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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 23:33 GMT
Risqué Position tastefully done
Sanjeev Bhaskar
Sanjeev Bhaskar illustrates his show
By the BBC's Lucie Maguire

With its spoof title and comedian presenter, neatly sandwiched in the evening's schedule between Embarrassing Illnesses and Sex And The City, you could be forgiven for thinking this was one of Channel 4's more risqué offerings.

Promising to unveil the secrets of the world's most famous "dirty book", this is fairly titillating stuff - and it doesn't disappoint.

But it proved to be not only tasteful but intelligent.

The Kama Sutra, believed to have been written by a Hindu Sage, Vatsyayana, some 1600 years ago, is much more than a 4th Century version of The Joy Of Sex - even if the illustrations do feature a man with some dodgy facial hair.

Kama, says Vatsyayana, is "the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses, assisted by the mind together with the soul".

Sanjeev Bhaskar
Sanjeev Bhaskar: Position relatively impossible
Sutra means rule, so what you have is a set of guidelines for the exercise of the senses - at a time when unabashed enjoyment of sensual pleasure was a socially acceptable part of life for men and, it would seem, for women.

There is no doubt that Vatsyayana was more than averagely wise, for his insights into female sexuality would be considered advanced even by today's standards.

In the 19th Century, when his work was discovered and translated into English, they were nothing short of revolutionary - and punishable by imprisonment under the British Empire's Obscene Publications Act.

Sir Richard Burton, who came across the book as a young employee of the East India Company, took up the task of translation with some enthusiasm - but published anonymously in 1883.

Despite its image in the West as purely a "top shelf" publication, Vatsyayana's book has advice on every aspect of daily life for the upper classes of his time, from personal hygiene to home decoration and gambling.

But although it professes to dispel the cloud of "exotic smut" that surrounds the Kama Sutra, the three-part series is clearly much more interested in the possibilities of Tantric sex than in the proper way to make lemonade and dance at parties.

Presenter Sanjeev Bhaskar - British born, of Indian parents - is ideally placed to take us through the book's history - from schoolboy misconceptions to a sex clinic in modern Bombay.

A comic actor, best known for Goodness Gracious Me, he is not above making the odd smutty joke himself, in the best British tradition of "nudge nudge" and "ooh matron".

But while the programme offers tantalising glimpses of the original book illustrations, anyone seeking greater enlightenment will simply have to buy the book.

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