Jan 24, 2011

The Inner World - A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India by Sudhir Kakar: Book Review

Cover of the third and current edition
Written by the foremost amongst Indian psychologists, this one, undoubtedly ought to be a part of any modern canon on India. 

Composed originally in 1978, the book represents one of the last non-bowdlerized socio-cultural theses of considerable repute that was conceived before the post-modernist age of academic hypersensitivity to cultural differences.

It has,  ever since, become impossible for most in the Western intellectual mainstream to be forthright in judging different cultures and peoples for the fear of violating any tenet of moral relativism. Sudhir Kakar, evidently, suffered no such compunctions in writing this classic. 

He trenchantly explains varied social phenomena of India from the theoretical standpoint of Sigmund Freud's psycho-sexual dynamics and  Erik Erikson's psycho-social dynamics. His focus neatly resolves itself into a multiplexed analysis of the Indian mind-scape into different layers conditioned by the Patriarchal social structure,  the Maternal over-indulgence of the infant, the institution of Caste, the magical world of Myths and folklores, the  upbringing in a Joint family system and the practice of Arranged marriages.

He juxtaposes each of the aforementioned social factors with the progressively emerging sexuality and libido of the individual, to construct a powerful explanatory repertory to annotate the inner world of the modal Indian. 

He begins by tracing the religio-philosophical bases of the Hindu weltanschauung before distilling from it the various characteristic socio-cultural practices (mostly the rites of passage rituals or samskaras) of the Indian ethnology, which in turn become the raw material for synthesizing a uniquely Indian phenomenology.

                              >>It is this phenomenological description that populates the bulk of his imaginations & contemplations of the subjective experience of being an Indian; and also forms the stable core of his thesis, from which all inquiries arise and into which all of them subsume.<<

There are frequent references to various anecdotes from his vast clinical experience and sprinkled generously with data from various anthropological studies on India, such citations seem to corroborate his own ideas on multiple occasions and more importantly - give the motivated reader some avenues for further research. He also, fascinatingly for all non-Indians, often steers the narrative into a prosaic description of many culturally and psychically significant life-events of an average Indian. 

It leaves one richer in words and ideas to describe the phenomenon of India, to begin to understand the genesis of Indian Identity and to de-mystify the fuzzy world of contradictions that an Indian mind embodies so dexterously. I'd recommend it to anyone searching for a fertile and discerning way of looking at all things Indian. The work is, self-assuredly, an attempted 'grand narrative' of the Indian mental life.


Anonymous said...

brilliant review

Siddharth Kaushal said...

thanks anonymous. hope you like other posts too.

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