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Chasing criminals with the brain

Dr. C.R.Mukundan is besotted with the brain. Years ago, this clinical psychologist set up his own lab at NIMHANS, Bangalore, and started research on this enigmatic organ. Today, his interest lies in neuropsychology, including what goes on in a criminal's mind. PREMA MANMADHAN met him on his recent visit to Kochi, his hometown.

"I WAS born with a screwdriver in my mouth," the portly gentleman from NIMHANS remarks. This sums up the experimental nature of this professor of Clinical Psychology who is neck-deep in neuropsychology. (He has no goatee, either) Forever chasing things new, teasing and challenging the brain, Dr C. R. Mukundan has not stopped his quest yet. Research is in his blood. He was recently here, in Kochi, his home city, on a private visit.

Currently, the subject of crime investigation through experiential knowledge consumes him. "Larry Farewell first used it and then standardised it," Dr Mukundan says. If that sounds like Greek, here is the layman's version.

Suppose a terrorist has just flown in and is walking to the door. He sees something he is very familiar with, but he does not want to let others know about it. No way! There are heat sensors and the thermal imaging they create will give him away. This scenario is not yet made this easy. Such crime detection is still far away, but this is where Dr Mukundan is headed, where, without even the criminal's knowledge, he can be pinned down. Earlier he has done work on neuropsychological methods of interrogating suspects too.

"You can't hide something that you know just too well, for long. Experiential knowledge has a different effect on the brain. And it is this quality of the brain that can be tapped," the man who has been studying the brain for over 30 years, says. Habitual criminals just cannot be subjected to organisational and environmental controls.

Most unromantically, he says the heart has little to do with the mind, which has emerged from the brain. A vital turning point in his research is the different approach he has taken lately. "I was a reductionist, like all scientists, understanding the brain, analysing the enigma called the mind, in isolation. But now, I understand and accept that one has to study it in relation to other things. Only then, you will understand it better. On the other hand, analysing it separately, in isolation, is a very important step, in the beginning," he points out.

Do you believe in God?

The question catches him off guard. And then, he is ready with a string of hypotheses. With an open mind, he says they are personal preferences but the concept of God is very important. Belief in God generally brought positive responses, like solace, peace. But if you are not a firm believer, the strength must come from within you and you must be ready to accept the situation, positive or negative. You have to fight it out. You will be responsible for all your actions. "It would be nice if I could believe in that one force," he concludes this mini-lecture on faith.

The allied topic of astrology brings little cheer to his face. "Astrology can become a science," he remarks. But the art of prediction goes on every second in the brain, he says. The brain cannot function without prediction. Likewise, the possession syndrome is now being seen in a scientific light, that one can't beat or exorcise the disease out. It can only be treated. People are realising it, thankfully.

Of the ego, he has strong views. "Once you say, `I am the director of this institution, your downfall begins. You are only playing the role of a director," he elaborates, a la Bhagawad Gita. If one realises this, one will always be on terra firma and the thought processes clear.

Long before the social acceptance of the computer, he gained access to it, trying to make some parts himself, as his one-time assistant, Dr Rajan Mathai, remembers. To make things easier for accident victims prone to memory lapses, he created a software, along with his son and made it available to everyone who wished to make use of it. "It is a brain retraining programme, which the patient can follow easily," he explained.

If you get the idea that he is an absent-minded professor, with his specs on his nose, you are wide off the mark. Dr Mukundan is a TV addict, loves his food and is quite a material guy. Today, Dr Mukundan heads the Department of Clinical Psychology at NIMHANS, Bangalore.

Once upon a time, Dr Mukundan taught English, Science and social studies in an obscure school in Ochanthuruth, for 10 months. That was because his folks thought the physics graduate had gone bonkers, wanting to study psychology. They came round finally and he did his PG in psychology. After that it was NIMHANS throughout. He built up his own laboratory at the institute and went about his research on the brain, which still goes on... ..

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