“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

India analysed is such a conversation between two wise men, Ramin Jahanbegloo, acclaimed Iranian philosopher and Sudhir Kakar, the renowned Indian psychoanalyst and writer. Kakar takes Jahanbegloo and the readers on a journey through the magnificently layered India, simultaneously picking traces of Kakar’s story in the many faces of India.

Mother India by Abanindranath Tagore

Kakar begins narrating about his childhood in the pre-independent India. Through the nostalgic lens of his childhood Kakar shows us glimpses of divisions- between childhood and adulthood, orthodoxy and liberalism, Hindus and Muslims, India and Pakistan. Through this psychosocial portrait of his youth we see how conflicting times shaped Kakar to take the roads less traveled by.

Kakar and Jahanbegloo then ventures into the complexities of the nation. Kakar points out how the Hindus and Muslims of this country perceive the other as a threat. He argues that Hindus fear having to submit to the dominance of Islamic brotherhood, the psychohistory of which goes back to the times when Muslim rulers invaded the Indian subcontinents. On the other hand, Muslims fear a loss of identity in the overwhelming numbers of Hindus in the subcontinent. This divide was accentuated at various points in time- from invasions and partition to the tensions in contemporary times.

But even within groups paradoxes thrive in India. The purity notions, for instance, runs through the caste hierarchies in contradictory ways. Even when one is “impure”, they are sometimes integral to divine rituals as is the case with Theyyam or Punya Mati. This stigma extends to foreigners whose white skin rise them up in the hierarchy while their foreignness is a matter of prejudice. This purity notion is omnipresent in the Indian lifestyle and its impacts are all pervasive.

The contradictions are at their peak when it comes to sex. Sex is revered and feared in the land of Kamasutra. Indians fear the loss of sexual fluids as much as they relish the union with the other. According to Kakar, this conflicting attitudes towards sex has been the foundation for arranged marriages in India. But in changing times, Kakar notes that sex is gradually divorced from morality and is stooping into mere sensual indulgence.

However, the Indian psyche has been shaped to accommodate all of these contradictions. Unlike their western counterparts who are often compelled by their individualism to take a side, Indians are often able to prolong their decisions. Integration of the opposites is not a mandate in India. The Guru-Shishya relationship in ancient India with its inherent therapeutic impressions echo the Indian need for a charismatic patriarch to look up to, like Gandhi. The Oedipal conflict of individualistic cultures is reversed in the Ganesha complex, where the son with draws from sexual rivalry that the father feels. Instead of patricide, in this story, the father beheads the son and later replaces the head with that of an elephant – a revival of life and virility. All of this is accomplished through attempts to expand the territories of self. In this expansion, autonomy feels alien and connectedness seems natural. Kakar rests the hope for future in a romantic imagination based on this connection and empathy.

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