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Artist of the mindscape

chandigarh Updated: May 01, 2013 09:52 IST
Pooja Vashisht Alexander
Pooja Vashisht Alexander
Hindustan Times
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At the level of the conscious, the red-walled auditorium of Government Museum and Art Gallery on Monday is thick with grey. Many of city’s seasoned academics, scholars, artists, architects and theatrepersons with silver hair and flowing beards have whitewashed the curiously far and few between young audiences.

At the level of the unconscious, the individual mind is wandering in the verandah of sprawling Jorasanko Thakurbari in Calcutta where the first Indian to win a Nobel for literature was born and brought up.

The man who so effortlessly brings this harmony between the hidden and the manifest is writer and psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar. He takes you with him back and forth into the recesses of one of the most versatile minds of modern India — Rabindranath Tagore.

In city for a slide lecture ‘A creative melancholy: The Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore’, organised by Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi, Kakar unassumingly puts the spotlight on those “cut off” parts inside Tagore which manifested themselves when the writer-poet picked paintbrush at the age of nearly 70.

Kakar “who came to Tagore’s paintings first” and then moved to his literary works, transplants an analogy in the audience’s imagination when he builds upon Tagore’s own metaphor of mud, lotus and sunshine symbolising individual psychology, artistic creativity and spiritual inspiration respectively.

While critics have tended to look at the lotus of Tagore’s poetry as a result of divine sunshine, the psychoanalyst finds in the mud more primal roots of the late-blooming painter’s supreme craftsmanship.

This is also a tribute to the genius of 75-year-old Kakar — who has written 17 books of non-fiction and four of fiction — in whose adept hands mud becomes a mould for artistic expression.

And, mud not in an unclean sense, but as a sense of loss reduced to soil of fertility, says Kakar who begins the slide lecture with Tagore’s landscapes and talks about the mysticism in them, which, he says, comes from being one with nature.

It is, however, Tagore’s portraits — both self and those of women — where melancholia in its deepest brooding stares at the onlooker. The eyes, as pointed out by Kakar, are those of Kadambari, Tagore’s sister-in-law (older brother’s wife) who came to Thakurbari as a child bride and played, studied and grew up with “Rabi” who was two years younger to her. She committed suicide four months after Tagore got married. Kakar shows the traces of Kadambari in many faces that could collectively be one face of loss.

The loss could also be that of Tagore’s mother when he was a child. “The still gaze,” as Kakar quotes Tagore, could be of his mother’s as well. Tagore’s wife, the psychoanalyst says, doesn’t find space in his paintings like she did not in his autobiographies.

As for the self-portraits, Kakar hints at the androgenic binary — man and woman — that Tagore doesn’t try to cover in his personality.

It is Kakar’s self-evasive style that he has perhaps imbibed from his mentor American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson — a chance meeting with whom made psychoanalysis a calling for Kakar who had a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in economics having never studied psychology — which makes him more than a doctor of mind and the writer of stories in that very mind.

One of the premier thinkers of 21st century, writer and psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar gives city a rare insight into Rabindranath Tagore’s art

Scholar par excellence
The psychoanalyst and writer has been lecturer at Harvard University, research fellow at Harvard Business School, professor at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and head of department of humanities and social sciences at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi apart from many other prestigious educational institutes around the world.

His many honours include the Kardiner Award of Columbia University, Boyer Prize for Psychological Anthropology, Germany’s Goethe Medal, Rockefeller Residency and the Bhabha, Nehru and ICSSR national fellowships in India. In February 2012, he was conferred the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the country’s highest civilian order. The German weekly Die Zeit portrayed Kakar as one of the 21 important thinkers for the 21st century.

His books include The Inner World, Shamans, Mystics and Doctors, Tales of Love, Sex and Danger, Intimate Relations, The Analyst and the Mystic, The Colors of Violence, Culture and Psyche, The Indians: Portrait of a People, a new translation the Kamasutra for Oxford World Classics, (with Wendy Doniger) and Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World.

He is also the author of the novels The Ascetic of Desire, Ecstasy, Mira and Mahatma, The Crimson Throne and the editor of Indian Love Stories. His most recent books are the memoir A Book of Memory, the edited volumes On Dreams and Dreaming and Seriously Strange: Thinking Anew about Psychical Experiences, and the selection The Essential Sudhir Kakar (Oxford). His books have been translated into 22 languages around the world. Married to writer and painter Katharina, Kakar lives in Goa.