complete text of the discovery of Kama Sutra

Part 1 At the Saint’s Book Store (Singapore, 1970)

when I was just 15
and just after
a trip to the National Library
I saw a slim volume
at the Saint’s Book Store
(named after a TV series
and true to the borrowed name,
a second-hand book store)
and its spine said: Kama Sutra

Now that’s a title
they don’t have at the National library,
I mused
and I took it down off the shelf
and stood, agape -
transported to Ancient India
by the very seductive picture
on the cover page;
didn’t make me feel like a saint at all

but my reader’s instinct
got the better of me
and so I opened the book
in which the Introduction
ran boringly longer
than the main meat of the text
and so I went on to
own enigmatic words

This I must have-
I said to myself,
after only five pages of Vatsyayana
and the sticker label on the
used book replied: $2.50
I bought the book
and walked home
and had no lunch that day

Part 2 Dirty Science

What are you reading?
asked little Somu,
a year younger than I was

It’s a Science book,
I said, turning away from him

If it’s a Science book,
the little rascal said,
why are you hiding it behind
another science book?

Mind your own business,
I said,
Hardly taking my eyes
off Vatsyayana’s classic

I’ll mind my own
if you tell me what it is;
otherwise dad
will come to know of it-
and you won’t be able to tell
him to mind his own business

Oh! I said, angry and afraid,
and I threw down my books
(the cover book and the hidden book).
You’re too young for such things.

But he looked at me
as only a dangerous blackmailer can
and I yielded to his request -
I would summarize aloud each chapter
for him as I finished reading each
(That’s the trouble when
fate throws you in
with siblings who don’t read)

And day in and day out
over the next few weeks
I summarized the Kama Sutra –
no, I don’t think I summarized,
I extemporized,
I added details, I confess –
for the benefit of non-reading Somu
that silly pumpkin of a brother
who didn’t understand a word of what I said!

Part 3: Weird History

That night as we lay
on our mats on the floor
Somu asked me:
You know…I was thinking.…
ever since you provided
your summary of the Kama Sutra
delivered in such melodramatic actor’s voice…
I’ve been wondering….Do you think Dad knows
the Kama Sutra?

Oh, I said immediately.
How would
dad know
about the Kama Sutra?
It’s been banned In India
since the middle ages.
He only knows
Hare Rama, Hare Rama…
Now, maybe it’d do you good
to repeat the mantra 100 times
and go to sleep…
You might end up in Vaikunta.

And then insomniac Somu said:
What’s that book you were reading
this afternoon
covered behind your
school History Text Book?

Oh God! Nothing escapes the eyes
of this sibling who came a year after me;
and I had to make an honest reply
or he’d pursue me to the ends of the earth:
Oh, it’s another book
I found at the Saint’s Book Store;
it’s called The Perfumed Garden;
it’s in Arabic and you won’t understand a word;
you can read it when you’re fifty
because that’s how long it’ll take me to translate the work

Somu, the silly sibling ever,
sat up on his mat and looked at me suspiciously:
When did you learn Arabic?
You can’t even read Tamil properly,
you monolingual Indian!

And irritated, I said:
Oh shut up and sleep…
Don’t you go digging into what I do.
I learn all sorts of things in my own time –
and you’re best, little brother,
to stick to Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Or Hara Hara, Siva Siva…

And for that,
the traitor of a brother told all our school mates
I was reading dirty Science
and weird History!

Part 4: The Puritans Come Home

What is a young boy
just turned fifteen,
said the outraged visitor to my father
doing with a copy of Kama Sutra?
And he pointed his bony finger
at me, sitting with my brother Somu
and his thirteen-year-old son Kittu;
we kids sat on the floor
and the dignified adults
sat elevated on the sofa

And he continued:
So, tell me,
what is a young boy like
that doing with erotica?
Is this the time for him?
This is the time for him to study
his textbooks and do his homework.
And the outraged father
pointed his finger at my sheepish father
and he continued:
Your son goes to the same school as my son –
and I’m afraid he’ll be a bad influence.
At History lessons and Literature class,
my son reports,
your boy asked the teachers why
they don’t teach Kama Sutra.
This is outrageous and crazy!

My father looked at me
but couldn’t see my eyes
thanks to my state-welfare
horn-rimmed glasses
and he said to the outraged visitor:
I don’t know…
He reads all sorts of stuff…
He discovers all these books
at the National Library
and bookshops…
He’s read Gandhi’s biography…
and now it appears
he’s discovered Kama Sutra…
Should we really stop him?

The uncertain father slumped in the sofa;
but the outraged father jumped up
dragged his son Kittu to the door
and he turned around and said:
You call these discoveries?
Get him to stick his nose
in his school textbooks!
He will come to no good!
He will bring you shame!
You call these discoveries?
I’m not coming here anymore –
and turning to his son
he said:
Don’t ever talk to that boy;
don’t you ever be near him!

And off they went,
Outraged Father and Trembling Son
into Dusty History.


My father and I looked at each other;
not a word was said –
and he is not here today
for a translation of what I write here now

As for my little brother
that traitor who had told Kittu,
I took both books
The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden
and hit him smack on his head:
and he has remained
stunted physically and mentally ever since


What’s that thick book,
said Somu two weeks later,
on the shelf?

That’s Origin of Species
by someone called Charles Darwin,
I said.

Is it one of those dirty books?
he asked.

I think so, I said. I heard some religions
have it blacklisted
so it must be dirty.

And what’s that one beside it?

That’s Shakespeare, I said. Complete Works.

Is it another of your dirty books?
said Somu.

Well, I said to this juvenile sibling
just a year younger than I.
There must be many dirty parts in the volume…
You can never escape dirt…it’s all part of life.

Raj Arumugam's picture

...been thinking in the language of poetry and scribbling verse from as early as I can recall of my days...FLASHBACK: born naked in India in 1955...was shipped to Singapore in 1961, well-packaged...sent myself over permanently to Australia in early 1998...FINIS: ...just can't get out of the poetry-mind...

Last updated September 01, 2011