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'Work is worship'

Sudhir Kakar, one of the finest psychoanalysts of our times, was in town recently. In his convocation address to the graduates of Bangalore University, he emphasised the urgency to look inwards for happiness.

Sudhir Kakar: no boundaries between work and relaxation

SUDHIR KAKAR is, as T.G. Vaidyanathan put it, "by common consent, our foremost psychoanalyst, who will remain indispensable to our understanding of Indian men and women".

Those who know him speak of his warmth and good humour; those who read him experience a unique mix of intelligence and intuition.

Kakar has applied psychoanalysis in writings on topics including popular cinema, childhood, identity, erotic love, mysticism, culture, religion, Hindu-Muslim relations, and more. In more recent years, he has authored two novels loosely based on the lives of Vatsyayana and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Kakar was here to deliver the convocation address at Bangalore University. He spoke to the graduating youngsters through a light-hearted but a deep paper titled, "On Happiness" in which he points to love, work, and hope as the ingredients of happiness and describes hope as "the almost somatic conviction that there is a hidden, even if unknown, order to our visible world. That there is a design to life which can be trusted in spite of life's sorrows, cruelties, and injustices".

In his wish for the graduating students, Kakar dwelt on the joy of work. "There are few things in life, which are as enjoyable as work, as rewarding as concentrating on a difficult task, using all out skills and knowing what has to be done... The best kind of work is worship or meditation in a literal sense, arousing the emotions of curiosity, wonder and, perhaps, awe. It is in this sense that my wish for all of you is that when you find employment, you also find work."

Here Kakar answers a few questions on his current interests and plans.

Have you been to Bangalore before? What are your impressions of the City and its people?

I have been here four or five times before though my last visit was a few years ago. I have always valued Bangalore as a city which demonstrates that it is possible to be both dynamic and civilised at the same time.

Bangalore has another interesting association for you, personal and professional, your relationship with T.G. Vaidyanathan. What are your memories of this man, who was considered one of Bangalore's most intriguing landmarks?

My memories of TGV, regrettably fewer than I would have liked, are more from Delhi where I met him than from Bangalore. I wonder how he would have struck me in his native habitat. What I most liked about him was his maturity as a critic, only mature people can admire without idealising, be critical without denigrating.

What prompted the move away from the North? How did you come to choose Goa?

Delhi, where I have lived for over a quarter of a century, is becoming more and more aggressive everyday. I have nothing against aggression if it is used to fight for one's rights, but cannot stand it when it descends into mindless rudeness as seems to be increasingly the case in the North. Then Delhi is a pompous self-important city. I feel like going up to every second person I meet socially and asking, `Sir, excuse me, are you someone in particular?' As for Goa, who wouldn't choose to live there? It is cosmopolitan in the best sense, is amply blessed by nature, and has wonderful food.

How do you feel about giving up your practice? Had you always planned this "vanaprastha" away from the scene of action?

My feelings are a mix of sadness and relief. I have been practising for over 25 years now. I hadn't planned any vanaprastha, as you call it. The best vanaprastha should not be planned in any case; it should happen when the time is ripe.

In your convocation address to the graduates of Bangalore University you speak of the need to turn inwards in the quest for happiness. Has that become, in today's world, increasingly a matter of formulas and quick fixes? Does this make self-awareness easier to grasp or more difficult?

That lies in the temper of times, which seeks to reduce all human endeavours to formulas and quick fixes. Nothing hinders self-awareness as much as a quick fix promising it.

Are you a happy person? How do you relax?

Yes, I would call myself happy. Not because of anything I have done but because of what I have received. Foremost, that earliest love of the mother and parents, which gives a basic trust in the world, ensures that in the worst of adversities, hope will endure. I do not have clear-cut boundaries between my work and relaxation through playing tennis, listening to music, reading. Both can, and do give that feeling of `flow', which is the goal of all activity, whether one calls it relaxation or work.

If you hadn't been a psychoanalyst, what could you have been?

I would have been what I am in the process of becoming now — a novelist.

Could you tell readers about your current interests? What are you working on?

I have just finished two papers for professional journals — one on empathy and the other in the area of psychology of religion, with the title "Seduction and the Saint".

But currently my imagination and heart are fully taken over by my third novel, which I have been working on for over a year now.


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