In the mind field

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CHAT From cricket to caste, communities to clashes, Ashis Nandy has explored it all

The world as he sees it Eminent social thinker Ashis Nandy PHOTO: V. V. KRISHNAN
The world as he sees it Eminent social thinker Ashis Nandy PHOTO: V. V. KRISHNAN

Allow me to take you a little back in time. To May, 2009. To a critique published in a news magazine on that year’s seemingly unforeseen general election results. It was written by eminent social scientist — and a name mired in controversy these days — Ashis Nandy.

Nandy wrote, “In India, we live in a country where the gods are imperfect and the demons are never fully demonic. I call this an ‘epic culture’ because an epic is not complete without either the gods or the demons. They make the story together. This is a part of our consciousness, and ultimately, I think it influences our public life. People go up to a point with their grievance (but) realise that to go further is a dangerous thing because it destroys the basic algorithm of your life. They say, enough is enough….”

Being a psycho-analytical sociologist — and an incredible one at that considering the oeuvre of his work in human psyche – it is Nandy’s job to examine minds that people society, tweak the nuances, document what he deciphers. So coming from someone who can be called a rare home-grown don we have in the country today (he doesn’t have the foreign degrees that usually add leverage to many academics in India), you take this 2009 observation as informed, feel good that beneath the veneer of chaos, there is order in our society. Because the masses know, when to say “enough is enough”.

Then comes 2013 when Nandy himself has been made a “demon” by a clutch of people for a remark plucked out of a greater intellectual idea he was trying to state at this year’s Jaipur Literary Festival. Controversy is nothing new to Nandy. If through his work Nandy, 75, has gained admirers in India and outside of it, he has also made some people very angry. “As a clinical psycho-analyst, I am interested in human subjectivities; it is my job to examine society. I am open to opposition but being angry is not enough. I have provided evidence to state my ideas, you provide yours,” has been his response throughout.

He started his professional life in social research at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the think tank that he has associated himself with his entire life. A brilliant student who passed his intermediate at 16, he joined medicine initially. Three years later, he quit, his father didn’t speak to him for three years. To study sociology, he had to start at the undergraduate level. “Clinical psychology came later after I got interested in Freudian psychology,” he fills in. Nandy studied and later worked at the Shivrath Centre of Excellence in Clinical Research in Ahmedabad.

What kept him tied to India when he could have taken up plump posts in prestigious foreign universities? “Two-three main considerations,” he says thoughtfully rubbing his fingers through his woolly beard. “India seemed a fascinating country for me, the liveliness of Indian life, the kind of interactions I had by being located here couldn’t have happened if I were outside. It is a complex, chaotic, diverse country, these elements attract me, I recognised it early in life.”

The second consideration was a group of people he met at CSDS “who were genuinely interested in the life of the mind.” This year, CSDS is rounding off half a century of continuation and Nandy, Senior Honorary Fellow after retirement, says he has never rued the time there. “Because my first line of audience has been the people from the Centre. They are the people I have fought the hardest to convince a point.”

“The Centre never imposed any restrictions on us, on ideas, on the nature of interpretation.” The third reason why he stayed back in India, and continued to influence critical thinking in the academic circle without being a part of the formal system. Some of his books are part of college syllabus. In between he went abroad for a year to teach though. Nandy’s reflection on the Delhi gang-rape is thought-provoking. “I don’t see anything as disjunctive but as a part of a continuity. Murders, the gang-rape, the protests, all are part of a continuity. To me, those youth at the India Gate shouting for death sentence for the rapists, suggesting death by torture, there is a continuity. There is violence in the air in India, even those who were protesting displayed the culture of violence.”

He calls his anger a measure of desperation. “People now live in a cocooned life; there is no access to the other side. There is a lot of narcissism too; others are looked at as spectators.” Why? “It is no longer fashionable to study ethics, neither in philosophy nor in social sciences. If someone who is taking an ethical line fails, we are delighted, we want to see him fail for being too moralistic.” Yes, we are in transient times, “moving through dramatic changes which took 200 years in many countries to take place.” Nandy says, “So we are looking for certitudes, feel very uncomfortable when somebody examines these certitudes.” Time to say “enough is enough”?


Continued from page 1

As a psycho-analyst, I am interested in human subjectivities; it is my job to examine society. I am open to opposition but being angry is not enough. I have provided evidence to state my ideas, you provide yours

I have seen that all my writings which have become controversial have actually said what people knew

in theIR heart of hearts




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