ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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M N Srinivas and Sociology

Sociologists, M N Srinivas believed, should recognise that they deal with 'messy' phenomena and all they can do is to muddle through to discern patterns wherever possible. In doing so often the sociologist has to be like a craftsman who makes his own tools to handle his material. The sociologist has to either improvise concepts or borrow appropriate ones to gain insights into significant processes and arrange messy data to uncover patterns and structures they hide.

To write something new on M N Srinivas who passed away a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday on November 30, 1999 is a difficult task. Srinivas has himself written several disarmingly detached and yet intimate autobiographical pieces on different aspects of his life and career as a sociologist. The task is rendered even more difficult because a whole galaxy of sociologists and anthropologists, young and old, have extensively commented on, criticised and evaluated his work. Further, there has been a flood of obituaries appearing in quick time in various newspapers and magazines, both here and abroad. In the circumstances, I try to provide a glimpse of how he worked, thought and lived by making use of my privilege as his close kin and his ward for some years. As Srinivas advocated the use of autobiographical narratives to gain sociological insights, I think that this attempt to dredge out his sociology from the days I spent in his company, especially during my formative years, would be an appropriate method of remembering him. I hope that this essay will provide a corrective to some of the misleading statements that I have seen in his obituaries. This exercise is also my way of coming to terms with my personal loss.

B S Baviskar who was in the first set of Srinivas’s students in the department of sociology at Delhi University once observed in a casual conversation that Srinivas was a born sociologist. Srinivas had in him many qualities that created such an impression in others. Srinivas enjoyed meeting people and had a knack of establishing easy rapport with people from diverse backgrounds. I have seen him discuss animatedly with Madame Harari in her stylish flat in Place Vandome in Paris on her collection of French classical painters as effortlessly as he would discuss with our domestic help in Mysore on the changing funerary customs of the kuruba caste to which she belonged. He could relate to people because he had genuine interest in them. His wide range of interests and sharp memory enabled him to communicate effectively with different types of people.

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