When we look at the development of the study of Indian society in the period after Independence, there are two scholars whose names stand out among the rest-Louis Dumont and M.N. Srinivas. Each was outstanding in his own way, but they differed greatly in perspective, orientation and style. Dumont's work was marked by a kind of formalism which made it easy for the reader to either agree or disagree with what he wrote. Srinivas had a more free-ranging manner, continually qualifying and even reversing his position, as if fascinated by the exercise of making the same statement, but in a different form. A Review Symposium on The Remembered Village was published in 1978 in Contributions to Indian Sociology (vol. XII, no. 1), and an earlier number of the same periodical (no. 5) had published in 1971 a Review Symposium on Dumont's magnum opus Homo hierarchicus.
Dumont was counted as a structuralist, and the formalism in his approach and presentation is evident from beginning to end. Srinivas was uneasy with formalism of any kind, yet he was attracted by the idea of social structure. The attraction was a legacy of the very fruitful years that he had spent at Oxford, first as a research scholar and then as a university lecturer in the Institute of Social Anthropology.
I first met Srinivas in 1959 when I joined the department of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics as a lecturer. He was the first professor and head, and in course of time we became close to each other, and I learnt a great deal from him. He had a very intimate knowledge, both professionally and personally, of British social anthropology which he believed to be superior to the anthropology practiced elsewhere, including the United States. He took an almost possessive interest in the concept of social structure and easily persuaded me of the many advantages that followed from its adoption and use.
At Srinivas's behest, I began reading and writing about social structure. At first I was much taken by the morphological approach in which social structure was viewed as an arrangement of groups, classes and categories, and the prescribed rights and obligations by which their members were bound. I used the approach to some advantage in my PhD thesis written under Srinivas's supervision.
Srinivas himself did not appear to be wholly convinced by the morphological approach or the organic analogy on which it was made to rest by Radcliffe-Brown. Although he continued to maintain a very high respect for Radcliffe-Brown, it is obvious that he was much more at ease with his other mentor at Oxford, E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Evans- Pritchard not only became his supervisor after Radcliffe-Brown's retirement, but also created the lectureship at Oxford for him.
In our frequent conversations in the early years of the department of sociology where we both worked, he spoke much about the work of the Oxford anthropologists, and Evans-Pritchard was generally at the centre of his conversations. Srinivas used to say how Radcliffe-Brown had been determined to make social anthropology into a science whereas Evans-Pritchard was sceptical about the enterprise. Nevertheless, Srinivas felt that there was much to learn from Radcliffe-Brown's writings on method, and he edited a collection of his writings and published it under the title of Method in Social Anthropology (Radcliffe-Brown 1958).
Evans-Pritchard had a more complex mind than Radcliffe-Brown. He sought to combine intellectual rigour with an inner scepticism, and I believe that in this, Srinivas followed Evans-Pritchard rather than Radcliffe-Brown. Evans-Pritchard was artful in his writing, but he managed to create an impression of artlessness. In this, too, Srinivas followed him to a large extent.
When Srinivas returned to India from Oxford, the idea of social structure was at the centre of his thought. The longest chapter of Religion and Society among the Coorgs cif South India (Srinivas 2002: 23-68) is entitled 'Social Structure'. Gradually, he became less and less vocal in its advocacy, but he never allowed it to stay out of his sight.
Together with his commitment to the idea of social structure, Srinivas learnt at Oxford the value and significance of intensive field- work based on participant-observation. Srinivas had drawn up almost single-handedly the MA syllabus for the new department of socio- logy in which teaching started in July 1959. Of the eight papers, one full paper was devoted to 'Social Structure' and another to 'Modern Fieldwork Monographs'. Rightly or wrongly, Srinivas believed that the fieldwork done by the Oxford anthropologists was superior to the fieldwork of anthropologists from elsewhere.
Intensive fieldwork based on participant-observation underwent a transformation as it moved from Oxford to India. At Oxford and other universities in Britain, fieldwork had to be organized as an expedition to a distant and unfamiliar place where the anthropologist had to live for an extended period of time away from the distractions of his home and his university. This was particularly true at a time when air travel was still uncommon and expensive. The setting enabled the anthropologist to concentrate on his fieldwork and to give it his total and undivided attention while he was in the field.
Although he himself chose a village near his home for his own fieldwork, Srinivas greatly appreciated the value of insulating field- work from the distractions of the home and the university. Fieldwork was 'work', and as such it had to be done during working time and not leisure time. It is not that other anthropologists in India were not doing any fieldwork. N.K. Bose and T. C. Das at Calcutta did fieldwork regularly and extensively, but they did not insist on the insulation of fieldwork from other activities that Srinivas believed to be essential.
He had been much impressed by the fact that Evans-Pritchard had arranged for him to spend a year in a village immediately on his appointment to a lectureship at Oxford. Since I was to produce the first PhD thesis in the department of sociology at Delhi, Srinivas was careful to ensure that I did my fieldwork under the right conditions. He wanted me to select a village away from Delhi where I was employed and away from Calcutta where I had my home. He asked the university to grant me research leave for my fieldwork. The registrar of the university thought that the request for leave to go and live in a village for an extended period of time was quixotic, but Srinivas had his way.
It has become difficult to insulate fieldwork from the home and university in the way at first thought desirable. Even at the Delhi School of Economics, most research scholars choose their home state for doing fieldwork; among other things, this dispenses with the need to learn a new language. Elsewhere, fieldwork is a part-time if not a casual activity. At the same time, the value of intensive fieldwork has now come to be widely acknowledged not only among anthropologists and sociologists, but among other social scientists as well.
No less important than the quality of his own fieldwork which was very high, as any reader of this monograph will testify, was Srinivas's advocacy of the field-view as against the book-view of society. This was not something that he learnt at Oxford, but developed on the basis of his own experiences and reflections in India. There was no book-view of Tallensi kinship or Nuer ritual; there could, in the nature of things, be only a field-view of them. But in India, no matter what the anthropologist investigated in the field, there would already be a book-view of it, which Srinivas believed was bound to be a distorted view. His negative assessment of the book-view made his approach quite different from that of his distinguished French contemporary, Louis Dumont.
Srinivas became tireless in his assaults on the book-view of the major institutions of Indian society and argued that they had to be replaced by a field-view of them. The book-view idealized and distorted the reality whether of the village or of caste or of the family. In this monograph, he shows us in vivid detail how all these things actually work and not just how they are supposed to work. It will be a mistake to believe that in presenting his accounts of the relations between landowners and tenants, or between upper castes and lower castes, or between men and women, Srinivas loses sight of the structure of caste or of the family; only, he does not allow his awareness of the social structure to intrude too much into his account of village life.
The two short quotations preceding this Foreword say that ethnography is an art; and the book itself is an excellent exemplification. The notion is popular in anthropology, but its meaning has not been clearly specified. Since Professor Srinivas has done me the honour to ask for a Foreword to what is an important contribution to the subject, it seems worthwhile to write about dif- ferent ways of conceiving ethnography.
As a new comparative, empirical science, anthropology had early success (e.g. in Frazer's The Golden Bough) in drawing psychological and historical conclusions from the fascinating variety of cultural practices added to the literature of ancient times by soldiers, explorers, and missionaries as Europeans expanded their world. These conclusions were soon faulted, among other reasons, for being based on data which were torn out of usually unknown contexts. But this was less a theoretical fault of method than of the use of data reported by others.
Anthropology came of age when theoretical anthropologists did first-hand fieldwork. The first monographs that resulted (e.g. Lewis H. Morgan's The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois, 1851; W.H.R. Rivers's The Todas, 1906) were not too different from others of the time (e.g. Spencer and Gillen's The Arunta, originally 1899) which were written by men who were not and did not come to be recognized as anthropologists. Indeed, there continue to appear excellent descriptions of peoples and cultures by non-anthropologists and the monographs of people who are labelled 'professional anthropologists' are often far from sensitive and perceptive enough to be useful. Nevertheless, the best of the genre combine full and credible descriptions with closely related advances in theory in such a way that each seems to have preceded the other. Thus it was, even with Morgan's and Rivers's primordial studies. So also with such later classics as A. Radcliffe-Brown's The Andaman Islanders and Bronislaw Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific.
But with every gain there is a loss; and the pattern of the problem- oriented monograph, which has become fashionable, has virtually destroyed what was once the glory and value of the holistic monograph, in which the ethnographer submerges his own special professional interests to display the world of the bearers of the culture he has come to know. Professor Srinivas's present monograph is one of only about 5 per cent of those published in our generation which shares the glory of being holistic.
Please note the specification that the classic monograph submerges the special professional interests of its creator, not of course his or her personality. To attempt to submerge-even as a tour de force differences in the minds, personalities and skills of ethnographers would be useless and foolish. These differences, as much as those of the cultures described, account for the uniqueness of the monographs. Ethnography is an art in so far as it is a purposeful attempt to describe for outsiders how societies of necessarily heterogeneous persons see one another and their ideas and their behaviour collectively. It requires a highly sophisticated anthropologist to minimize unconscious intrusions of concepts and values from any other culture. It requires also a wise and sensitive person who strives to achieve that by using his mind and his values purposefully. The least likely ideal one imagines is the vacuum of a false' objectivity' which is in fact polluted with all of the intrusions of the unconscious. A good ethnography must necessarily be a high art.
But however excellent the ethnographer, and however courageous, persistent and creative the attempt, relative failure has been the result. Few ethnographies stand the test of time as true reflections of the peoples and the cultures they describe. Complex as any reality is for a painter or sculptor to interpret credibly, it is simple compared to a human cultural tradition which can be seen only through the minds of people who carry it-and their own artistic works, as they and others may interpret them. The only comparison is with the poet or novelist who brilliantly catches the truth of a nation, a civilization, an era. In this comparison, the ethnographer suffers the major disadvantage that in the process of learning he must himself collect the thousands of items of mundane data at a dozen levels of abstraction from which any eventual interpretation must be made. This process itself fogs the mind-the forest is lost in the trees; there follow years of stewing in the data for which the ethnographer is intellectually responsible. Professional and scientific resources come to the rescue. One now searches the data for items relevant to theoretical and com- parative problems; instead of completing the ideal monograph, the ethnographer achieves and is rewarded for theoretical contributions which become then the remains of a forgotten culture.
Again, as so often in human affairs and in scholarly and scientific history, an accident opens the path to a solution. Professor Srinivas's monograph, based on the human mind's extraordinary capacity to bring forth significant details of the past, is a major ethnographic portrait woven from the warp of immersion in the sea of original data and the weft of purposeful seeking after a description of a village in its own terms. Its success will suggest not that we should all destroy our field-notes, but that we need not let them destroy our art!
This book would not have been written but for a bizarre and tragic accident which occurred on 24 April 1970, when I was at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, as a Fellow. I had gone in January of the same year with the aim of completing a much-postponed monograph on Rampura, a multi-caste village in princely Mysore (now part of Karnataka State). By a strange quirk of fate all the three copies of my fieldwork notes, processed over a period of eighteen years, were in my study at the Center when a fire was started by arsonists. My own study, and a neighbour's, were reduced to ashes in less than an hour, and only the steel pipes forming the framework stood out with odd bits of burnt and twisted redwood planks of the original wall sticking to them. My first impression was that all my processed notes were irrevocably lost, though that did not prevent me and my friends from rescuing every bit of paper on which some writing could be discerned. Luckily, I had left my original field-diaries and notes behind me in Delhi, but the task of processing the data once again from scratch was something I could not bear to contemplate.
This is not the place to narrate the story of the recovery of my processed notes. Suffice it to say that a substantial part of them were recovered thanks to Mrs A.B., a lady who had specialized in the art of recovering documents from buildings hit by fire, and who insisted on remaining anonymous. It seemed a relatively simple technique but expensive in terms of resources, labour and time. Mrs A.B., assisted by several lady volunteers, wives of Center Fellows, and of the Stanford University faculty, inserted each slip of paper on which something had been written or typed into a plastic folder and this was photo- graphed. In the meanwhile, the Ford Foundation in Delhi had on its own initiative contacted my department, and microfilmed my original field-notes, and airmailed the film-rolls to the Center. They also financed the travel and stay, for a period of nine months, of my student and research assistant, Mr. VS. Parthasarathy, who had helped me from 1954 onwards in the processing of my data. He had, in addition, accompanied me on short visits to Rampura. Mr Parthasarathy, and I were able to recover a good part of the processed data by comparing the bits of writing on the recovered cards with the original notes, and supplemented by my own recollection of things and events. I must express my gratitude to Mr. Parthasarathy for his wholehearted cooperation in the recovery of my data, and also for other help and support in that crisis-ridden year. I must thank the Ford Foundation for the promptness with which they came to my aid, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, New York, for making financial grants to the Center to enable me to spend an extra four months there.
Two days after the fire, we were visited by our friends Professor and Mrs. Sol Tax, and Professor Tax did not spend much time getting to the point. He told me that no social anthropologist, not even the most industrious, had ever published more than a small portion of his data. While the loss of my processed data was indeed a disaster, I should not forget that my colleagues valued my study not only because of the new material it provided on Indian rural life but because it was I who had done the fieldwork. My mind, and my entire personality, had been involved in that experience, and what did I remember of it? I should try and do a book on Rampura based solely on my memory. Indeed, I should forget that I had made any field-notes.
Professor Tax wanted to try and instil some hope and courage into me. He was my neighbour at the Center, his study being only two doors away. Being an anthropologist, he realized, perhaps more than others, what the loss of field-notes meant.
Professor Tax's advice and encouragement could not have come at a more opportune time. This book is the result of his advice and encouragement. He must, in all fairness, bear some responsibility for its inordinate length and highly personalized style.
A few days after Professor Tax's visit, sitting in another study provided for me by the Center's Director, Dr Meredith Wilson, I tried to recall what I knew about Rampura but was dismayed to find my brain refusing to cooperate. I tried again a day or two later, and this time, with better results. I wrote more or less steadily for three days from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. I then arranged the notes into distinct themes. While working on each theme, I was able to recall additional information which was contextually relevant.
I tried to use a dictaphone in order to make up for lost time. I was also doubtful whether the idea of writing a book on Rampura based on my memory was a sound one, and if it was not, I did not want to waste much time on it. It seemed that I would have to abandon the dictaphone as my first two or three efforts at using it were most discouraging. But after a while I had some success which encouraged me to persist. Using a dictaphone saved me a tremendous amount of labour and time. Indeed, between May and November 1970 I had dictated a very rough draft of the present book.
Right at the beginning I had taken a decision to include in the book only those facts, incidents and impressions that I was able to remember . . But that did not prevent me from checking against the field-diaries when I felt doubtful. Except in a very few cases, checking only con- firmed what I had written. While preparing the final draft, however, I thought that I should give the exact figures on such matters as village population and the amount of available arable land, and these figures were worked up from the original notes. I have also quoted an extract from one of the diaries about an oracular consultation with the deity Basava. I did this in order to get the correct sequence of events and words. But for these, the book has been based entirely on my memory.
I should make it clear that this book is about Rampura as it was in 1948, the year when I first did fieldwork there. When a reference has been made to conditions obtaining at other times, the period has been usually specified.
I would like to acknowledge my sense of indebtedness to Mrs. Joan Warmbrunn, who was my secretary at the Center, for accurately transcribing the tapes and for much other help. As she transcribed then she developed a keen interest in the inhabitants of Rampura and their concerns and affairs, and this made me believe that my account would be of interest to others besides anthropologists. It also prompted me t aim at writing for the intelligent layman instead of for the specialist.
The fire posed a variety of problems which I shall not go into hen but they were real and difficult ones, and I would not have been able to cope with them but for the total support of the administrative staff of the Center. I gratefully acknowledge the help and kindness of the Executive Director, Dr O. Meredith Wilson, the Associate Director Mr. Preston Cutler, the Treasurer, Mrs. Jane Kielsmeier, and the business Manager, Mr. Alan Henderson.
I must thank the University of Oxford, and the late Professor E.E. Evans-Pritchard, for permitting me to spend the first year of m appointment as University Lecturer in Indian Sociology at my field. village of Rampura. A major reason for the unconscionable delay in publishing the results of my research has been my preoccupation with teaching, administration and committees while in my own country. It was only when I was on research assignments abroad that was able to work on my field-notes, do some essential reading on the region of my interest, and also try and catch up with new theoretical developments. In this connection I must thank the University Manchester and the late Professor Max Gluckman for electing me to a Simon Senior Fellowship in the Department of Social Anthropology from June 1953 to March 1954; the Rockefeller foundation for a fellowship during the academic year 1956-7; and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences for awarding me a fellowship for the period January 1970 to June 1971.1 am thankful to the University of Delhi for giving me leave of absence to accept the Center's invitation.
Finally, I must express my sincere thanks to the Indian Council Social Science Research and Mr. J.P. Naik, its Member-Secretary, for electing me a National Fellow from September 1971 to July 1974 I was able to devote a part of this period to completing the final draft of the present book.
I thank Professor Milton Singer, Dr S. Seshaiah, Mrs. Veena Das and Mrs Judith Varadachar for reading part or all of the manuscript, and offering comments and suggestions; Mr. Parthasarathy and Mrs. Pushpamala Prasad for reading the typescript with a view to locating repetitions, and errors in spelling, and checking the references; Mr. B.G. Kulkarni, in the Human Geography Unit at the Institute for Social and Economic Change for preparing the maps and sketches; Mr. Kamal Kishore, Mr. C.N.C. Unni and Mr. S. Krishna Murthy for typing and secretarial help; and finally Miss S. Kulkarni for the index.
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