Tiwariji and the Kamasutra
BY Ravi Shankar (Khara) February 2017.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the collection of a dozen or so glossy XXX pictures that we were ogling would have been worth the entire unillustrated Kamasutra. Let me explain: The glossies had been smuggled by the able and industrious Jonnal in his lunch box to school and that early school morning, while the assembly was in session, a small group of ‘real men’, braving the dangers of swift and savage punishment if we were caught, sat around the water tank on the roof of the Science A block building, gaining our first visual education on how human life is conceived . Each of us had chipped in a rupee to pay for the contraband and hence had an equal ownership to a detailed peek. Anyways, I was not sure if we had purchased the pictures or merely rented them for the week and as to who got to keep the pics for the evening. Till this recent acquisition, a drab, tattered, soft cover paper-back translation of the Kamasutra by Sir Richard Burton, (that belonged to me) had done the rounds, exchanging hands between the students of 11A and 11B. The Kamasutra had been read and re-read several times by most students of our grade, and had equally stirred the imagination and confused the mind. The Kamasutra now lay on the floor, abandoned, in the face of fierce competition.
Anyways, our voyeuristic revelry was stopped by our lookout Bori who shouted, ‘Run!!! Hatari is coming.’ We dispersed helter-skelter like rats escaping a sinking ship. I should have got out of the building but sensed that a trap was set with the PT master guarding the main exit. Instead we ran into the ground floor toilets with a couple of my accomplices and locked ourselves in. Shortly we heard the labored, stentorian breathing of Tiwariji (Hatari), our Senior Hindi master passing by in the hallway –he had not given up the chase.
‘Surrender Jagjivan,’ he shouted as he walked inside the urinal section. It was one of those strange habits that Hatari had — he called all errant students Jagjivan.
‘Open the door Jagjivan, ’ he shouted, rattling our booth door. We were scared he would kick down the door to our toilet booth. There was no way we were surrendering. We escaped by squeezing onto a ledge at the back of the booth and jumping down a good ten feet. Students were returning back from morning assembly, a little dazed after probably belting out ‘Sare Jahan se accha,’ and the National anthem… I slipped into the crowd.
The morning passed by without incident. The first class was Mathematics, taught by the soporific Mr. Raman who scrawled long complex equations across the breadth of the blackboard, and sometimes continued writing on the wall. Fortunately he was of the belief, that Math should not be rammed down the throats of unwilling students. He stood and delivered his monologues, blissfully unaware of his environment. The loosely monitored class allowed us to take stock of the morning’s shenanigans — A chit arrived from 11B saying, ‘All is well. I have the pictures.’
That is when I realized that I did not have the Kamasutra. I desperately floated a chit asking as to who had picked it up. Negative response –no one had picked it up! Hell! Technically the book belonged to me. I had picked up the book as part of an estate sale of a Parsi spinster who had passed away. In fact the old lady had signed her name ‘This book belongs to Nasneen Daruwalla,’ on the inner pages. It didn’t look like she had put the book to good use for she passed away a spinster. Anyways my fear was that if the book got in the wrong hands, I would somehow be nailed. And getting nailed was not a good thing, what with corporal punishment, not just being condoned in my school but even encouraged as a helpful measure in aiding students to become attentive and disciplined.
What sordid punishment awaited me, I wondered? Frog jumps across the field, a punishing five minutes of wall-chair, a sound caning during school assembly or even expulsion? Maybe our Physical Training master Kalu would be pressed into service and be asked to supervise the punishments. Or the smirking Sambu. These premonitions shook me as Maths rolled onto the English class dished out by the benevolent Chicki. Usually he did not personally dole out the material, often complaining of a sore throat but had one of the students read aloud. Today’s fare was Romeo and Juliet, dished out by his favorite student Harsha in a mellifluous voice. Things were getting pretty serious in the play — the end was coming.
Then Romeo dies. Stricken with grief, I proposed a two minute silence in solidarity with Romeo. Class 11A got up and stood up in somber silence. Chicki felt our grief was genuine and sighed softly to himself.
There was a change in guard in the narration — Narrator Harsha had to retire since he was choked and overcome with emotion. The new fellow on narration duty was Kashi, who proceeded in a gravely British accent.
Very soon Juliet dies. This was the stuff of true tragedy –Classmate Tom proposed a ten minute moment of silence. The class was about to stand up when Chicki caught on.
‘Get out of the classroom Tom. This very moment, ’ our master roared. His sore throat had recovered miraculously. I had never seen Chicki that upset. Tom left the class throwing me a dirty look. Sympathy from my classmates fell to an all-time low. How was I to blame?
Just after lunch recess was Hindi class. Our Hindi Master Tiwariji, Senior RSS pracharak, arrived as usual in his spotless white half shirt, with pens and chalks in the front pocket and a black trouser with pleats ballooning in the front. Although his general demeanor was intrepid and tough to read, today my reading of him was of an angry, dangerous man.
‘Turn to page 65,’ said Hats in chaste Hindi, without further ado. Fortunately I had packed that ghastly book ‘Gaban’ in my school bag and quickly turned to page 65. I buried my face in the book. So did my fellow accomplices.
A couple of paragraphs later, Hats suddenly said, ‘It is a beautiful day and a beautiful afternoon.’
Kishenchand, one of his favorites opined, ‘Yes sir. It is a beautiful day.’ Bloody liar! In fact it was a dry, hot Hyderabadi afternoon.
“And how should we start the mornings?’
‘School prayer and assembly, followed by morning dedication,” offered the sycophant. We cringed.
Tiwariji launched on his favorite subject of morals and the reign of Lord Rama. The age of Kaliyug, was upon us, he declared, but even so, the decline could be arrested with the rod. Then he went onto the importance of Hindi as a national language. Hindi, he said, was therapeutic and spiritual, a proud possession handed down by our ancestors Rama and Krishna. He scorned the three language formula –if it was up to him he would have only one language: Hindi. The main book Gaban took a much needed rest. All this was a familiar harangue but I hung onto the pearls of wisdom. My expression said that I could not have agreed more. Things were going real well. For the last five minutes of class we returned to Gaban, which I listened to with attentive grace. Maybe Tiwariji had forgotten about the morning’s incident. Class ended and Hats said in a beguilingly sweet tone:
“By the way, one of you Jagjivans left a very nice story book on the terrace of our building by mistake. That person can come see me in the office.”
My heart was in my mouth. Mine actually stopped beating. The star students made a note of this very strange statement in their notebooks — I was hoping one of the stars would mistakenly go and claim the book in order to curry favor.
If the times were a changing, the change was coming real slow. The topic of sex education was mostly taboo and only late in the 9th grade had our Biology master Kittu sailed into the topic of the birds and the bees. Given the sensitivity of the topic, he forewarned the students that even a little smirk from any of us would lead to severe punishment. Usually a duster would be flung at the errant miscreant but this time around it looked like a chair or desk would come flying. On the day of reckoning, Kittu stood in front of the class in a white shirt and smart, red tie and asked us to turn the page of our Biology primer to the chapter on Reproduction snuck away at the back of the book. A somber silence reigned.
Even the normally attention deficit Zaheer Ul Haq perked up his ears. My bench mate Subba nudged me in the ribs provoking a similar reaction. Our Biology master explained the anatomical features of the male and female systems relatively well. But he skimmed over the act of conception, hurrying over the process in strange, medical terms.
The best and bravest in the classroom pleaded with the biology master for further lucid juicy details.
“Wapachu,” said Kittu the Biology Master. It was a phrase which he used often -no one knew what it meant including himself. Sometimes it meant that a duster would come flying at you but not always. But you definitely did not want to misread the man -Today Kittu had come armed with a sordid collection of missile dusters -there were a couple of heavy wood-backed ones in his arsenal. And he was clearly on edge.
My bench mate raised his hand, “Is this what people call as f — -?” The stupid guy broke into involuntary uncontrollable giggling.
I instinctively ducked. A nasty wooden duster flew through the air and found its mark on the miscreant’s nose. A lot of yelping and shouting followed ending the class on reproduction.
Except for a few stalwarts, I swear what Kittu taught that day was brand new knowledge. During recess we students were in a stunned stupor. How indeed were we born? This new knowledge cast aspersions on our own parents. Were there different ways for conception? When was the damn biology text-book written anyways? We checked -it was 1970. Maybe human conception was different before 1970. This kind of let our parents off the hook. Nevertheless, when I went home that day, I shot Mom and Dad a nasty, sarcastic look.
In a kind of way, the approach towards sex education in our childhood was usually not to make a big fuss over it and that kids eventually grow up and find out anyways. Nowadays, I believe the stuff is belted out to kids as early as the fifth, sixth or seventh grade and that there is a movement to hand out contraceptives in the West to high school students. Well, in my school the teachers took it real slow, if at all, and as my un-illustrated, poorly printed copy of the Kamasutra had been confiscated by Hats, my education on such matters was indefinitely postponed.
In later years, at the local Borders bookstore, I would chance on an illustrated copy of the Kamasutra, arranged by Inderjit Sinha with over 100 copious, richly colored and revealing drawings. I promptly purchased a copy. What does the Kamasutra deal with anyways? And who is the author? I was pleasantly surprised…The author Vatsyayana or Vatsya was apparently a celibate sage. Either he was stretching the truth about his celibacy or was the ultimate voyeur peeking into bedrooms and taking down notes. I personally suspect the former hypothesis that Sage Vatsya had a lot of practice but was probably shy about it. After all, India, and for that matter, ancient India, demands that its sages and gurus be celibate and abstain from the act and there is a very high premium for a celibate guru, at least till he is caught in an affair ‘amor’. For the record, Sage Vatsya lived in a time when the Indian people were well off and generally having a ball.
Of the seven books comprising the Kama Sutra, only Book II covers the art and techniques of physical love making. The remaining books describe Meditations (Book I), Courtship (Book III), Marriages (Book IV), Other Men’s wives (Book V), Courtesans (Book VI), and Aphrodisiacs and Spells (Book VII).
Meditations, the First book starts off with a tribute to the three major sciences that everyone should know about: Dharma(Rightful duty) , Artha (Commerce and Business) and Kama.(Lovemaking). Sage Vatsya then acknowledges the other greats who have come before him and contributed to our knowledge of Love making starting with Nandi the voyeuristic bull. Then among the note worthies mentioned is Sage Babhravya who arranged the material in seven chapters. However other teachers who followed veered off track and often focused on one narrow topic. It fell upon Sage Vatsya to save the day and collate, arrange and compose new material debunking fallacies creating the Kamasutra as we know it today.
Women and Men are broadly categorized by their physical attributes and temperament in Book One. If you are a woman, you don’t want to fall in the Hastini or Elephant woman category. If a man, hopefully you are not a hare.
For contemporary youth, it is more than enough to read The art of love making (Book II) and view the copious illustrations. There are 69 or so recommended styles or poses in Love making and most of these will tie you up in knots. It would be pretense to read or view any further.
But for the intellectually curious, I have reproduced below select readings from the chapter on Aphrodisiacs.
To enslave a Lover
‘Anoint your penis before lovemaking
With honey into which
You have powdered black pepper,
Long pepper and datura –
It will utterly devastate your lady.’
To increase potency
‘Honey-sweetened milk in which
The testicles of a ram
Or a goat have been simmered
Has the same effect, when drunk,
Of making a man as powerful as a bull.
‘And if to these powerful ingredients,
You add a monkey’s turd,
Grind them together and sprinkle the powder
On your unsuspecting lover’s head,
She will be your devoted slave for life.’
Enlarging the penis
‘First rub your penis with wasp stings
And massage it with sweet oil.
When it swells, let it dangle for ten nights
Through a hole in the bed,
Going to sleep each night on your stomach.’
Admittedly, the advice on aphrodisiacs, as rendered by the sage, is vastly impractical to implement for high school students, and this was so even in the seventies. Wandering gypsies often put on a display, strutting their wares on the sidewalks of the road leading from Sangeet theater to the railway station, promising greater sexual performance and virility. There was usually a parrot astrologer, a snake charmer, occasionally a bear trainer and a team of acrobats in tow and a crowd would gather around till the cops came to break up the performance, collect their ‘hafta’ (dues) and leave.
If a young man stood around shuffling nervously, the gypsy apothecary would correctly guess what products the youth desired for general health and self-improvement. In one of those heady days, I came away once with performance enhancing, foul-smelling fluid from a gypsy pharmacist -it was packed in a cough syrup bottle and when I reached home I realized that in my nervousness I had not asked for instructions for use — Was it to be imbibed or topically applied and where? I stowed away the love potion bottle in an old steel trunk gathering dust in the storage room between our family bedroom and the bathroom. But each time I brought it out stealthily, took it to the terrace and opened the bottle I withdrew in disgust after the smell hit me. From the stench, I think it had the monkey turd and other turds as its active ingredients. Though the aphrodisiac bottle had cost me a rupee, I strengthened myself and chucked the bottle over the compound wall.
Lest I digress, let us get back to my high school days. The 11th and 12th grades have to be almost exclusively spent on preparation for the board exams (ISC certificate) and if you are in the Maths/Physics/Chemistry engineering track, you must start preparations for the IIT joint entrance exam and attend coaching classes. This is considered proper form. However, the heart ruled in my case and I found myself totally defocused on the books on Calculus, Physics and Chemistry required for academic success. Instead, I wandered around in the neighborhood, searching for the ideal beauty, the ‘Padmini’ of Vatsya. Trust me, as an undiscerning youth I would discover a new beauty every other day on whom I would shower my unexpressed affections.
The times, they were a changing at school. The current thinking on corporal punishment was being reviewed and updated. Sambu, the part time Hindi master and full time sadist at HPS Begumpet who enforced hair length and hair oil policy had been served one warning by the principal, for use of excessive force. He was asked very politely not to use the buckle side of the belt, in dishing out necessary punishment. However, he was allowed to continue his practice of summoning the school barber to regulate hair length of long-haired students. Rumor had it that Sambu got a share from the school barber’s fees. The ad hoc hair saloon was usually set up either near the entrance of the dining hall or the assembly hall and the barber usually set a saucer on top of the student’s head and cut all around it. Trust me, no girl would look at you after our school barber’s hair styling.
Another ex-concentration camp guard, Bijli Murthy, the electricity master was served a warning asking him to refrain from administering low voltage jolts to errant seventh and eighth graders. PT master Kalu was also similarly reprimanded which cramped his style. The school slowly became aware that there was a field of study known as Child Development theory. With its chief villains temporarily curtailed or restrained, our school became like Hogwarts without Voldemort and his cohorts.
The reason I bring up all this is that for all these months I had forgotten about my confiscated Kamasutra. 11th grade had come and gone and I had just the other day completed the ISC board exams for Hindi in my senior year. I had muffed up the Hindi exam and was not hoping to pass. I think I did the section on couplets well — there was one from the poet Kabir which I clobbered where he likens a man in search of truth and god to the musk deer running after the smell of musk in the air. Then there were a couple of synonyms and antonyms that I knew was right. But the shorts and the ghastly masterpiece Gaban of Premchand had me sunk and that is the bulk of the marks. It was pay-back time for my bad karma of pretending to listen to my Hindi master in class. There was a tap on my shoulder: I turned around and to my surprise it was Tiwariji. I froze in mortal fear, even given the recent rethink by the school board on Child Development theory and the recent moratorium on excessive corporal punishment. I was a Senior for crying out loud. But I was clearly mortified, caught off guard. Obviously I had been betrayed by a class snitch.
‘Can I see you for a minute? Please come to my room. I wanted to discuss something with you.’
I followed Tiwariji to his room meekly. The Hindi master somewhat hospitably ushered me to the chairs across from his desk. Then he sat down and looked thoughtful, real thoughtful with his chin resting on the knuckles of his hairy hand.
“Why don’t you read a true love story, a story about adventure and romance?’ Tiwariji said. I could not believe my ears: our staid Hindi master, a card carrying RSS member was talking about love. The poor guy seemed to be losing it, after all the years of service involved in the purification, and slapping around of errant high-school students.
“Sir, do you want me to read a love story?” I asked incredulously. Maybe Hats had a secret fetish for Harold Robbins, Nick Carter or ‘Mills and Boone’. After all he had, over his unduly long career in our school, seized a huge stash of forbidden literature from students on his puritanical missions. Although we had assumed that these were ‘seize and destroy missions,’ apparently the fellow had been quietly and surreptitiously perusing them.
‘Yes, you should read a true love story.’
‘Which one do you suggest sir — Any particular book?’ I asked trying to get on his good side. After all, given my recent performance in the Hindi ISC Board exam, it would not be unreasonable to repeat the school year. Strangely this interrogation and torture session was turning out to be a bonding experience. I waited for his recommendation with a fatal curiousness.
‘This is the book you should read from cover to cover, and in the original Hindi’ he answered with a triumphant gleam in his eye. ‘This is the greatest love story ever written.’
Deliberately he dusted a voluminous tome lying on the desk, put on his bifocals and read out the title with deep pride, ‘Ramcharitramanas by Tulsidas.” He stretched out his hairy hand to let me hold the book.
Maybe it was a trick…He usually delivered his two handed smasher right across the ears when he asked you to hold a book. But this time was different…the fellow seemed all mushy, emotional and messed up.
“Nothing can be greater than the love of Rama for Sita. He crossed the ocean to get back his wife from Ravana. ”
‘Yes sir, I will read the book.’
‘Read the original. It is important to read Tulsidas. There is true feeling in his writing. You will see Rama and Sita come alive.’ He rattled off a couple of verses.
My eyes moistened. The soft approach always get me. I had read the Hindi master all wrong. He was trying to connect with me in his own, awkward way. ‘Yes sir, I will read the Ramayana, I mean the Ramcharitramanas.’ I promised.
Somewhat reassured, Tiwariji gave me a weak, soapy smile, reached out for the Ramcharitramanas that I had been holding, and set the tome back in the exact place where it had rested on his desk and set a glass paper weight on the precious work. Stealthily, I stole a quick look at my copy of the Kamasutra, lying among other seized contraband stuff in the far corner of the room but decided against asking for the book back. Agreed, the Hindi master had tried to connect with me with his recent gesture but there was a still a large generational gap. Why take a chance?