Victorian squeamishness?

Samskara (A rite for a dead man) was written in the year of the lord 1965. That Mangalore University’s “dons” should find trouble with it in the year of the lord 2008 tells its own story. The teachers claim women lecturers especially find it embarrassing to teach from the book because it has references to breasts on at least 19 pages. Their target audience? Not kindergarten kids but undergraduates in the fourth semester (second year) of their courses. If they haven’t flunked a single year, these students should be 19 or 20-year-olds. At an age when they are allowed to vote, drink alcohol, drive cars and if they are girls, marry, are they incapable of hearing about the birds, bees and breasts, howsoever explicitly?

Questions: Is a subjective accusation of “too much of vulgarity” reason enough to ban a classic from the classroom? Why are Mangalore University teachers finding trouble with Samskara 43 years after it was published when other Universities and teachers don’t seem to be having too much trouble with it? Should not even adult students be exposed to “sex education” of the novel kind in the classroom? Or is caste an issue here? Is URA who exhibits left-wing tendencies being conveniently made an academic scapegoat? Is the problem about Samskara not with students but with fossilised teachers using their academic credentials to play politics?

Also read: The U.R. Anantha Murthy interview

U.R. Anantha Murthy on N.R. Narayana Murthy

‘Not one single intellectual among the right’

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37 Responses to “CHURUMURI POLL: Is Samskara a little too sexy?”

  1. SumneNeeve Says:

    We had “yahathi” in our PU Syllabus. Yahathi was pretty explicit. I didnt have a problem when that was taught in the class.

  2. Alok Says:

    When a supposedly “family” entertainer like “Gowri Ganesha” details a supposed rape, explicit proposals by an office letch, a one night stand featuring the “switcheroo”, attempted prostitution, and constant references to the above during the rest of the movie, a few references to mammary organs, sexual intercourse and prostitution could hardly “corrupt” 20 year olds.

    Disclaimer: Despite the above, “Gowri Ganesha” is still THE FUNNIEST MOVIE EVER!

  3. Sathya Says:

    Whatever may be the merits of U R Anathamurthy – Samskara, it doesn’t deserve to be a text book. After all there ae many many good novels in Hindi itself. It might have been translated to many languages. Translating is ifferent , teaching is different.

  4. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    it was being studied in premiere institutions of the country like the Jawaharlal Nehru University
    adeya! Meccadalli kODO respectu nam galli maseedili illdidre!!

    How dare these incompetent teachers protest against the holiest work of the greatest littérateur of India!?

    Wait till Arjun Singh hears about this misdemeanor, his govt. will legislate a law making the book, the official text for ever!

  5. chappar Says:

    No wonder Commies coming in full support of another :)

    Certain things are better off if they are kept undisclosed. argument is flawed its like telling every one should sex movies coz they are adults. yes they have right to watch and they are legal whether to watch it or not is their discretion. The language class should concentrate on bettering the word power and the oratory skills of students rather than including such embarrassing chapters in subjects. If the students and Professors have a problem they have the right to protest and yes they have done it.

    ” incompetent teachers ” . If that was on a sarcastic note its well taken else such sweeping statements are really in very bad taste

  6. No Gravitas Says:

    Now don’t tell me university students will feel terribly shy/uncomfortable/disgusted to be taught a text that has a few explicit passages. In this age of the Internet? Mangalore University teachers sure have a sense of humour, if you could call it that! And pray, whoever said Samskara is about sex? URA wrote a great novel, even if he never did anything significant later.
    In any case, isn’t this debate – about what is vulgar in literature and other forms of creative expression — all too repetitive? After one controversy is laid to rest, another springs up. Churumuri – otherwise an enjoyable blog –would do well not to walk into the traps laid by these “madivantha mundevu.”

  7. prathibha nandakumar Says:

    What’s wrong with the people? We had Samskara for MA and we had seminars where we presented detailed papers titled “Was Chandri loyal to Naranappa?”, “Was Praneshacharya wrong or right?”, “Were the Agrahara people right or wrong?” etc, etc and we had heated debates and nobody ever thought it was vulgar or whatever. That is why Kannada literature is in a league apart from all other Indian language literatures. We wrote poems like “Mole” etc 25 years ago and nobody made any noise, and today in 2007 one Kutty Revathi writes a poem titled “Molaigal” in Tamil and it not only starts a big big agitation in Tamil Nadu but also becomes headline news on National TV and cover page on ‘India Today’! I told a packed audience at a national seminar in Trivandrum how disappointed I was that Karnataka has an extremely mature reading population and that we never face any sort of opposition on such matters!! In that same seminar Malayalam translations of my poems with lines like “Bra kalachuvaste sulabhavaagi Brahmanatvavannoo kalacabahudu…” were read out and there was a collective gasp. Later when Thiruvananthapuram TV interviewed me and the guy asked me “You mean there was absolutely no protest?!!!” I said “come on, we are Kannadigas and we are mature and we don’t act in a silly fashion” and I meant it.
    Now who are these stupids who can’t teach ‘Samskara’? Kick them out.

  8. Mayura Says:

    I think the issue here is about teaching a hindi translation of Samskara and removal of the same from the hindi syllabus. So I am assuming the students would be largely North Indians.

    What is wrong with this people, these are the same people who enjoy Mahesh bhatts skin flicks that borders on soft porn but cannot stand the mention of a female anatomical part in 19 pages. I guess the reason could be that it is too complex a plot for the Northies to understand :) and they don’t want to admit it :)

  9. babuds Says:

    I haven’t read the novel, but seen the movie. which for me appeared quite harmless, as opposed to the current movies, which have all the midnight masala in daylight hours.

    The Mangalore University teachers must be really sick in their minds to make an issue about a novel which has references to the word “breasts”. That way all the classical literature in Sanskrit has endless references to breasts, Navel and buttocks. Even the slokas praying guddess Devi, goes something like this “Kuchonnate (big breasted) ….”. They are meant to praise a woman and her beauty. These teachers have forgotten that breasts are also for feeding infants.

  10. Aatmasakshi Says:

    Are lecturers of Mangalore University’s Hindi department teaching “Samskara”, or are lechers of Mangalore University’s Hindi department teaching “Samskara”? If they do not know the difference between literature and titillation, between sex pornography, then we have a big problem indeed.

  11. sathya Says:

    PN, MA seminar is different and teaching in a class is different. Not that somebody is against URA. Shleela and ashleela are very much relative terms. No doubt Bra rhymes well with Brahmanathva. Seminars / workshops/ literary debates outside the state are altogether different. In a Workshop in Trivandrum a question was asked by a writer as to who is the best writer in Kannada. Before it could be answered somebody from the Malayalm literary field pointed that as fas as Kerala was considered Alanahalli Krishna was the greates, because all his novels were serialised in Malayalam weeklies. On the contrar PN might not have forgotten about the translated short story of Malayalam into English and published in the Deccan Herald -where PN now works I suppose- and the repercussions of it in Karnataka.

  12. prathibha nandakumar Says:

    Dont insult HIndi writers and readers and the north Indians. They have read Kushwanth Singh, Amrita Pritam, Sahir, Ismath Chugtai and others who have written much more in graphic details. I am sure the idea of asking for a ban on samskara has come from some chaddi or kesari, nothing more.

  13. Kadana Kuthuhala Says:

    This kind of a senseless demand for withdrawl is a classic case where the teachers need to educated first before we even let them go near students.
    With such teachers, education system is bound to fail..

  14. Mayura Says:

    Prathiba,

    How did you conclude that some chaddi or kesari is behind this controversy.

    Is it your imagination or plain case of pseudo-secularitis which afflicts all journalists.

    Can you please throw some light on this.

    Thanks

  15. sathya Says:

    Saffronisation/chaDDikaraNa – why this point should come when a matter is being debated academically. People in the Universities and elsewhere know how text vooks are prescribed. That is an oen secret. Many times you scratch my back I wil scratch your back is the policy. What is the opinion of the student community , nobody is thinking. And when questions are asked what answers should the teachers expect and what would be the answers. Why politicize aan academic matter?

  16. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Mayura,

    Arent ‘cheddis and kesaris’ the ones who burn valentines cards and prevent couples from sitting around, holding hands and kissing in parks?

  17. Mayura Says:

    AG,

    I think it was the Shit Sena which indulged in such acts in Mumbai. As far as I know, there is not such incident in Karnataka or Bangalore

  18. Mrignayani Says:

    Thank you AG, I was about to say that. But it goes deeper than that. we are not a society of “madi…madi”. we are (were?) very liberal. If you remember when they were planning to beautify Cubbon Park during 1930s in a letter, giving suggestions, Sir M Vishwaswaraya wrote “please see that there are no harsh lights in the park, keep it subdued because young husband and wife who come to the park for some privacy should not be disturbed. They have no other place where they can enjoy some moments together” (those days were of big joint families) Can anyone give such suggestions to the government these days? just analyse why there is a sudden cry for ban on a book which Kannadigas have read for the past 42 years? The first circular sent by the kesari govt was to ask all TV news readers to wear ONLY salwar kameez and cover themselves fully with dupattas.

  19. Mrignayani Says:

    Sathya- If you are reffering to the “mohammad the…. ” protest – it was politically instigated. and I am still trying to find out why such protests ocure.
    secondly Alanahalli still is most popular in Malaylam, no debate, what are you trying to say?
    third I said IT WAS OUR TEXT BOOK IN MA AND WE HAD SEMINARS as MA students. We had a paper on Samskara and we had to write answers to pass. It was not a serminar just like that. It was taught by our lecturers without making it feel like they were teaching something vulgur.

  20. prathibha nandakumar Says:

    thanks Mrignayani

  21. Mayura Says:

    AG,

    And when did the protest by Chaddis and Kesaris stop people from going to parks and holding hands or celebrating valentine’s day (valentines day itself is a creation of Hallmark kind of companies is another story for another day :) )

    My friend was telling me now a days in bengalooru, you can see young college kids smooching in street corners…so what is the issue here.

    Why blame chaddis/kesaris without proof.

  22. Mayura Says:

    >>The first circular sent by the kesari govt was to ask all TV news readers to wear ONLY salwar kameez and cover themselves fully with dupattas.
    >>

    Mriganayani,

    Do you have any proof for this or is the same kind of allegation the oppostion made against NDA during their 7 days rule that they had a lot of official secret documents photocopied :)

  23. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Mrignayani said: ‘third I said IT WAS OUR TEXT BOOK IN MA AND WE HAD SEMINARS as MA students.’

    You didnt say that PN did.

    Unless, Mrignayani = Prathibha Nandakumar?!

    :)

  24. thalaeharatae Says:

    AG,

    Mate..you bunked all your English comprehension classes..dint you ?

  25. tarlesubba Says:

    i dont understand why samskaara is being studied at graduate level in translation, especially in karnataka.

    do you have to give a degree to be able to ruminate on what has been already been said? i would have thunk at that level, they would be analyzing and dissecting techniques and going into meta principles of art and all i thought they taught in these courses.

    what is the big deal about the ‘story’? analysing the story is what a slightly in-pursoat layman audience would do, no?

    is this how one man’s dogma and worldview becomes the veda-vaakya of an entire class of people? – lapping up the story. isn’t this a sophisticated way of manufacturing acceptable class of ideas and an in-fashion set of intellectuals?

    i bet this is why marx holds the place he does. always what he said and nuances of there in, but never applying marx to marx himself.

  26. Bhaskar Chatterjee Says:

    We got a signed statement from Irphan Habib, Chomsky & others kind of treading middle path on Nandigram. But they never opened their mouth on Taslima Nasrin who was banished from “left bastion” Calcutta to “land of Rup Kanwar”- Rajasthan.

    So, what we are seeing today is largely creation of elite following “left wing tendencies” who followed double standard.

    The fate of these people were sealed the day a Govt was forced to retract on Shah Banu- when a Supreme Court judgement was sacrificed to the alter to mass violence. Only Ram Guha has the courage to condemn U-turn on Shah Banu. Others keep mum.

    Why complain now? Let them keep mum.

  27. December Stud Says:

    This is the stupidest controversy!!! Whoever started this, needs a fast track lesson on life.

    We had ‘Carvalho’ in 12th standard….for heaven’s sake, the novel colorfully compared a kid sucking milk from his mother’s breasts to a guy smoking guDguDi!!!! My prof. conveniently skipped such pages, that’s a different story.

    A few of us had the unabridged version of the novel, which blatantly used below the belt words, needless to say boys were thrilled!!!

    On a more serious note, if the Mangalore university teachers are uncomfortable to teach ‘Samskara’, they need to be fired!

  28. Hosa-Belaku Says:

    Let us look at this issue constructively. A literary work originally written in Kannada has been prescribed as text. It is good for students to be exposed to writings that reflect society’s practices and imbalances. Along with it comes a writer’s style, prejudices and experiences. All of this is open for interpretation, learning, analysis and a “good read.”
    Now, all teachers are human. Some of them are prudes as well. What is required is to provide them with a body of supportive literature –literary criticism that spans the content, the style, the writer’s leanings, the societal milieu that provides the setting for the story, other writers of that age and so on. This is a routinely done exercise for much of English literature. With such material at hand, this set of beleagured teachers can shake off their “embarassment” and fall back on convenient “teaching modules.”
    As and when fresh and contemporary works are introduced in the syllabus, the more creative and open-minded in the teaching community should volunteer to author their own support teaching aids. This is the only way we can preserve and propogate Kannada literature of all hues. That said,
    I had a teacher who skipped passages in Shantala saying, “Neeve odhkolli,” with a bashful laugh. So you see, teachers come in all forms…some take to the streets! Teach them how not to.

  29. mrignayani Says:

    >>Mayura Says: Do you have any proof for this or is the same kind of allegation the oppostion made against NDA during their 7 days rule that they had a lot of official secret documents photocopied :)

    Mayura, yes, a news reader friend from Delhi who had read the circular told me but then the next day it was withdrawn as there was too much opposition. I am reffering to the fact that such a circular WAS sent.

  30. Mayura Says:

    Mriganayani,

    A similar allegation was made in the LS during the debate seeking vote of confidence of NDA’s 7 day stint. Late Pramod Mahajan tore this allegation to bits. I have watched the entire proceedings of the house on TV that day. Even a elementary school kid knows that things like this is almost impossible, especially when everyone is waiting for a chance to nail you. It looks like the same canard spread by the opposition during Kargil war about the expensive coffins imported from US. People who do not know the difference between a casket and a coffin were responsible for spreading this canard against NDA and George Fernandes.

    Moreover, this circular could have impacted only DD which had some sort of dress code by then. So why did the Kesari brigade think Sari’s are more exposive compared to salvar kameez..I wonder, especially when the news reader is sitting in front of a huge table which covers most of her body parts.

  31. Dunkin Jalki Says:

    Problem with Samskara is not that it deals with human sexuality explicitly, but it deals with it indecently, making a mockery of dalit and brahmin women.

  32. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The Vedic imagination has always required of Brahmins that, when called upon, they should help members of the lower castes. Thus Vedavyaasa, although not a Brahmin by birth, impregnates the mother of the blind Dhrutharashtra and the albino Paandu. Praneshaachaarya’s commingling with Chandri is a way of sanctifying the latter. Don’t forget that Malera Putta, sired by a Brahmin, is the instrument of Praneshacharya attaining fulfillment in his life. S. L. Bhyrappa also employs the concept of Brahmins as sperm donors in “Vamshavriksha,” more objectively.

    Mangaluru is a Tulu area. The Hindi department at the University is asked to teach a Kannada novel, inspired by a French work that URA read in English translation, in its Hindi version. And I take it the professors in question are Kannada speakers? Such a wonderful concatenation of ironies!

    Tarlesubba is usually clear even when he is mischievous. But in this case, he is not talking about the issue at all. Hosa-Belaku’s argument is too cunningly crafted for me to understand.

    A sidebar: URA is reported to have said two days ago that not much great literature is coming out these days because life has been muddied by politics of all kinds. Were the conditions any different forty-two years ago when “Samskara” came into being and made Camus famous, as Lankesh’s “Biruku” led us all to read “Catcher in the Rye?” I have often wondered if these two Kannada works qualify to be included in a course called Literature in Translation.

  33. Pulilkeshi the Last Says:

    AG–

    You should not have disappeared Mriganayani by outing her.

  34. Rajan Says:

    ……it is simply desecrating the breast.
    It is in the beholders eyes.
    1964 PUC kannada poetry was full of this. Aadayya-Padmavathy prasanga was the theme.
    The boys and girls (14-15 years old) were dreaming all those scenes which used to be described with juicy explanations by our 3-piece-suit-wearing Kannada teacher in National college, BasavanaguDi.
    Much more vulgar things are being taught in the wake of sex education in AIDS awareness classes
    You have to talk about ill effects sodomy.
    Shying from kissing and normal loving process has really made man-woman relationship ” loveless”

  35. Tala Says:

    Where can I find the kannada poem \”Mole\” that Prathibha Nandakumar is referring to ?

  36. CK Says:

    Male Patriarchy is definitely threatened by female sexuality. Breasts are controversial in any male-dominated society, perhaps because of their capacity weaken men like.no.other. They are the softest as well as the most powerful weapon a woman can use against men.

    ***

    “We wrote poems like “Mole” etc 25 years ago and nobody made any noise, and today in 2007 one Kutty Revathi writes a poem titled “Molaigal” in Tamil and it not only starts a big big agitation in Tamil Nadu but also becomes headline news on National TV and cover page on ‘India Today’! ”

    Atmosphere in Tamil Nadu is very stifling indeed. Male domination is apparent everywhere. Guys can write sexually charged lyrics, but not women.

    Well if “Mole” was read and written in KRN and not protests took place, that is really a good thing.

    Kannadigas need to be appreciated for it.

    ***

    I think in the tamil epic poem “Silappadhigaram”, kannagi destroys Madurai with her breasts.

  37. harihara Says:

    In that work which is basically a foray into aacharas and dharma sookshmas the author has brought in a sexual episode between the learned praneshacharya and the girl in what I feel an unnatural manner . Pranesh a learned, man, struggling to solve a dharmasookshma issue which for lesser creatures is disposal of adead body,in astate of starvation, a man who keeps tending a perpetuaally sick wife, a man who is thinking of prana devaru to give him clarity can by nomeans be expected to have alibido even if the most sexy female was put in front and the lady shows compassion ti him. It is clearly the authors own sense of guilt or the inability to understand the sookshmas.may be he could find no other waty to end the story, in alogical way so resorted to demeaning the lerning and through that the brahmin ways due to his hatred and not underatnding. the way he has portrayed the other brahmins as mean characters clearly shows his inner ignorant may be some sense of guilt of not understandindg or apprecitaing shastra and tradition and their relation to conduct of life towards the purushaarthas if you ask the madhwa learned they will tell you that there was absolutely no difficulty in solving the issue in the book.The novel is a mirror of authors confusion. Sex has been brought in to demean the brahmin learned and so illogically

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