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  • Popplestone, Ann
    M.N. Srinivas Is Dead at 83; Studied India s Caste System By BARRY BEARAK NEW DELHI -- M. N. Srinivas, a sociologist who steered Indian scholarship away from
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 1999
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      M.N. Srinivas Is Dead at 83; Studied India's Caste System
      By BARRY BEARAK

      NEW DELHI -- M. N. Srinivas, a sociologist who steered
      Indian scholarship away from the stolid notions of classical texts and into
      the real world of field work in villages and factories, died on Tuesday in
      Bangalore.
      He was 83, and, until his last days, was writing and
      lecturing about the caste system.
      "He moved sociology from the so-called 'book view' toward
      the 'field view,' " one of Srinivas's students, A. M. Shah, said. "Earlier
      generations explained society from descriptions in the ancient texts. M. N.
      Srinivas encouraged his students to look at society in the raw, to get out
      into the villages, hospitals and trade unions."
      In the South Indian style, Srinivas used initials rather
      than a first name.
      The "M" stood for Mysore, his birthplace, and the "N" for
      Narasimhachar, his father's name.
      Born into a traditional Brahmin family in Mysore, then the
      capital of a princely state, Srinivas wandered from the stately houses on
      College Road and lingered in a nearby area known as Bandikeri, home to
      people from the weaver and shepherd castes.
      Their entire culture "was visibly and olfactorily different
      from that of College Road," Srinivas wrote late.
      "Bandikeri was my Trobriand Islands, my Nuerland, my Navajo
      country."
      He did some of his best work in a village a few miles from
      Mysore, Rampura. After earning Ph.D.'s from both the University of Bombay
      and Oxford, he lived among the villagers in 1948 and again in 1952. He
      overcame the handicap of being an educated, urban, prosperous Brahmin. He
      blended in.
      "I began to view the village and its environs more like a
      native than an outsider," Srinivas wrote. "Not only did I get used to
      smells, dirt, dust, winds, noise, the insects and vermin and the lack of
      privacy, I learned to distinguish good land from bad and the various
      properties of the plants and trees commonly found in the area."
      Srinivas was the writer or a co-writer of 15 books, among
      them leading texts about caste, marriage and family and the changing role of
      women. Perhaps his best-known book, "The Remembered Village," was based on
      his field work in Rampura. It was a project that he nearly abandoned.
      The field work long complete, he still needed time for
      thinking and writing. In 1970, he accepted a one-year fellowship at Stanford
      University, hoping to complete the study. But in a protest against the
      Vietnam War, the university building where he kept his papers was set
      ablaze. His field notes went up in flames.
      "He tried to resurrect what he could, but he could only
      salvage bits and pieces burned around the edges," said Lakshmi Srinivas, one
      of his two daughters.
      Friends persuaded him to finish the work from memory. "We
      told him, 'The book is in your head and not just in the notes,' " B. S.
      Baviskar, a former student and colleague, said. "In the end, that made the
      book more readable. It had no scholarly references and tables. It was
      something that came more from the heart."
      Srinivas was chairman of the sociology departments at
      University of Baroda in Gujarat and the University of Delhi. He was also a
      founder of the Institute of Social and Economic Change in Bangalore, where
      he made his home in his final years, living with his wife, Rukmini, a
      geographer.
      Last week, just before he entered the hospital, he
      accompanied a local official around the city, suggesting improvements. "He
      was very physically and mentally active, and that's what has made his death
      seem so unfair," his other daughter, Tulasi Srinivas, said.
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