Of the prissily prudish and the exquisitely sensual

Took he all the flowers of the world, and grouped them in two,
Thus it was that he created her womanhood.
The air that enters her lungs only ever comes out as music,
And drops of rain that brush her bosom become pearls.
He sighed after creating this one,
knowing he could never imagine something better.
a

No, I haven’t gone mad, thanks for asking. The lines are from a Tamil movie (called Shahjahan; the song’s called Minnalai Pidithu – out of lightning, roughly). I must say that my translation might be dodgy, and that the song is better enjoyed in the original Tamil.

The point I want to make is this: Indian writing and poetry have some wonderfully sensual imagery. Of course, this is nothing specific to Tamil* poetry (lyrics, more technically; these are movie tracks, after all). The most well-known example I know from Sanskrit poetry is that of the contest between Bharavi, Bana, and Bhasa.

The following story may be apocryphal. I don’t know that these people were contemporaries. But that’s hardly the point. The king (presumably) who is holding a contest to decide who the best among these legends of poetry is, points to a girl (let’s assume that this girl isn’t really a girl so much as a young woman) who is playing with a ball. He asks the poets to describe the scene. Bana says something descriptive (the fair maiden is playing with the red ball, which bounces between the blue sky and the green earth). Bharavi says something about how the girl is annoyed with the impudence of the ball that keeps bouncing back up, and hits it down with anger each time. The winner, and better poet, is Bhasa, who describes the scene as follows (again, the original is much better. Ask your Sanskrit teacher for it):

The ball, which resembles the breasts of the girl,
is smitten by her nether lip,
and bounces once and again,
so that it may reach it.
a

You’d think that a people who are capable of producing poetry like this would be less prudish than to crucify an actress for saying that premarital sex is all right, and only relent when she’s moved the highest court in the country. Or hear cases against another actress who outraged the modesty of the Indian woman by kissing a man on screen. Or censor pornography nationwide. Or screen for words like ‘erotica’ or ‘sex’ in urls, even in the most advanced research institutions. (‘Sensual’ is all right, though. Mostly because the fellows who made up the filter don’t know the word. But I digress.)

Or require that every English channel on cable TV broadcast their programmes with subtitles which are NOT optional and can’t be removed, ever. And then blank the subtitles out every time somebody on  screen says ‘sex’. And replace ‘bitch’ with ‘witch’. And ‘shit’ with ‘crap’. The last one is especially puzzling to me. I mean, what on Earth is the point of saying ‘bullcrap’ instead of ‘bullshit’?

I’ve lamented quite often that we seem to be stuck in the past, in the nineteenth century, when it comes to our social values. In this one instance, though, we seem to have moved on from the poetry of Bhasa, and on to become  archetypes for George Lucas’ C3PO, only worse.


* In the ‘defence‘ of Tam junta, though, there’s also a poem that says The joy of poetry only lasts while the poem is as yet unexplained. Maybe they just didn’t bother thinking about what the poem meant.

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1 thought on “Of the prissily prudish and the exquisitely sensual”

  1. I concur with the analysis. 🙂 We used to debate over in school. India is the origin of Kamasutra, and we have morally biased social values rooting back to slipper-less ages (leave alone ‘moral’).

    The country can’t stand public affection displays or ‘cultural adaptation’ of the west pertaining to sexuality, meanwhile is ironically and rather funnily blind to the sensuality praised and written down from history.

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