Sex education in Tamil Countries – Circa 50 years ago
by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 14, 2019
The other day, during my routine visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Library. I glanced at the last month’s The Times (London) newspaper copies. Four brief letters to the editor on sex education, all written by women, in response to another woman journalist Carol Midgley ‘s Note book column were humorous. So, first I record these items verbatim, and then come to my reminiscences to the caption of this chapter.
Carol Midgley’s Notebook Jotting [The Times, Nov.11, 2019, p.28]
The Fertility Show at Olympia has said it’s a myth that lying with their legs in the air post-coitus will help women conceive. Righto. But what about those other at school? Could they clarify them?
Because briefly I believed at least one of the following: you can’t get pregnant standing up, the first time you have sex or if you do it in water. One testicle produces girls and the other boys. If you don’t have a condom, cling-film will do (everyone knows someone who boasted of trying that). And the weirdest: ‘You can’t get pregnant if you stand on a phone directory.’
I have no idea of the logic behind that but it’s a great pity it isn’t true. It would have secured the Yellow Pages some kind of future.
Four letters which followed this item, are arranged chronologically.
Directory Inquiries [The Times, Nov.13, 2019, p.30]
by Annemarie McGuinness, Conwy.
Carol Midgley’s recollection that standing on a telephone directory was reputedly a contraceptive device is slightly off the mark (Notebook, Nov.11). As pupils of St.Mary’s Convent FCJ in Middlesbrough in 1960s, we were told to take a phone directory with us if we ever attended a party where boys were present. Initially I thought it might be so we had something to peruse during the more tedious moments at the event, but it turned out that should we be invited to sit on a boy’s knee, we should place the directory there first in order to protect us from the unimaginable horrors that lay beneath.
Sex Education [The Times, Nov.15, 2019, p.32]
by Dr. Julia Milligan, former GP and family planning doctor, Henly-on Thames, Oxon
I attended the same convent school as Annemarie McGuinness (letter, Nov.13) in the 1960s. We had a talk from our headmistress about artificial methods of birth control. She arrived late and had merely written ABC on the blackboard when the bell went for the end of the lesson. That is probably why I have four children.
Divide and Conquer [The Times, Nov.18, 2019, p. 34]
by Frances Nielsen, Beaconsfield, Bucks
Julia Milligan’s truncated sex education lessons still went further than we were permitted (letter, Nov.15). At my convent school in the 1940s we never got beyond the amoeba.
Birds and the bees [The Times, Nov.21, 2019, p.28]
Joan Olivier, London SW19
It wasn’t just in school where sex education was found wanting. My mother’s response to my query ‘How does the baby get out’ was ‘The same way it got in’, which left me mystified for quite a few years.
Now, to my thoughts. Two of the above letter correspondents (Annemarie McGuinness and Dr. Julia Milligan) described their experience in 1960s. I also belong to their cohort. If sex education in the land of Dr. Havelock Ellis and Dr. Alex Comfort were of that caliber, then think about how it was in Ceylon. The third correspondent Frances Nielsen mentioned that their batch couldn’t proceed beyond amoeba. I vividly remember my introduction to this theme in the biology class in 1965. The teacher was one Mr. Navaratnam. There was a short chapter on the reproductive system of rats – with figures of male and female, in the Tamil text book we used. That pour soul himself felt shy to mention the Tamil names of genitals to the class and mumbled them so that those in the back row could hardly hear what came out of his mouth.
But, fifty years ago at the Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana premises, we had ample opportunity to learn from the nature lab. Instead of birds and bees, our animal model was dogs, and occasionally few horny bulls that mounted the cows grazing nearby. Many got thrilled to watch such open air demonstrations.
For teenage boys like us, the foremost unassigned, sex educator was King Poet Kannadasan. His movie duet lyrics taught us not only the nuances of Tamil word usage, but also the coupling activities that happen at nights. Of course, Kannadasan’s lessons were ably supported by the movie stars of those days – MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, SSR, AVM. Rajan et al. and their designated heroines. They were ably assisted music directors, who set the tune for Kannadasan’s melodies and the playback singers like T.M. Soundararajan, P. Susheela et al. The major educational media was Radio Ceylon’s Commercial Service. In many Tamil households (including that of mine), it was a taboo to listen to this Commercial Service channel.
For sample, I provide below five of Kannadasan’s immortal songs which relate to sex education, and their You Tube links.
Nadagam ellam kandaen unthan aadum vizhiyile – Madurai Veeran (1965) movie.
The acting pair – MGR and Padmini. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrpo3xkcqvY
The hero sings the praise of his partner that he could see all drama in her eyes. Towards the end of the lyric, the poet notes coitus deftly with the words ‘we became jointed with two bodies and one life, for enjoyment.’
Madi meethu thalai vaithu vidiyum varai thoonguvom – Annai Illam (1963) movie.
The acting pair – Sivaji Ganesan and Devika.
In this duet, the woman begins by singing that ‘Lets sleep in the lap of each, until the day dawns’.
Neerodum vaihaiyile ninradum meenae – Paar Magale Paar (1963) movie
The acting pair – Sivaji Ganessan and Sowcar Janaki
In this particular duet, there are two specific lines, which describes coitus in chaste Tamil. [male] Naan kathalennum kavithai sonnaen kaddilin mele.
[female]Antha karunaiku naan parithu thanthaen thoddilin mele
In translation, the male character mentions, ‘I told love poetry (to you) in the bed’. To this, the female character responds, ‘For that kindness, I brought my gift to the cot’.
Mella mella aruhil vanthu menmaiyaana kaiyai thoddu – Saradha (1962) movie.
The acting pair – SSR and Vijayakumari
In this sensitive duet, the hero (after having an accident) yearns for coitus with his newly wed wife. Only the wife knows that, if she permits it her husband couldn’t withstand the stress, and that act would be fatal to his life.
Paarthaen sirithaen pakkathil azhaithaen – Veera Abhimanyu (1965) movie.
The acting pair – AVM Rajan and Pushpalatha
Kannadasan’s enchanting word play with the tamil word ‘thaen’ as a suffix of many verbs (Thaen, literally means honey in its noun usage) in each line of this lyric was incomparable. The story line of this movie is from the Indian epic Maha Bharatha. Abhimanyu was the son of Arjuna, the most beloved among the five Pandava siblings.
First Kannadasan and subsequently lyricist Vaali did use euphemisms for body organs of women cavalierly, such as mango (for breasts), pomegranate (for heart) and stem of banana plant (for thighs), in their movie lyrics. Then, it was a thrill for teenagers like me to guess which organ was described by which euphemism.