AS AN OVERPROTECTED BRAHMIN boy growing up on College Road, I experienced my first culture shocks not more than fifty yards from the back wall of our house … The entire culture of Bandikeri (the area behind our house where lived a colony of Shepherds, immigrants from their village, located a few miles from Mysore) was visibly and olfactorily different from that of College Road. Bandikeri was my Trobriand Islands, my Nuerland, my Navaho country and what have you. In retrospect, it is not surprising that I became an anthropologist, all of whose fieldwork was in his own country.
These lines crop up in The Legacy of MN Srinivas, a book celebrating the work of the titular sociologist and social anthropologist. Written by Srinivas’s former student and colleague AM Shah, the book appraises Srinivas’s work, stating that his “vigorous advocacy of village studies as critical for developing Indian sociology and social anthropology led many to identify him as the village studies man.” Srinivas’s description of his first experience with the communities behind his house figures as a passing aside in the text. Despite the “culture shocks” he may have had, as his self-description in the Annual Review of Anthropology suggests, Srinivas was lauded for focussing on Indian communities: “As an anthropologist, I am somewhat of a maverick in that I study my own culture and not any distant Other.”
But the analogy he makes, between the residents of Bandikeri presenting him with the opportunity to study them—note the use of the personal pronoun too—and ethnic communities in New Guinea and around the world betrays his emulation of a lens inherited from Western anthropologists. Contemporary sociologists have addressed this at length. Sujata Patel, for instance, has acknowledged how Srinivas’s focus on intensive fieldwork differed from his early mentor GS Ghurye’s Orientalist perspective. But an article on a conference to mark Srinivas’s hundredth-year birth anniversary claims she argued that “Srinivas could never free himself from the legacy of colonial ethnography, and asserted that such a legacy ‘should be completely erased’ from the sociological imagination of India.”