Wednesday, 24 October 2012

And then we saw the light - Kamasutra part 7

Since its publication in 1883, the Kamasutra lived under the blanket of pornography mostly due to the laws of the time. Even in Europe its French translation hardly had a better reputation. (Because of the clandestine way the Kamasutra was published, Burton and Arbuthnot could not claim any copyright protection, thus a myriad of illegal copies saw the light in record time) But despite the underground way of distribution, word of the English Kamasutra made its way back to India. Before too long the Sanskrit edition was published as India rediscovered its own history. This was the first time that Vatsyayana’s original sutras were published.
A German by the name of Richard Schmidt, published his own version of the Kamasutra in 1897. Only his translation was not in German, but Latin. By doing this, he not only attempted to protect the publication, but now it entered the realm of the scholar. Although it would never reach the heights of the orignal English translation, it managed to cut its own niche in the academic world as the gold standard.
Still its notoriety did not lessen, even as it became more well-known. Even as more sex manuals or erotic books were published, the Kamasutra, along with other publications stayed in the shadows because of the obscenity legislation. When it crossed the Atlantic in 1920, then being published by a few American publishers, it became available to a wider market. It did not signify acceptance, as one publisher was sentenced to a jail term of ninety days, because he dared to mail a copy through the US Postal system.
Tolerance towards the publication, although indirectly, came with an amendment to the US Tariff Act in 1930, when books considered classics, or of literary or scientific importance were allowed to be imported. Not finding a main stream publisher kept the Kamasutra on the limited edition, and exclusive distribution lists for a long time. It might have been considered a classic by many, it was still classified as a dangerous publication.
The breakthrough came in the wake of a court case where a US Federal Judge ruled a book not obscene and actually stated that “the sincerity and purpose of an author as expressed in the manner in which a book is written and in which his theme and ideas are developed had a great deal to do with whether it is of literary and intellectual merit”. The book that was awarded that judgement was DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. This also signified open season for the publishing houses in the UK when publishing house, Penguin, also won a not guilty verdict for the publication of the DH Lawrence novel under the amended Obscene Publications Act.
It was now more widely read, and amazingly enough, by many scholars as well. Another new English translation was published in 1961 in India, and it was imported with vigour into the UK despite efforts to limit the numbers. The only other version available was the 1883 edition, and it was only in 1987 when another English translation - done by a German Sanskritist Klaus Mylius saw the light. This was not the last translation, as others were also published with each author, like Burton and Arbuthnot, inserting their own commentaries on the text.
The Kamasutra was now fully Westernised and yet continue as only a sex manual, the other sutras from Vatsyayana conveniently disregarded in the face of our Western culture’s obsession with sex. (Linzé’s note - I refrained from using the strong language in the book, although in my opinion, it explained the situation in much clearer terms.)