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Rajeshwari Rao

By M.N. Srinivas
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1976, 60.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 3 May-June 1977

Ethnography is an art not very different from writing a novel. It is holistic. The anthropologist submerges his own special professional interest to study the whole society. But the person­ality of this author remains distinct and accounts for part of the uniqueness of the monograph. We must thank Professor Srinivas for cat­ching the fast-changing village scene at a point in time when changes were many but had not swept all before them. Perhaps the fact that Professor Srinivas be­longs to a society by birth and part up­bringing not so different from the one he has described in the book makes the picture authentic, catching the nuances of relationships, beliefs and values and is also the reason why he has been able to see the society on its own terms, and attribute meanings given to actions by the participant himself. He is critical with regard to the standard of observation, but uncritical at the society itself because his empathy with the society is so great. This book is about Rampura in 1948, written for the curious layman rather than the professional. This study was undertaken with the view to give an idea of the day to day social relations between members of diverse castes living in a small community. The institution of caste is the single most important feature of Indian society, and is subject to a variety of changes. There was a pressing need to study it before conditions revolu­tionalized it. There are points of great interest in this book. One section of particular interest is the bit on the anthropologist as brahmin. The author was expected to behave in such and such a manner be­cause he was a brahmin. Not many anthropological accounts contain mention of the effect on his work of the field­worker's background, and the expecta­tions the actors have of the manner in which he should behave. The villagers were dissatisfied that the author did not wear the caste-mark on his forehead. He was kept in line by public opinion. The author points out the importance of life cycle ceremonies for highlighting the critical aspects of the social structure. He also discusses how the villagers anxiously guarded the seamy side of Rampura from him as they were eager to make a good impression on him. It took a great deal of spadework before the whole of Rampura was exposed. The ...

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