Thursday 5 February 2015

Report of Seminar on Culture and Psyche: Sudhir Kakar’s contribution

The Department of Psychology, Christ University, organized a two-day seminar on Culture and Psyche: Sudhir Kakar’s Contribution to Indian Cultural Psychology and Psychoanalysis on 9 and 10 January 2015. The seminar was both a meeting ground for academicians, students and scholars and an occasion to honour Dr.Sudhir Kakar who has made immense contributions to cultural psychology in India.

The inauguration ceremony began with an invocation dance which set the auspicious tone for the programme. This was followed by the lighting of the lamp by the dignitaries and the welcome address by Dr. Tony Sam George - Head, Department of Psychology-  in which he astutely observed that the two days ahead would be a truly ‘intellectual experience’. Dr. Fr. Thomas C. Mathew, Vice Chancellor, Christ University, in his inaugural speech, highlighted the uniqueness of the Indian family system with its wide support networks. This was followed by a fitting tribute to Dr.Sudhir Kakar by Dr. Baiju Gopal – Convener of the seminar.  Dr.Kakar was then felicitated and presented with a memento by Dr. Fr Thomas C. Mathew.

The last to take the stage and yet the most awaited one, Dr. Kakar gave new meaning to the phrase, ‘with great knowledge comes great humility.’ His light-hearted tone, even when addressing intense questions was intertwined with light hearted humour and made listening to him an absolute pleasure. He spoke of his foray into psychoanalysis and cultural psychology and how it unconsciously also involved the critique of many western assumptions that have enveloped cultural psychology for a long time now. Stating that psychoanalysis has its faults, he was of the view that it still has many insightful tenets which makes it a very satisfying approach for understanding the human mind. With its focus on the unconscious, importance of childhood experiences, the role of eros in human motivation, conflict between the conscious and the unconscious and the function of transference and counter-transference in therapy, Dr. Kakar believes that psychoanalysis is still one of the most comprehensive schools of psychology.

Following the inauguration ceremony, the keynote address was given by Dr. Ashok Nagpal, Professor of Psychology and Dean of Academic Services, Ambedkar University, Delhi. He stated that his tryst with psychology and psychoanalysis has been an attempt to “unfold the layers of culture and psyche.” In view of his long term association with Dr. Kakar, he very rightly said that we should not only appreciate the grandeur of his work but also the grandeur of his being. He traced Kakar’s journey from his seminal work - ‘Inner World’ - to his autobiography ‘A Book of Memory’, which he believes portrays the culmination not only of an individual’s relations with self and others but also narrations that are unique because the reader feels involved in them. He also gave brief yet perceptive reviews of some of Dr.Kakar’s books, including ‘Colours of Violence’ ‘The Analyst and the Mystic’ among many others. Interwoven into a highly intellectual session was a tone of subtle humour, giving one the feeling of having listened to an insightful discourse but not getting drained in the process. 

The highlight of the first day was the session titled ‘Conversations with Dr. Kakar.’ It was a highly interactive session with questions from students, teachers and scholars on a wide variety of topics. Some of the themes addressed were importance of dreams, after-life, past life regression, cultural competency, importance of including indigenous methods into mainstream psychology, gender discrimination, nature of a psychoanalyst, conflict between one’s personal and cultural identity, Electra complex, importance of the relationship between mother and son and so on. Each question was answered in detail, with examples which further validated Dr. Kakar’s astounding grasp of psychology and cultural psychology. As many questions were asked on gender and culture, he also spoke at length on these two topics. According to him, trying to interpret culture keeping only gender in mind does not give the whole picture. In the Indian context, one of the biggest changes is with regard to Indian women since there has not only been an increasing acceptance of women’s education but also an expansion of domains where women can work. He conjectured that if men felt threatened as a result this might explain the increasing rates of violence in our country.

The post-lunch session was facilitated by Dr. Jhuma Basak, a trained psychoanalyst, (Kolkata) and her focus was on a very interesting topic, titled ‘An Intimate Discourse on the Other Woman.’ She drew parallels from prominent women characters in cinema, namely Ijaazat, Chokher Bali and Abohoman. These movies were characterized by two women characters that were in stark contrast to one another. As shown in Abohoman, Shikha is the embodiment of the other woman, being loud and crass whereas Deepti is sophisticated, poised and soft. Drawing from the stories in these movies, Dr. Jhuma went on to show that the other woman is never publicly acknowledged; there is no social acceptance and no public recognition for her. She also included Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda to show how the ideal woman is and how Radha is portrayed as her angry self in Ashta Nayika and what that implies. She also briefly touched upon aspects such as intimacy and physical space and their implications for women.

The first day of the seminar was concluded with a symposium, titled ‘Hisses, Misses and Lonelier Tones- Musings on Indian Womanhood through Kakar’s works’. There were three presentations which touched upon various subjects and domains that have been explored in Kakar’s works by Dr Shifa Haq, Mr Ashis Roy and Ms. Shalini Masih, research scholars from Ambedkar University, Delhi.

The second day of the seminar began with paper presentations, with three concurrent sessions on ‘Intimacy and Ecstasy’, ‘Psychoanalysis, Religion, Mysticism and Healing Traditions’ and ‘Identity, Politics and Culture.’ As one can gather from the titles, the session were an excellent attempt by the presenters to take the audience on a stimulating journey.

There was also a special lecture ‘Travelling towards a Psychoanalysis of Terroir with Sudhir Kakar’ by Dr. Anurag Mishra, eminent psychoanalyst and psychiatrist at Fortis Hospital, Gurgaon. According to Dr. Mishra, terroir is an ‘evolved expression of culture.’ In course of the talk, he also commented on the phenomenon of ‘Safari Psychoanalysis,’ where an individual who is foreign to the culture comes and attempts to understand the culture akin to a jungle safari, where everything is seen only from a surface point of view. He also reflected on Kakar’s ‘Book of Memory’ which according to him is the “Indian view of a person who is open, porous and connected to all of existence.” The lecture was brought to a fruitful conclusion with his remarks on how psychology can be understood as a spiritual discipline.

Following this was the second symposium titled ‘Political culture, Folk epic and psychoanalysis: Reflection on Kakar’s works.’ Presentations by three knowledgeable scholars - Dr P Krishnaswamy, Professor & Director, TQMS, Christ University,  Dr William Robert D’Silva, Professor of Media & Communication and Dr Chetan Sinha, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Christ University ensured an enriching session. Their discourses on faith healing and Kakar’s academic legitimacy, psychoanalytical and evolutionary neurobiological interpretation of   nature  and culture in psychoanalysis in India and the context of social class and psychoanalysis in India were well receive.

The valedictory function was graced by the presence of Dr. Anil Pinto, Registrar, Christ University. He addressed the gathering about the importance of such seminars which help in broadening the knowledge of academicians,  as well as the need to have knowledge generation in Indian vernacular languages. Overall the seminar was an enriching academic journey.

Baiju Gopal

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