Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kshemendra Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir by A. N. D. Haksar


'Victory to that lord supreme,
the illustrious bureaucrat,
infalliable, who can at will
delude the whole world with deceptions'

~Narma Mala, Satire 1

'This humbug is a scoundrel in search of prestige and recognition. Indifferent to merit, he will fawn on those without it. Hostile to his own kin, he will exude fraternal compassion for outsiders. He is also pitiless. With bowed head, he will be all sweetness when it suits him. But once his purpose is served, he will only wrinkle his brow and say nothing.'
[...]
Hambug seemed upset at having to wait for long. He fixed his gaze on his progenitor and the god's lotus throne, and stood proud and motionless, as if impaled on a spear. The four-headed god realized that the newcomer wished to be seated. His teeth gleaming in a smile, as if at his carrier, the swan, he said kindly,'Son, sit in my lap. You are worthy of it by virtue of the dignity that your great and remarkable austerity and other merits have given you.'
On hearing these words, hambug carefully sprinkled water on the creator god's lap to purify it, and quickly sat upon it.'Do not speak loudly,' he said to the god,'and if you have to, please cover your mouth with your hand so that your breath does not touch me.' Brahma smiled at this unparalleled concern for ritual purity. ' Hambug you certainly are!' he said with a wave of his hand. 'Arise. Go to the sea-gridled earth and enjoy pleasures unknown even to the denizens of heaven.'

~Kalavilasa, Satire 2

Victory to the Heramba!
The ten directiond smile, lit up
by the brilliant radiance
of the playful raising of his tusk,
slender as lotus.
And victory to the courtesan,
lightning in the clouds of vice;
to libertines, the thespians
in the artful play of crookery;
and to that river of deception,
the procuress, whose forceful current
sweeps away, like trees, the people.


Desopadesa, Advice from the Countryside, Satire 3

More about the eleventh century CE funny guy from Kashmir:

'Kshemendra's work was earlier known only from quotations in some anthologies and a refrence in the Rajatarangini. In modern times, its first manuscript was discovered by A.C. Burnell, at Tanjore, in 1871. This was the Brihatkathamanjari, the abridgement of the lost work [of Gunadhya's] already mentioned. In the succeeding half-century Indologists G. Buhler, A. Stein, B. Peterson, S.C. Das and M.S. Kaul located manuscripts of his other works, at different times, mainly in Kashmir. So far, eighteen of these have been found, and their texts edited and printed. Another sixteen are known, at least by title, from reference or quotations in the discovered texts, but still remain lost.'

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It is tempting but wrong to see present in past. To read these ancient sketches, to see the scene in front of you and go, 'Indeed nothing has changed.'  Even if it is not the intention, the work for the troubled place of its origin, and the way it is presented in this book, the translated words of this ancient Kashmiri does seem to offer the bitter sweet pill of present coated in past. The book runs a little trick on simple readers, casual book-self browsers. Trick, the cover say's 'Three Satires from Ancient Kashmir' but inside you find one of the satires, Kalavilasa, the one in which Muladeva, the king of thieves describes the ways of swindlers of the world, was in fact set in Ujjayani, near present Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. The blurb on the last page claims, 'these little-known exposes of eleventh-century society find resonance in India even today.' If sketch of  bureaucrats, scribes, gurus, traders, and the all thieves of the world in Kshemendra's writing be true, be still relevant, then what about his sketch of women, his blood sucking witches. who make a man 'struct and dance like a pet peacock.' While Kshemendra's sketch of men may still be acceptable, identifiable, to today's Shabhya people, but probably not his sketch of women and 'their ways'. No cultured man will quote Kshemendra to score a point in a debate on 'women's liberation'. This is not ancient times. There has been progress.  We live in modern age. We...

'A Nit-picking man. One of the many hambugs infesting Kal-yug. Listen, stop scratching your bum, wondering what-this-what-that, you Kashmiri bum, trader of black-ink, dweller of ivory island. You have to run down one of your own. Look around, ask the man on street what he thinks of 'women and their ways'. The man pours his heart and piss on walls of public urinals. Don't be surprised if he says the same sundry things that I wrote a thousand years ago. Just read me in translation. Me in translation by a bureaucrat and marvel. '

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