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'India shouldn't lose its fuzzy side'

'India shouldn't lose its fuzzy side'

Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 27, 2008

Introduction: Sudhir Kakar tells Namita Devidayal why intellect minus emotions makes for a fragmented human being

We live in a world increasingly dictated by divisiveness-within marriages, between brothers, in the education system. So, it's refreshing when one of the finest mind explorers this country knows pays homage to the idea of connectivity.

"The human mind is dictated by both the body and the spirit,'' pronounces Sudhir Kakar, psychoanalyst, academic and writer. "And the spirit is that unseen energy where 'I-ness' disappears, connections are made, and there is no separation between the self and the universe.''

Kakar, who has long navigated the subterranean terrains that map and guide human behaviour, was in Mumbai this week to launch his most recent book, Mad And Divine. The book challenges the separation of the spirit and the body favoured by traditional psychoanalysis-Kakar approaches the human mind by fusing romance and rationalism, emotions and the intellect, and the ideals, rituals and superstitions of the East with the more cynical vision of the West.

"Both these visions are not in opposition...there is complex co-existence,'' says Kakar gently. "If you neglect either one, you end up with a fragmented human being.''

We meet in the wide open balcony of an apartment at the farthest tip of Colaba where Kakar is staying. The grey sea in the distance appears angry, charged, like a Mumbai taxi driver stuck in bad traffic. But underneath, you also sense the layers of cool, calm stillness. As Kakar elaborates on his ideas, you try and make sense of that most elusive and complex entity-the human mind.

So your well trained, rational side asks: What is this 'spirit' you refer to? Is it that feeling you get when you hear a beautiful piece of music? Or see a sudden rainbow? Is the peace arising out of prayer? Or the ecstasy that comes with sexually embracing a loved one? Kakar replies that there is only so much that can be explained in neurological, rational, scientific terms. He gives the example of the ultimate rationalist writer, V S Naipaul, who once said of his best writing moments, "I don't know where it's coming from.''

As Kakar writes in Mad And Divine, '...There are many instances when the spirit touches the psyche. The touch may be barely noticeable, like the wing of a butterfly whispering against the cheek. The quest is not to catch and hold the butterfly which will die and become dessicated if captured. The challenge is to be aware of the spiritual moments as we travel through life, to look around and see again with the innocent eye.'

"Today, traditional countries like China are blindly embracing the western rationalist view, and even India-especially urban India-is in danger of doing so,'' he warns. "Look at the young modern Indian's cynicism towards Gandhian idealism, for instance. Or, the ease with which youngsters shrug off relationships and live increasingly insular lives. In the West, there is no reason to love thy neighbour, except the fear of burning in purgatory, but India is different. India should not lose its 'fuzzy' side.''

Why is this cause for concern? Because this approach to human behaviour affects everything-the way we raise our children, the way schools approach education, even how we handle our spouses and partners. For instance, the rationalist view believes that information and knowledge is more important than imagination and intuition, says Kakar. So, schools tend to follow the blind 'mugging' method rather than one which truly opens up the mind.

He cites an interesting experiment to show how even memory retention is connected to emotions. Two people were told that an accident had taken place, someone was hurt, and the treatment that was required to heal them. One subject was presented with the bare facts. The other subject was told the same thing in the form of an emotional story where there was a father who'd died, and a mother who was hurt, and the child's reaction. When it came to remembering details about the treatment required for the victims, the second subject had greater memory retention.

"So, when you feed in information, we should be telling stories, using much more art, film, music,'' says Kakar, perhaps echoing the vision of one of India's greatest thinkers, Tagore, who believed that education should be imparted in open, natural and beautiful surroundings. "Lectures and exhortations are not going to achieve the same thing.''

His advice to a parent? "I would always tell stories to children. It takes a little more effort, but it is much more effective than just saying, 'Don't do this'.''

Kakar is careful not to confuse what he calls 'spiritual' with the pseudo-religious God clubs that are the national pastime of so many Indians. Rather, he speaks of it in a transformative sense; it is the moment when a person transcends the self and connects with a larger universal energy. However, this side co-exists with the selfish, baser and darker forces of the human psyche. Which one prevails at which point is what determines why brothers fight and marriages break up. But most often, even after experiencing the worst road rage, the taxi driver manages to smile. Now, analyse that.

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