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The Inner WorldA Psychoanalytical Study of Childhood and Society in India$

Sudhir Kakar

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780198077152

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198077152.001.0001

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Families and Children

Families and Children

(p.136) Chapter IV Families and Children
The Inner World

Sudhir Kakar

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter tries to identify the central psychological themes in Indian infancy and childhood and to interpret the long shadow they cast on the horizons of individual and cultural consciousness. It considers the psycho-social outcomes of the traditional form of family organization in India: the extended family. The extended family is, in one sense, a large group, its members engaged in the manifold activities necessary to maintain the group as a cohesive, co-operative unit, to enable its survival and promote the collective welfare of its members and to protect it from the incursions of the outside world. The period of childhood, the next step in the evolution of Indian identity, can only be interpreted in the context of the family relationships within which it occurs.

Keywords:   Indian childhood, Indian infancy, cultural consciousness, Indian identity, extended family, family organization

THE PRECEDING CHAPTER explored the legacy of Indian infancy and its implications for identity both in its manifest varieties and in the hidden wishes, fantasies, and fears that characterize the unconscious recesses of the inner world of the psyche. Given the primacy of the mother in early childhood in India, we have dwelt at length on her role in the evolution of the inner world and postponed our consideration of the psychosocial outcomes of the traditional form of family organization in India: the extended family. Just as the initial crystallization of the infant’s inner world cannot be properly understood without an exploration of the intra-psychic, social, and cultural forces that shape Indian motherhood, the period of childhood, the next step in the evolution of Indian identity, can only be interpreted in the context of the family relationships within which it occurs.

Psychosocial Matrix of Childhood: The Extended Family

Most Indians grow up in an extended family, a form of family organization defined by social scientists as one in which brothers remain together after marriage and bring their wives into their parental household.1 Brothers are expected not only to continue to live together after they marry, but more important, to remain steadfast to their parents in (p.137) devotion and obedience. This ideal of filial loyalty and fraternal solidarity is the rationale for the extended family which then stipulates common residence and common economic, social, and ritual activities. The brothers, their parents, and their own wives and children share a single house or compound, eat meals prepared in a single kitchen, and pool their income for distribution by the head of the family. In addition to this core group, there may be others who are either permanent or temporary residents in the household, widowed or abandoned sisters and aunts, or distant male relatives, somewhat euphemistically known as ‘uncles’, who have no other family to turn to. In practice, there are variations of this pure model: in particular, the joint family with two or more married brothers living together with their wives and children but without their parents and the generational family consisting of the parents and only one of their married children and his spouse and children. I am using the term extended family loosely here; I intend to include all its traditional variations, and specifically to differentiate it from the nuclear family pattern dominant in the West.

In the last few years, sociologists have been engaged in a lively debate as to whether the extended family system in India is as widespread (today, or even in the past) as is commonly believed. Unfortunately, neither census returns nor empirical research has contributed much to the discussion; nor can we hazard a guess, let alone measure conclusively, whether the nuclear family has begun to replace the extended family during the last twenty-five years. One survey of two hundred Calcutta families, one hundred from a poor district and one hundred from a rich district, concludes that 80 per cent of the families in the rich district and 57 per cent in the poor are joint; these statistics suggest that urbanization does not necessarily produce a sharp increase in nuclear families. Similar figures have been reported from small towns and villages of Gujarat, and from sampling a large city in Madhya Pradesh. Conversely, a Bombay (Mumbai) study found the proportion of joint families in a sample of 1,022 families to be only 13.7 per cent.2

The conclusions of studies such as these depend upon the criteria of ‘jointness’ and the rigour with which they are applied. For example, the criterion of pooling income may not be fulfilled by many families which qualify by every other measure as an extended family. Because of (p.138) frictions arising out of real or imagined inequities in the distribution and consumption of food, some extended families may have discarded the common kitchen. In other instances, brothers and their families may live in adjacent houses rather than in a single residence and yet share family life and householding responsibilities as a single family unit. The definition of the extended family used by some sociologists, that it consists only of patrilineally related persons, excludes families which contain one or more relatives of the mother or of the brothers’ wives.

If we move beyond these definitional issues to consider the evolution of individual families, it is clear that a family cannot continue adding the families of sons and of sons’ sons without reaching a ‘stopping point’ imposed by space and household efficiency, at which time the extended family necessarily breaks up into smaller units, each with a new head-of-household. ‘Brothers may separate upon the death of one or both parents; the brothers’ sons traditionally do not feel the same obligation to live together as the brothers (their fathers) themselves. Moreover, in recent times, migration to cities and towns in search of economic opportunity has contributed to the dissolution of extended families. Yet even in these instances of temporary or permanent transition, a social (as distinguished from a residential or logistical) ‘jointness’ generally continues to operate. When a brother from the village family moves to the city, his wife and children frequently continue to live with the village family while he himself remits his share to the family income; or if he takes his family with him, they return ‘home’ as often as they can. The ideal of the extended family is so strong in India that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable economic odds, a constant effort is made by all family members to preserve the characteristic Indian ‘jointness’, at the very least, in its social sense.

The point I wish to make here, and to emphasize, is that regardless of minor variations in definition or the historical and economic dislocation of adults in the family, most Indians spend the formative years of early childhood in an extended family setting. In part, the ‘demography of childhood’ in India reflects Indian marriage patterns. Most couples marry in adolescence3 and have neither the economic nor the psychosocial resources to set up an independent household. Separation from the extended family, if it does take place, comes later (p.139) when the children are older and well into the middle years of childhood. Even grown children who nominally live in a nuclear family make long and frequent visits to members of the extended family. Thus it is not surprising that uncles, aunts, and cousins, not to mention grandparents, figure prominently in the childhood recollections of all Indians. In short, although at any given time, adults may find themselves in a period of familial transition, and households may not always be extended or joint, most people in India spend at least their childhood (and often their old age) in an extended family.4

The psychological ‘actuality’ of the extended family in an Indian child’s early years, as well as the highly differentiated nature of a child’s relationships within it, are dramatized in the sphere of language. Morris Lewis has identified six basic nursery sounds as a universal baby language used by infants all over the world with only slight variation from one society to another.5 These ‘words’ are repeated combinations of the vowel ‘ah’ preceded by different consonants— ‘dada’, ‘mama’, ‘baba’, ‘nana’, ‘papa’, and ‘tata’. Infants repeat these or other closely related sounds over and over, in response to their own babbling and to their parents’ modified imitations of their baby sounds. In most Western countries, only a few of these repetitive sounds, for example, ‘mama’, ‘dada’, or ‘papa’ are ‘recognized’ and repeated by the parents and thus reinforced in the infant. In India, on the contrary, just about all of these closely related sounds are repeated and reinforced since each one is the name of various closely related kin with whom the infant is in close contact from his earliest years. Thus, for example, in my mother tongue, which is Punjabi, ma is mother, mama is mother’s brother, dada is father’s father, nana is mother’s father, chacha is father’s younger brother, taya is father’s eldest brother, masi is mother’s sister, and so on. This transformation of the basic baby language into names for kinship relations within the extended family is characteristic of all Indian languages; it symbolizes as it activates a child’s manifold relationships with a range of potentially nurturing figures in the older generations. By way of contrast, the ideal of fraternal solidarity (and its socioeconomic importance) within each generation has usually resulted in only one word for one’s own brothers or first or second cousins: bhapa.

(p.140) Let us turn then to a review of the organization of relationships in the extended family and the social norms and values this family organization confirms and generates. The extended family is the immediate ‘society’ encountered by the Indian child as he grows up. This range of typical childhood encounters prefigures, as it informs, the identity of adult Indians.

Family Structure

The extended family is, in one sense, a large group, its members engaged in the manifold activities necessary to maintain the group as a cohesive, cooperative unit, to enable its survival and promote the individual and, especially, collective welfare of its members and to protect it from the incursions of the outside world. It must deal with problems confronted by any other organization: determining an acceptable division of labour, articulating the roles and role relationships between and among family members, and coordinating their efforts in the service of family objectives. As in other organizations, these problems are resolved in the Indian family on the basis of the hierarchical principle; the difference is that the hierarchy of roles within an extended family is legitimated by the tradition and the social sanction not of generations but of centuries, so that for an Indian, superior and subordinate relationships have the character of eternal verity and moral imperative. In other words, an Indian’s sense of his relative familial and social position—which is superior to some and subordinate to others—has been so internalized that he qualifies, in Dumont’s phrase, as the original homo hierarchies.6 Regardless of personal talents or achievements, or of changes in the circumstances of his own or others’ lives, an Indian’s relative position in the hierarchy of the extended family, his obligations to those ‘above’ him and his expectations of those ‘below’ him are immutable, lifelong. Already in childhood he begins to learn that he must look after the welfare of those subordinate to him in the family hierarchy so that they do not suffer either through their own misjudgement or at the hands of outsiders, and that he is reciprocally entitled to obedience and respectful compliance with his wishes.

(p.141) The ordering principles of this hierarchical system are age and sex. Elders have more formal authority than younger persons—even a year’s difference in age is sufficient to establish the fact of formal superiority—and men have greater authority than women. Consider some of the relationships within the extended family. Among brothers, authority attends seniority, so that men and boys, while deferring to their father as his sons, owe some of the same respectful compliance to their elder brothers. The eldest brother, as future head of the family, holds an especially powerful position, for on his accession to family leadership he assumes not only moral authority and ritual prominence in family life but also the economic responsibility for the family’s survival and welfare. His younger brothers and their wives and children are then obliged to transfer to him the allegiance and obedience once commanded by the father. Thus, the obligations of respect and obedience of nephews and nieces towards the uncle who is the head of the family customarily supersede filial duty to their own father.

A woman’s authority usually depends on her husband’s position in the household. The wife of the head of the family is supreme in household affairs, subject only to the countervailing authority of her mother-in-law. Relationships among brothers’ wivas mirror the prerogatives and duties of the brothers themselves. The wife of an elder brother is entitled to issue orders to the wife of a younger brother but she is also responsible for the well-being of her younger sister-in-law. In cross-sex relationships the authority associated with age is considerable but carries less weight than in same-sex relationships. A son or a daughter owes less formal deference to the mother than to the father; an elder brother has greater authority over a younger sister than an elder sister over a younger brother. In short, ideally ‘the oldest male of the highest generation is supposed to receive the most respect and obedience, the female at the opposite pole, the most protection and care.’7

As in any other institution, there is a good deal of discrepancy between the traditional model of social relations within the extended family and the actual everyday politics of family life. The informal organization, depending on region, caste, age, and (p.142) economic circumstances of the family, may deviate considerably from the normative pattern. Moreover, individual differences in personality, temperament, and ability—the earning power of a younger brother, the reliability and courtesy of a daughter-in-law—invariably modify the traditional blueprint.

The outstanding example of the discrepancy between traditional norm and the actuality of daily life is the common fact that the powerful role played by the older women in the family—mothers and grandmothers—bears little resemblance to the Hindu ideal of the deferential pativrata (ever-loyal to husband) wife. Although the classical dictum is that ‘By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband; when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must be never independent’,8 the plain truth is that this is (and perhaps always was) a masculine wish-fulfilment rather than an accurate description of the ‘real life’ of older Indian women. Although the wife of the family patriarch may indeed pay a formal, and often perfunctory deference to her husband, especially in front of strangers, she may exercise considerable domestic power, not merely among the other women of the household, but with her husband, and she often makes many of the vital decisions affecting the family’s interests. The fact that women gain a powerful voice in family affairs as they age, that seniority holds out enormous rewards not just in status but in actual decision-making, is one of the factors that contribute to the conservatism of Indian women, their tenacious resistance to any separatist and divisive tendencies in the extended family and their indifference to egalitarian ideologies of social change.

Authority In Family And Other Forms Of Social Organization

The principle of a hierarchical ordering of social dependencies extends beyond its home base in the extended family to every other institution in Indian life, from the jajmani system to corporate business, from the guru–chela relationship in religious education to department staffing in an Indian university, from village panchayat politics to the (p.143) highest reaches of government bureaucracy. Elsewhere, in a content analysis of primers used to teach Hindi and English in Indian schools, I have shown that in a total of thirty-one stories depicting authority situations, there is not a single instance of an egalitarian authority relationship cast in a fraternal or democratic mode.9 This study suggested that Indians view the ideal superior as one who acts in a nurturing way so that his subordinates either anticipate his wishes or accept them without questioning.10 He receives compliance by taking care of his subordinates’ needs, by providing the emotional rewards of approval, praise, and even love, or by arousing guilt. On the other hand, the same study showed that highhanded attempts to regulate behaviour through threat or punishment, such as personal rejection or humiliation, are likely to lead to open defiance or devious evasion on the part of the subordinate. Thus, although family relationships are generally hierarchical in structure, the mode of the relationship is characterized by an almost maternal nurturing on the part of the superior, by filial respect and compliance on the part of the subordinate, and by a mutual sense of highly personal attachment.

As we know, in stable societies there is a psychosocial reciprocity between the institutions that govern and organize adult lives and the culture’s characteristic modalities of child-rearing. We would then expect that the hierarchical actuality of extended family life in India, based primarily on age status, legitimated by an enduring moral tradition, and sustained through the complementary modes of nurturing and succouring, is extrapolated to all other social institutions as the normative form of organization. This is not surprising, for we know that if a child is praised and loved for compliance and submission, and subtly or blatantly punished for independence, he cannot easily withdraw from the orbit of family authority during childhood, nor subsequently learn to deal with authority other than submissively.

The hierarchical principle of social organization has been central to the conservation of Indian tradition, but it can only be a source of stagnation in modern institutions whose purpose is scientific inquiry or technological development. Such institutions require a more flexible, egalitarian structure in which the capacity for initiative as well as seniority governs role relationships, in which competence rather (p.144) than age legitimates authority, and in which the organizational mode is non-coercive and fraternal. In such modern institutions, younger people may have a voice in the decision-making councils; however, their say is a limited one. Like children in the extended family, their concerns are tolerantly listened to but their serious attempts to initiate or influence the strategic policy decisions of the institution are dismissed, if they are heard at all. Confrontations ‘on the issues’ simply do not occur; younger professionals have from childhood internalized the ‘hierarchical tradition’, so any discrepancy between the criteria of professional performance and the prevailing mores of the organization does not produce either a confrontation with the older men or the persistent, critical questioning necessary to effect change. The aggression inevitably aroused in the younger generation is blocked from expression in outright anger; instead, the conflict between intellectual conviction and developmental ‘fate’ manifests itself in a vague sense of helpless and impotent rage. The anxiety triggered by the mere possibility of losing the nurturing patronage of powerful figures usually prevents any deviation from the safer compliant stance. Gradually, the younger organization men resign themselves to waiting until they become seniors in their own right, free to enjoy the fruits and the delayed gratification that age brings with it in Indian society. The suspicion is unavoidable, however, that psychologically, the fruits of seniority mean the chance to ‘turn passive into active’, that is, to do unto the upcoming young professionals what was once done to oneself.

Family Bond

The psychological identification with the extended family group is so strong that even the loosening of the family bond, not to mention an actual break, may be a source of psychic stress and heightened inner conflict. A separation from the family, whatever the necessity or reason for such a step, not only brings a sense of insecurity in a worldly, social sense, it also means the loss of ‘significant others’11 who guarantee the sense of sameness and affirm the inner continuity of the self. Psychiatric observations in India on the occurrence of certain kinds of mental disturbances following a break from the extended family amply bear this out.12

(p.145) There are, of course, other than psychological explanations for the importance of the family in an individual’s life; economic realities and social considerations of prestige, status, and reputation all reinforce the family tie. Economically, in a country without large government programmes of social security, unemployment compensation, and old-age benefits, it is the extended family, if anyone, that must provide temporary relief when a man loses work, a young mother is ill, or the monsoon destroys the harvest. The extended family provides the only life insurance most Indians have. Socially, a man’s worth and, indeed, recognition of his identity, are bound up in the reputation of his family. Lifestyle and actions—how a man lives and what he does—are rarely seen as a product of individual effort, aspiration, or conflict, but are interpreted in the light of his family’s circumstances and reputation in the wider society. Individual initiative and decisions make sense only in a family context. To conform is to be admired; to strike out on one’s own, to deviate, is to invite scorn or pity. ‘How can a son of family X behave like this!’ is as much an expression of contempt as ‘How could she not turn out well! After all she is the daughter of family Y!’ is a sign of approval.

An individual’s identity and merit are both enhanced if he or she has the good fortune to belong to a large, harmonious, and closely knit family. When a man or a woman approaches a major life transition, particularly marriage, the character of the family weighs heavily in the scales of his or her fate. To illustrate this through an anecdote: I vividly remember a distant aunt coming to my grandmother for advice regarding a prospective son-in-law. After all his individual qualifications—age, earnings, education, physical appearance, and future prospects—had been duly discussed and approved, the man was rejected on the grounds that his family was too small. ‘If my daughter made such a marriage,’ the aunt remarked somewhat regretfully, ‘their child would be at a great disadvantage.’ By this she meant that a large and harmonious family helps to safeguard a child’s future, to advance him in life, because more people are helping him along, contributing to the decisions that will affect his future, maximizing the number of connections that may be necessary to secure a job or other favours, coming to his aid in times of crisis, and generally (p.146) mediating his experience with the outside world. This conviction that a large, close family is an essential advocate and protector may be undergoing some revision among highly educated urban Indians, yet it remains fundamental to the Hindu worldview.

The family itself recurrently emphasizes and seeks to strengthen the family bond through the festive yet basically solemn celebration of the turning points in the individual life cycle. These rituals not only commemorate the ‘grand occasions’ of birth, marriage, giving birth, and death, they also celebrate many small climaxes such as a boy’s first haircut, a girl’s first menstrual period. These traditional ceremonies, major and minor, performed within the benevolent circle of the extended family, are the punctuation of the life cycle. They celebrate the individual’s place and importance in his particular family, they are the ritual reassurance that he belongs, and as such, they not only affirm individual identity as a family member, they consolidate the child’s and the adult’s belief that family ties are the most moral, durable, and reliable of all social relations. Moreover, the joint celebration of religious festivals and especially (in most castes) the performance of prescribed rites for the dead in which the participation of every family member is mandatory, attempt to extend the psychological reality of family membership beyond an individual lifetime and to remind the participants that family bonds are immutable, exempt from individual mortality.

Beyond Family: Caste (Jati)

Second only to the extended family as a pervasive social dimension of identity in India is the institution of caste. Family and caste are the parameters of Indian childhood. By caste here, we do not mean varna, the four sweeping social categories of traditional Hinduism—Brahmin, Ksatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra—but the Hindu institution of jati.13 Jati is caste in all the immediacy of daily social relations and occupational specialization. Essentially, it is a social group to which an individual belongs by birth. Usually, a jati member participates in one of the jati’s several traditional occupations, and his marriage partner will almost certainly belong to his jati. His friendships with other jati members tend to be closer than those with persons of other jatis, with whom (p.147) his relations are more formal, governed as they are by unwritten codes prescribing and proscribing relationships between jatis. Although some families of a particular jati may live in the same village, the jati itself extends beyond the confines of any single village; a large, prominent jati may include considerable geographical territory. The relationships and dealings between and among different jatis within a single village or in a larger region (which may comprise several hundred villages) are organized, as in the extended family, according to the hierarchical principle. Patterns of deference are defined by tradition and history, although in practice, again, the ranking order may be disputed locally whenever a particular jati demands higher ritual status than accorded by the going consensus. As Mandelbaum sums up the theory and practice of jati organization, ‘Most villagers assume that there should be a ranked hierarchy of groups, even though they may disagree about the particulars of ranking.’14

Just as the extended family is the primary field and foil for an individual’s developing sense of identity, the jati is the ‘next circle’ in his widening social radius. The jati’s values, beliefs, prejudices, and injunctions, as well as its distortions of reality, become part of the individual’s psyche as the content of the ideologies of his conscience. It is the internalized jati norms which define ‘right action’ or dharma for the individual, make him feel good and loved when he lives up to these norms, and anxious and guilty when he transgresses them.

Since individual anxiety reflects the latent concerns of a man’s immediate society, knowledge of his jati, its aspirations and apprehensions, enriches clinical understanding of individual identity formation and/or identity conflict. For instance, the depressive reaction of a man from a lower jati to a career setback or failure is only partly a function of individual dynamics; in addition, his depression is bound up with his jati’s striving for upward mobility and improved status relative to other jatis. Another person’s violent outrage provoked by an ostensibly minor slight (in the context of village society) not only betrays an individual problem in ‘managing aggression’, it also reflects the historical well of resentment shared by his jati as a whole and passed down from generation to generation as a part of jati identity.

(p.148) As a part of the modernization process of the last twenty to thirty years, the campaign against the real and imaginary evils of the ‘caste system’ has fostered a wilful effort among educated Indians to banish from consciousness any sense of their jati affiliation and to repress its salience in individual identity formation. For westernized Indians, jati has become a dirty word to be mentioned only in a covert whisper. Yet the persistence of jati identity in an individual’s inner world is often revealed in self-reflective moments. Thus Nehru, the epitome of a modern Hindu, acknowledges, without spelling it out in detail, the psychological ‘presence’ of his Brahminness:

Perhaps my thoughts and approach to life are more akin to what is called Western than Eastern, but India clings to me as she does to all her children, in innumerable ways; and behind me lie, somewhere in the subconscious, racial memories of a hundred, or whatever the number may be, generations of Brahmins. I cannot get rid of either that past inheritance or my recent acquisitions.15

A highly-placed civil servant writes even more frankly of the influence of his jati, the Khatris, on his identity:

As I could follow that Khatri was a derivation from Ksatriya, the warrior and princely class of the Vedic and classical age, I have always thought of myself belonging to a Herrenvolk when compared to other castes. I took pride in stories that they [the Khatris] did not intermarry or interdine with Aroras, said to spring from Vaisyas, the merchant class. I used to take pride in the fact that Khatris are, by and large, good-looking and have a fair complexion, without bothering about the fact that I possessed neither. I know I do not possess any attributes of the warrior class, yet I cling to the dogma of being a warrior type of yore, of being a ruling type with all the obligations of conduct that go with it.16

Implicit in the organization of Indian society, in which each individual is part of a complex, hierarchically ordered, and above all stable network of relationships throughout the course of his life, is a psychological model of man that emphasizes human dependence and vulnerability to feelings of estrangement and helplessness. The core of emotional life is anxiety and suffering, dukha as the Buddhists would call it. Thus Hindu social organization accentuates the continued existence of the child in the adult and elaborates the caretaking function of society to protect and provide for the security of its individual members. We might also view traditional Indian society as a therapeutic model of social organization in that it attempts to alleviate dukha by (p.149) addressing itself to deep needs for connection and relationship to other human beings in an enduring and trustworthy fashion and for ongoing mentorship, guidance and help in getting through life and integrating current experience with whatever has gone before and with an anticipated future. In the relatively more activist and task-oriented social organization of Western countries, these dependency needs of adults are generally seen as legitimate only in moments of acute crisis or circumstances of ‘sickness’. Shashi Pande has distinguished Western and Indian social relations by suggesting that in the West, intimacy in a relationship develops out of some shared activity, as when a father takes his son on hunting and fishing trips as a means of developing (or proving) a mutual trust and camaraderie, whereas no such ‘hidden agenda’ is needed for the cultivation of a relationship in Indian society.17 From the earliest years, the Indian child learns that the core of any social relationship, therapeutic, educational, organizational, is the process of caring and mutual involvement. What he should be sensitive to (and concerned with) are not the goals of work and productivity that are external to the relationship, but the relationship itself, the unfolding of emotional affinity.

Among those Indians closely identified with the process of modernization, the well-educated urban elite who hold positions of power in modern institutions, the psychohistorical fact of the primacy of relationships, of family loyalities, of jati connections, is often a source of considerable emotional stress. For although intellectually the Indian professional or bureaucrat may agree with his Western counterpart that, for example, the criterion for appointment or promotion to a particular job must be objective, decisions based solely on the demands of the task and ‘merits of the case’, he cannot root out the cultural conviction that his relationship to the individual under consideration is the single most important factor in his decision. This conflict between the rational criteria of specific tasks and institutional goals rooted in Western societal values, and his own deeply held belief (however ambivalent) in the importance of honouring family and jati bonds is typical among highly educated and prominently employed Indians. And among the vast majority of tradition-minded countrymen—whether it be a bania bending (p.150) the law to facilitate the business transaction of a fellow jati member, or a marwari industrialist employing an insufficiently qualified but distantly related job applicant as a manager, or the clerk accepting bribes in order to put an orphaned niece through school—dishonesty, nepotism, and corruption as they are understood in the West are merely abstract concepts. These negative constructions are irrelevant to Indian psychosocial experience, which, from childhood on, nurtures one standard of responsible adult action, and one only, namely, an individual’s lifelong obligation to his kith and kin. Allegiance to impersonal institutions and abstract moral concepts is without precedent in individual developmental experience, an adventitious growth in the Indian inner world. Guilt and its attendant inner anxiety are aroused only when individual actions go against the principle of the primacy of relationships, not when foreign ethical standards of justice and efficiency are breached.

In summary, the psychosocial world encountered by Indian children as they reach the ‘age of accountability’ is governed by the principle of the inviolable primacy of family, and secondarily jati, relationships. This ‘widening world of childhood’18 employs religious tradition, ritual, family ceremony, social sanction, and psychological pressure to shore up family and caste relationships against outsiders, and against the future. From the beginning, participation and acceptance in this world entail strict observance of a traditionally elaborated hierarchical social order and the subordination of individual preferences and ambitions to the welfare of the extended family and jati communities.

The Second Birth

In a psychosocial sense, the world of Indian childhood widens suddenly from the intimate cocoon of maternal protection to the unfamiliar masculine network woven by the demands and tensions, the comings and goings, of the men of the family. This ‘entry into society’ occurs in the fourth or fifth year of a child’s life; for the male child especially, the abruptness of the separation from his mother and the virtual reversal of everything that is expected of him may have traumatic developmental consequences.

(p.151) As in other societies, it is at this advanced stage of early childhood in India that cultural expectations of boys and girls begin to diverge although in psychodynamic terms, as we have seen, the configuration of maternal identity tends to produce a more intense, provocative mothering of male infants than of females. The Indian daughter, insulated from the full force of this maternal ambivalence, is not severed at the age of four or five from the company of her mother and the other women in the household, although like her brothers, she is given new, ‘grown up’ household tasks and responsibilities. But unlike her brothers, she continues to be cared for by her mother, albeit more casually than before, as she gradually learns to be like her mother by taking care of herself as well as the other younger children in the family. The rest of this chapter will attend almost exclusively to issues of masculine identity in India, for in the quintessential patriarchal world of traditional Hindu culture, the substance of girlhood is left to the private variations of individual relationships whereas the full weight of the prescriptive norms and traditional expectations falls fatefully on Indian boys.

Thus, it is the son who experiences the shock—and it is that, as countless vivid screen memories of events during this period of life attest—of maternal separation and entry into the man’s world. Even more than the suddenness of the transition, the contrast between an earlier, more or less unchecked benevolent indulgence and the new inflexible standards of absolute obedience and conformity to familial and social standards is its striking feature. As an anthropological account of a Hyderabad village describes the male child’s second birth:

The liberty that he was allowed during his early childhood is increasingly curtailed. Now the accent is on good behaviour and regular habits. The child is more frequently spanked for being troublesome … As he grows older the discipline becomes more and more difficult. At first he was punished for being ‘troublesome’ or for ‘crying without reason’ but now he has to distinguish clearly between things to be done and things not to be done.19

And a north Indian proverb, addressed to men, pithily conveys what the boy has to now face: ‘Treat a son like a raja for the first five years, like a slave for the next ten and like a friend thereafter.’

(p.152) Whereas until this time, the male child is enveloped in, and often overpowered by, his mother’s protective nurturing and love—a love abundantly lavished (and ideally unconditional)—whatever approval or appreciation he can hope to receive from the men in the family who now take responsibility for his care and instruction is much more qualified. Relationships become more businesslike, and affection is a token in each transaction. It is conditional upon the boy’s behaviour, something he has to earn by learning the formalities of correct relationships with each member of the family according to his or her rank and status, and by conforming to the norms of family and caste behaviour. Without any preparation for the transition, the boy is literally banished from the gently teasing, admiring society of women into a relatively stern and unfeeling male world full of rules and responsibilities in which he cannot be quite so cocky. Little wonder that this transition, his ‘second birth’, is associated with intense bewilderment, uprootedness and misunderstanding.

This critical shift takes place, of course, in a psychosocial dimension; it is one of the emotional frontiers of the inner world of experience. In so far as the daily logistics of eating, playing, sleeping, and taking care of himself are concerned, the four- or five-year-old Indian boy retains for a while longer the leeway to be with his sisters and to seek out his mother. Although he must spend even more time in the exclusive company of boys and men, going back to his mother less and less for reassurance, he begins to learn to dilute his need for emotional support and succouring, and to turn for these things now to one of his grandparents perhaps, or to an uncle or aunt. This process of intimacy diffusion, the replacement of the exclusive nurturing attachment to the mother with a variety of less intense relationships with any number of others in the extended family circle, marks this stage of masculine personality development in India.

In spite of these ‘extra-maternal’ sources of comfort and guidance provided by the very structure of the extended family, psychoanalytically speaking, the Indian boy’s loss of the relationship of symbiotic intimacy with his mother amounts to a narcissistic injury of the first magnitude. The consequences of the ‘second birth’ in the identity development (p.153) of Indian men are several: a heightened narcissistic vulnerability, an unconscious tendency to ‘submit’ to an idealized omnipotent figure, both in the inner world of fantasy and in the outside world of making a living; the lifelong search for someone, a charismatic leader or a guru, who will provide mentorship and a guiding worldview, thereby restoring intimacy and authority to individual life. To understand these we must take a brief theoretical excursion into the problem of narcissism, as it has been clarified in the writings of Heinz Kohut.20

The primary narcissism of the human infant, that sense of original perfection and exclusive instinctual investment in the self, a state of being in which the whole world, including other people, is experienced as a part of the self and within one’s spontaneous control, is a brief, transitory, but fateful experience in human development. The inevitable limitations of maternal attention together with cognitive changes in infant development bring this stage of primary narcissism to a necessary conclusion. Yet the intensity plus the brevity of this original experience of narcissistic omnipotence serves as a powerful emotional magnet throughout life’s developmental vicissitudes, pulling the individual back to beginnings and down into the unconscious in moments of confusion or panic. In his unconscious attempts to regain the lost paradise of narcissistic equilibrium, the child, according to Kohut, creates two narcissistic configurations, the grandiose self and the idealized parental imago. The grandiose self, with its central conviction, ‘I am perfect’, contributes, Kohut declares, to a ‘broad spectrum of phenomena, ranging from the child’s solipsistic world-view and his undisguised pleasure in being admired, and from the gross delusions of the paranoiac and the crudely sexual acts of the adult pervert, to aspects of the mildest, most aim-inhibited, and non-erotic satisfaction of adults with themselves, their functioning and their achievement.’21 The idealized parental imago is based in the conviction, ‘You are perfect, but I am a part of you.’ In the emotional imagery of this configuration, the omnipotence and perfection are now attributed to an idealized parental figure who is experienced as a part of the self, the so-called ‘self-object’ (to be distinguished from another person who is clearly perceived as separate from the self).

(p.154) When psychological development proceeds soundly, both configurations gradually lose their power, become attenuated, and are integrated into the personality. The grandiose self sheds its archaic characteristics and becomes the source of the instinctual energy that fuels the adult’s ego-syntonic ambitions and activities, as well as the all-important ‘mature’ and realistic forms of self-esteem, while the idealized parental imago becomes part of the superego, consolidating an individual’s guiding ideals and ethical sensibility. Massive narcissistic injury such as an abrupt separation from the mother or traumatic disappointment in the adults who count during the early, dependent stages of individual development can, however, thwart the integration of these narcissistic configurations into the ‘mature’ psychic structure. Thus, as a consequence of a narcissistic injury the grandiose self may continue ‘at large’ in the psyche, following its archaic aims and generating such narcissistic personality disturbances as a solipsistic clamour for attention, exhibitionism, hypochondria, or in the extreme of psychosis, a cold paranoid grandiosity. Similarly, when an individual is traumatically let down by one or both parents during the oedipal period of childhood, the developmental process of idealization of the superego—that is, the internalization of the parents’ loving, approving aspects that give the psyche its positive goals and ideals—is disrupted and the idealized parental imago remains unaltered in the psyche as a self-object necessary for providing the longed-for narcissistic nourishment. Here, personality disturbance may manifest itself in a compelling need for merger with powerful authority figures or in incoherent mystical feelings divorced from the transcendent experience or tradition of mature religiosity, while in psychosis the reactivation of the archaic parental imago may lead to delusions of the powerful persecutor, the omniscient mind reader or disembodied voices whose commands must be obeyed.

I would contend that among Indian men, the process of integrating these archaic narcissistic configurations developmentally is rarely accomplished in the sense that it is among men in the West. This does not mean that Indians are narcissistic while westerners are not. Adapting one of Freud’s metaphors, we might say that westerners have fewer ‘troops of occupation’ remaining at the home base of archaic (p.155) narcissism, the bulk of the army having marched on—although under great stress they too may retreat. In contrast, Indians tend to maintain more troops at the narcissistic position, with the advance platoons poised to rejoin them whenever threatened or provoked.

The abrupt severance of the four- or five-year-old boy from the intimate company of a single paramount ‘other’ partly explains the narcissistic vulnerability of the male psyche in India. This second birth is as unpremeditated in the child as the first, and as traumatic; as such, it tends to foster both regression to an earlier ‘happier’ era and a tendency to consolidate one’s identification with the mother in order to compensate for her loss. But we must anchor this hypothesis in a clear and complete picture of the Indian boy’s developmental experience in the first three to four years of his life. In spite of the emotional ‘riches’ that a long and intense reciprocity with the mother may store up in the individual’s inner world, this same intense exclusivity tends to hinder the growth of the son’s autonomy, thereby leaving the psychic structure relatively undifferentiated, the boundaries of the self vague, and the inner convictions—‘I am perfect’ and ‘You are perfect but I am a part of you’—more or less uncompromised in their primitive emotional orginality.

The ambiguous role of the father in Indian childhood is yet another factor that contributes to the narcissistic vulnerability of Indian men. For the narcissistic injury inherent in the abrupt dissolution of the mother–son bond can be tempered through the reinforcement provided by the boy’s identification with his father. A father, as both Erikson and Fromn have emphasized, is not only the counterplayer of little Oedipus but the guardian and sponsor of the boy’s separation from his mother at a time when his courage for such an autonomous existence is brand new. Indeed, ‘the affirmation of the [father’s] guiding voice is a prime element in a man’s sense of identity.’22 Given the intensity and ambivalence of the mother–son connection in the Indian setting, the need for the father’s physical touch and his guiding voice becomes even more pressing, the necessity of oedipal alliance often outweighing the hostility of the Oedipus complex.

The guiding voice can become effective and the son’s identification with his father can take place only if the father allows his (p.156) son emotional access to him—that is, if he allows himself to be idealized at the same time that he encourages and supports the boy’s own efforts to grow up. The generative responsibility of a father is not to withdraw from his son to a plane of aloof perfection or preoccupied authority, but to let the boy gradually detect his limitations as a father and as a man so that the child’s identification becomes gently diluted into a developmentally cogent masculine identification with a realistic image of his father. Identification is a process, however; it requires that over the years the father be constantly available to his son in a psychosocial sense, a criterion fundamentally at odds with the rationale and structure of the Indian extended family. For the strength and cohesion of the extended family depend upon a certain psychosocial diffusion; it is essential that nuclear cells do not build up within the family, or at the very least, that these cells do not involve intense emotional loyalties that potentially exclude other family members and their interests. Thus, the principles of Indian family life demand that a father be restrained in the presence of his own son and divide his interest and support equally among his own and his brothers’ sons. The culturally prescribed pattern of restraint between fathers and sons is widespread in India, sufficiently so to constitute a societal norm.23 In autobiographical accounts, fathers, whether strict or indulgent, cold or affectionate, are invariably distant.

Behind the requisite façade of aloofness and impartiality, an Indian father may be struggling to express his love for his son. Fatherly love is no less strong in India than in other societies. Yet the fact remains that the son, suddenly bereft of the ‘good’ mother and needing a firm masculine model with whom to identify as a means of freedom from the ‘bad’ one, is exposed to bewildering contradictory messages of simultaneous love and restraint, emanating from his father’s behaviour. He does not have that necessary conviction that his father is a dependable ‘constant’ to learn from, be loved by and emulate. In short, the Hindu son lacks the affirmation of that one guiding masculine voice, as it becomes diffused among many. To be sure, autobiographical accounts depict the Indian father as a sensitive man of love and charged with feelings for his sons, for he too grew up with similar needs and longings. Thus in Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda describes meeting (p.157) his father after a long separation, ‘Father embraced me warmly as I entered our Gurupur Road home. “You have come,” he said tenderly. Two large tears dropped from his eyes. Outwardly undemonstrative, he had never before shown me these external signs of affection. Outwardly the grave father, inwardly he possessed the melting heart of a mother.’24 And Gandhi has given us a moving account of asking his father’s forgiveness for an adolescent transgression:

I was trembling when I handed the confession to my father …He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his wet cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He had sat up to read it. He again lay down. I also cried. Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is … This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful.25

Such public testimony to the father who is kind and affectionate inside belies the psychosocial distance and formal, often perfunctory daily social contact between sons and fathers in India. Psychotherapy and counselling often uncover a long-buried resentment against the father who somehow failed his son by not having been ‘there’ enough, by not having been a tangible solid presence to lean on, take hold of, and measure oneself against in order to stabilize and strengthen one’s own psychic structure and masculine identity. The unconscious anger of sons against good but ‘intangible’ fathers, whose individual paternity is muffled in the impartiality required by the extended family, is one of the major themes in Hindu personality. Thus, the fact that almost eighty per cent of the adolescent Indian boys who were given the Thematic Apperception Test in a recent study26 saw in the covered figure lying on the bed the father who is ill, dead, or recovering from illness, not only reflects unconscious oedipal hostility in its narrow sense but also constitutes an expression of the boy’s resentful anger against the father whose presence was a childhood blur.

I have tried to identify three culturally influenced psychosocial constellations that emphasize the narcissistic vulnerability and emotional self-absorption of the masculine psyche in India: first, the length (p.158) and symbiotic nature of the mother–son relationship; second, the rupture of this connection at the age of four or five and the radical alteration of the child’s ‘lifestyle’; and third, the little boy’s disappointment when he perceives his father as more of an onlooker than an ally in his boyish struggle to cope with his new life circumstances.

Ontogeny of Homo Hierarchicus

The significance of narcissistic vulnerability in the personality development of Indian men, its role in the aetiology of neurosis in the Indian setting,27 and its cultural elaboration in rituals like the worship of the Shiva linga comprise but one of the psychosocial consequences of the second birth. The consolidation of the homo hierarchicus element in Indian identity is another vital feature stemming from the second birth. The two main psychodynamic elements of the homo hierarchicus identity—an accentuation of the homoerotic impulse, especially in its passive form, and a relatively weak differentiation and idealization of the superego—are the emotional glue that has cemented the hierarchical principle securely in Indian social institutions. We must unearth and examine the childhood roots of both these constellations if we are to appreciate Indian patterns of authority and the emotional hold exercised by certain kinds of authority figures.

We have noted that the emissary of the culture demanding that the Indian boy relinquish his intimate status with his mother is not just the father but the whole assembly of elder males in the family. The boy’s confusion and rage at being separated from his mother, all the more conflicted because it has been delayed, coincides with the oedipal stage in psychosexual development. But his fury is not directed towards his father alone; it is diffused against all the male authority figures who are collectively responsible for taking his mother away. It makes sense, symbolically, that in Indian mythology, Ravana, the abductor of the ‘good mother’, Sita, has not one but ten heads. Because it is diluted and diverted to include other elder males, oedipal aggression against the father, in its ‘classical’ intensity, on the whole, is not common in India. This varies, of course, from region to region and among different social groups.28 In communities who emphasize manliness in (p.159) its machismo elaboration and keep their women in the seclusion of purdah—for example, the Rajputs—and who thus exact from their sons a dramatic and total renunciation of the feminine world of mothers and sisters and aunts, the ‘oedipal’ dimension of boyish rage against the father and other males tends to be more pronounced than in communities where the second birth is a more relaxed or gradual process. Irrespective of the variable intensity of the oedipal conflict in different communities, the ‘impacted’ identification of the Indian son with his mother leads to a modal resolution of the conflict that differs from the Western model. In the West, the oedipal conflict is usually resolved as the boy’s aggressive stance towards his rival/father triggers anxiety that is in turn reduced by identification with the father. In India, however, carrying the weight of a strong pre-oedipal feminine identification and lacking a vivid, partisan father with whom to identify, the boy is more likely to adopt a position of ‘non-partisan’ feminine submission towards all elder men in the family. The son exchanges his active phallic initiative for an ‘apprentice complex’, as Fenichel called it,29 in which he takes a passive-receptive stance towards male authority that one day will enable him to become a man in his own turn. In the sexualized imagery of the child, he is open to the phallus with its promise of masculine potency.

This resolution of the oedipal conflict by means of a submissive, apprentice-like stance towards elder men in the family leaves a psychosexual residue in the unconscious that influences the rest of a boy’s life; in the identity development of Indian men, this has generated a passive-receptive attitude towards authority figures of all kinds. The psychodynamic contours of this traditional and nearly ubiquitous stance towards authority become markedly plain in situations that reactivate the childhood conflict. Thus, for example, whereas in the West the unconscious passive homosexual temptations of patients that emerge at certain stages of psychoanalytic therapy invariably provoke intense anxiety, analogous fantasies and dreams among Indian patients have a relatively easier, less anxious access to consciousness. The imagery conveyed in clinical terms like ‘passive homosexual’ or ‘feminine submission’ is vividly sexual—as the inner life of the child, the patient, the dreamer, bears witness. Yet I do not (p.160) mean to emphasize the sexual dimension of these terms so much as their connection with the vicissitudes of aggression, with the conflict between dominance and submission.

The erect penis and the offer of the anus among human males, as among many other primates, are symbolic of an attempt to establish a hierarchical order in their relationships. The fantasy among Indian patients of anal assault by an authority figure reflects not so much the occult pleasure and guilt of anal erotism as it does the (relatively unconflicted) acceptance of the dominance of ‘those in authority’ and the wish to incorporate some of their power into oneself. The high frequency among adolescent boys and young men in India of swearwords with the general tenor, ‘fuck you in the anus’, is another index of the common masculine preoccupation with hierarchical status; that is, this usage reflects the fierce struggle to ascertain who is superior to whom in ambiguous social situations unclarifled by the customary guidelines of age or sex, jati affiliation, or position in the family.

The conflicts generated by the second birth and the modal Hindu resolution of the Oedipus complex also lead to a relatively weaker differentiation and idealization of the Indian superego. By this I mean that the categorical conscience, as a representative of the rights and wrongs, the prescriptions and prohibitions of Indian dharma, does not exist as a psychic structure sharply differentiated from the id and the ego, nor are its parts ‘idealized’ as they tend to be in Western cultures. Much of the individual behaviour and adaptation to the environment that in Westerners is regulated or coerced by the demands of the superego, is taken care of in Indians by a communal conscience. This comprises, from the beginning, not exclusive parental injunctions but family and jati norms. In contrast with the Western superego, the communal conscience is a social rather than an individual formation: it is not ‘inside’ the psyche. In other words, instead of having one internal sentinel an Indian relies on many external ‘watchmen’ to patrol his activities and especially his relationships in all the social hierarchies.

The greater authority of the codes of the communal conscience, as opposed to the internalized rules of the individual superego, creates a situation in which infringements of moral standards become likely in situations ‘when no one is looking’. Such situations normally arise (p.161) when the individual is away from the watchful discipline of his family, jati, and village groups. Thus, although Indians publicly express a staunch commitment to traditional moral codes, privately, in relation to himself, an individual tends to consider the violation of these codes reprehensible only when it displeases or saddens those elders who are the personal representatives of his communal conscience.

The weaker differentiation of the superego has several important psychosocial consequences. First, Indians generally demonstrate a greater tolerance for the expression of ambivalence and aggression in situations where it is not explicitly forbidden by the communal conscience and hierarchical imperative. Though the social taboos on the expression of overt hostility are indeed strong, they are not matched by complementary superego controls. When these taboos break down or where they do not apply, the ‘relaxed’ controls permit a volatile aggressiveness which can quickly flare up and as suddenly die down.

A second consequence is the relative lack of tension between the superego and the ego in Indian personality; the inner life of most Indians is not crippled by the constant judgement or the compulsive categorization of fantasies, thoughts, and actions into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There is thus much less pressure and guilt on the ego to appease the superego by means of productive activity and achievement in the outside world. An Indian can sit for hours doing nothing, without an inner voice condemning him as a ‘do-nothing’. By contrast, Western cultures seem to place a premium on a relatively high level of tension between ego and superego and then to channel the resulting feelings of guilt, shame, and inferiority into a high potential for activity.30 The goals of initiative and achievement so prominent in the Western world image function also as ego-defences designed to reduce psychic stress; this can become a social exploitation of individual dis-ease in which society encourages the individual to replace inner driven-ness (after having generated it in the first place) with social, intellectual, and economic productivity. Whatever the psychological price in neurosis for some, the adaptive value of this tension is of course considerable.

In addition to the relayed ‘management’ of aggression and the mutual accommodation of superego and ego, the Indian’s bland, unassuming (p.162) superego has a third consequence: a heightened dependence on external authority figures. The superego, as we know, is not only the prohibitory and punitive agency of the psyche, it also harbours the representations of an individual’s ideals and standards. Indian men tend to search for external figures to provide that approval and leadership not forthcoming from their own insufficiently idealized superegos. Relatively unintegrated into a weak superego, the narcissistic configuration of the idealized parental imago operates throughout life with much of its original intensity and many of its archaic aims. This results in a state of affairs in which the individual is perpetually looking for authority figures he can idealize, whose ‘perfection’ and omnipotence he can then adopt as his own. Both these themes, the infinite potence attributed to idealized parental figures and the child’s unconscious fantasy of incorporating this potence, are highlighted in the following Shiva myth:

Shiva and Parvati had made love for a thousand years and the gods were deeply worried. Any child born of such an embrace between Shiva and the Great Mother was bound to be powerful enough to destroy all creation and topple the king of gods, Indra, from his throne. It was thus resolved that this embrace must be interrupted so that Parvati would not bear Shiva’s child. Agni, the fire god, was dispatched to disturb the divine coupling, and appeared in the form of a parrot in Shiva and Parvati’s bedchamber. He was recognized by the couple, and Parvati, ashamed of having been observed during intercourse by the fire god, averted her face. Thereupon Shiva ejaculated into Agni’s mouth; his seed was so powerful that it split open the stomach of all the gods and flowed out to form a golden lake. Agni, however, could not bear the intense heat generated by the seed that remained within him and he spat it out into the Ganges. She too was unable to bear its intensity, and therefore placed it on her bank where it burnt as a blazing fire. The wives of sages came and warmed themselves against this fire. The seed entered the women through their buttocks and came out of their stomachs to form the six-headed Skanda, who later became the powerful general of the gods.

This myth has other versions; in one of them, the Ganges cannot bear the potence of Shiva’s seed and throws it out in floods on a mountain which turns to gold and where the birth of Skanda takes place. The potence of Shiva’s seed and Agni’s swallowing it are, however, common to all the versions.31

The need to bestow mana on our superiors and leaders in order to partake of the mana ourselves, an unconscious attempt to restore (p.163) the narcissistic perfection of infancy, ‘You are perfect but I am a part of you’, is of course a universal tendency. In India, this automatic reverence for superiors is a nearly universal psychosocial fact. Leaders at every level of society and politics, but particularly the patriarchal elders of the extended family and jati groups, take on an emotional salience independent of any realistic evaluation of their performance, let alone acknowledgement of their all too human being. When it comes to leadership in the larger social institutions of business and government in India, charisma plays an unusually significant role. The search for leaders of purity and authority, and their idealization, is vividly manifest in the sphere of religion. Hindu spiritual leaders or gurus, virtually by definition, embody every Indian’s traditional ideals as defined by the concepts of moksha and dharma. When contemplating or confronting these holy men, as well as a few political leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru, Indians are apt to be overwhelmed by the propensity to idealize and to transmute the commonplace into the miraculous, as ‘objectivity’ is swept away in a flood of reverence. The follower partakes of the guru’s ‘perfection’ merely by being in his presence, through his darshan. Conversations between Yogananda and his guru provide a striking illustration of these emotional dynamics. Yogananda describes their first meeting:

‘O my own, you have come to me!’ My guru uttered the words again and again in Bengali, his voice tremulous with joy. ‘How many years I have waited for you!’

We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the rankest superfluities. Eloquence flowed in a soundless chant from the heart of master to disciple. With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that my guru knew God and would lead me to Him. The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile dawn of prenatal memories. Dramatic time! Past, present and future are its cycling scenes. This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet!

My hand in his, my guru led me to his temporary residence in the Rana Mahal section of the city. His athletic figure moved with firm tread. Tall, erect, about fiftyfive at this time, he was active and vigorous as a young man. His dark eyes were large, beautiful with plumbless wisdom. Slightly curly hair softened a face of striking power. Strength mingled subtly with gentleness.

As we made our way to the stone balcony of a house overlooking the Ganges, he said affectionately:

‘I shall give you my hermitages and all I possess.’

‘Sir, I come for wisdom and God-realization. Those are your treasure troves I am after!’ (p.164)

The swift Indian twilight had dropped its half-curtain before my master spoke again. His eyes held unfathomable tenderness. ‘I give you my unconditional love.’32

Later on, the new disciple gratefully accepts the guru’s authority in every detail of his life, transferring the responsibility for his life to the divinity in the guru and then: ‘A lifelong shadow lifted from my heart; the vague search, hither and yon, was over. I had found eternal shelter in a true guru.’33

Together with the search for the guidance of an ideal, ever-present father, the above encounter, socially accepted and culturally encouraged, also reveals the childhood antecedents of such a search. For the feeling-tone of this meeting between Yogananda and his guru is like that of the communion between mother and infant and of the later soothing of disappointments by the ‘guru-mother’s’ love. Normally, the extended family itself (and even the jati) attempts to satisfy these unconscious longings. For social structures cannot neglect individual developmental concerns for long without generating unbearable tensions. In the Indian family, the hierarchical ordering of relationships, and their durability, even timelessness, provides some fulfilment of the individual’s lifelong need for external authority figures; the maternal mode of family care salvages some of the continuity between the individual’s early and later experiences, while the emphasis on the primacy of relationships seeks to counteract the individual’s narcissistic orientation and self-absorption which, if unchecked, would seriously undermine social stability and cooperation.


(1.) For the sociological discussion of the Indian family, I have drawn on W.J. Goode, World Revolution and Family Patterns (New York: The Free Press, 1963); A.D. Ross, The Hindu Family in its Urban Setting (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962); and especially on David G. Mandelbaum’s scholarly and sensitive work, Society in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), vol. 1, part 2.

(2.) For the Calcutta study, see Jyotirmoee Sarma, ‘The Nuclearization of Joint Family Households in West Bengal’, Man in India, vol. 44, 1964, pp. 193–206; for the Gujarat studies, I.P. Desai, Some Aspects of Family in Mahuva (New York: Asia Publishing House, 1964), p. 69 (p.165) , and K.M. Kapadia, ‘Rural Family Patterns’, in Sociological Bulletin, vol. 5, 1956, pp. 111–26; for the Madhya Pradesh study, Edwin D. Driver, Differential Fertility in Central India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963); and for Bombay, Murray A. Straus and Dorothea Winkelmann, ‘Social Class, Fertility and Authority in Nuclear and Joint Households in Bombay’, in Journal of Asian and African Studies, vol. 9, 1969, pp. 61–74.

(3.) See Chapter III, the subsection ‘Life Stage at Marriage’.

(4.) This is an elaboration on William Goode’s conclusion that ‘Most people live for part of their lives in a joint household, but at any given time most households are not joint.’ Goode, World Revolution, p. 244.

(5.) Morris M. Lewis, Language, Thought and Personality in Infancy and Childhood (New York: Basic Books, 1964), p. 33.

(6.) Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: Essai sur le Système des Castes (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).

(7.) Henry Orenstein, Gaon: Conflict and Cohesion in an Indian Village; quoted in Mandelbaum, Society in India, p. 40.

(8.) The Laws of Manu, trans. G. Buhler, in M. Müller (ed.), Sacred Books of the East, vol. 25 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886), p. 145.

(9.) Sudhir Kakar, ‘The Theme of Authority in Social Relations in India’, Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 84, 1971, pp. 93–101.

(10.) Ibid., p. 100.

(11.) E.H. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1968), p. 23.

(12.) See, for example, Brij B. Sethi, V.R. Thakore, and S.C. Gupta, ‘Changing Patterns of Culture and Psychiatry in India’, American Journal of Psychotherapy, vol. 19, 1965, pp. 445–54.

(13.) The terms ‘caste’ and ‘caste system’ have often been used indiscriminately to characterize different things. Sometimes caste has meant varna which is more or less caste-as-archetype, the widescreen which provides the traditional lore for caste identity and caste status. At other times caste has not only meant jati but has also been a descriptive term for kinship groupings and jati–clusters. It is only recently that we are able to differentiate between the various subgroups of the Indian social order, thanks to painstaking anthropological and sociological studies carried out by Indian and foreign scholars alike. See, for example, M.N. Srinivas, Caste in Modern India (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1962); André Béteille, Castes: Old and New (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1969) and L. Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: Essai Sur Le Systéme Des Castes (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).

(14.) Mandelbaum, Society in India, p. 14.

(15.) Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 353.

(16.) Personal communication from a relative reminiscing about his childhood and youth. (p.166)

(17.) Shashi K. Pande, ‘The Mystique of “Western” Psychotherapy: An Eastern Interpretation’, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 46, 1968, pp. 425–32.

(18.) Lois Murphy et al., The Widening World of Childhood (New York: Basic Books, 1967).

(19.) S.C. Dube, Indian Village (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 149. For a related discussion of the effect of the ‘second birth’ on personality development in India, see K.V. Rajan, ‘A Psychological Evaluation of Certain Trends in Indian Culture’, Indian Journal of Psychology, vol. 32, 1957, p. 127. Anthropological evidence gathered in different parts of India confirms the fact of this separation of son from mother and the boy’s banishment into the male quarters; see L. Minturn and J.T. Hitchcock, ‘The Rajputs of Khalapur, India, in B.B. Whiting (ed.), Six Cultures: Studies of Child-rearing (New York: John Wiley, 1963), pp. 347–50; C.V. Wiser and W.H. Wiser, Behind Mud Walls (London: Allen and Unwin, 1932), p. 10. See also H.S. Asthana, ‘Some Aspects of Personality Structuring in Indian (Hindu) Social Organization’, Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 44, p. 104.

(20.) Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1971). The fact that the terms ‘narcissistic’ and ‘narcissism’ have been used in many different contexts in psychoanalytic literature has created a good deal of confusion. Clinically, narcissism has denoted a sexual perversion; genetically, a developmental stage; from the standpoint of object-relations, a specific kind for object choice and a specific mode of relating to the environment; and in psychoanalytic ego psychology, aspects of the sense of self-esteem. In agreement with much of the modern literature on the subject, I have used narcissism here to mean the concentration of mental interest on the self and the correlative conflicts stemming from problems of regulating self-esteem. For psychological discussions of narcissism, see W.G. Joffe and Joseph Sandler, ‘Some Conceptual Problems Involved in the Consideration of Disorders of Narcissism’, Journal of Child Psychotherapy, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 56–66; and Sydney E. Pulver, ‘Narcissism: Concept and Metapsychological Conception’, Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, vol. 18, 1970, pp. 319–41.

(21.) Kohut, Analysis, p. 25.

(22.) See E.H. Erikson, Young Man Luther (New York: W.W. Norton, 1958), pp. 123–4; and Erich Fromm, The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971), pp. 106–34.

(23.) Thus, Mandelbaum, Society in India, p. 60, observes, ‘Between father and son relations are supposed to be formal and restrained and are often so in reality’, while A.C. Mayer, Caste and Kinship in Central India (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), p. 218, writes, ‘The ideal pattern is sufficiently closely followed in most households without being enforced by corporal discipline. This ideal pattern is based on restraint between a father and his son.’ See also Ross, Hindu Family, p. 100. (p.167)

(24.) Paramhamsa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angels: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1972), p. 268. For an essentially similar account of a young man’s relationship with his father in modern India, see Sudhir Kakar and Kamla Chowdhry, Conflict and Choice: Indian Youth in a Changing Society (Bombay: Somayia, 1971), pp. 27–8.

(25.) M.K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), pp. 27–8.

(26.) Cited in D. Narain, ‘Growing up in India’, Family Process, vol. 3, pp. 149–50.

(27.) See Sudhir Kakar, ‘Neuroses in India: An Overview and Some Observations’, Indian Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 50, no. 2, 1975, pp. 172–9.

(28.) In an analysis of one hundred and sixty-six folk tales from seven Indian provinces, it was found that the father–son conflict in India was of a low intensity as compared to similar figures from forty-two other, so-called preliterate societies. The highest frequencies of this conflict were found among the Rajputs of Gujarat and Rajasthan. See Sudhir Kakar, ‘Aggression in Indian Society: An Analysis of Folk Tales’, Indian Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 124–5.

(29.) Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 89

(30.) See Harold Lincke, ‘Das Überich—eine gefährliche Krankheit?’, Psyche, vol. 24, 1970, pp. 375–402.

(31.) W. O’Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 96–9.

(32.) Yogananda, Autobiography, p. 107.

(33.) Ibid., p. 123.