|Sudhir Kakar at the book launch at The Tollygunge Club
on September 20. (Sanjoy Ghosh)
Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar delves into Rabindranath’s works and life to unearth the demons and the dreams the poet chased through his childhood and youth. Metro caught up with Kakar at the launch of his latest, Young Tagore: The Makings of a Genius [Viking, Penguin India, Rs 499].
Why did you pick Tagore?
He picked me! I was asked to do a talk on his paintings by the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi on his 150th birth anniversary and his female portraits struck me so much, I got fascinated.
When you decided on doing a psychoanalysis of Tagore, weren’t you worried how Bengalis would take it? You know how possessive they are about him...
I think Tagore needs to be brought out of Bengal’s possession much, much more. He’s already universal. I think that possession needs to be loosened.
However, I am careful to say that I am not psychoanalysing Tagore. You cannot psychoanalyse a person who is not there. What I am doing here is using psychoanalytic sensibilities to look at Tagore, which is very different from psychoanalysing. Psychoanalysis often looks at the silences much more than what is said.
Employing psychoanalytic sensibilities is really an important thing, you start with the books and there is an emotional participation in his writings, in his fiction and autobiography, and then try to understand it through other data, biographical or whatever people say and whatever has been written about him. But the first impression is on your own psyche.
The second is to look at the key themes of a person’s life. The assumption is that those key things get repeated over and over again, although in a form which is suitable to that stage of life.
You write that “the psychological biographer believes that the events which comprise his subject’s formative experiences lie in the periods of his childhood and early youth”. So, the key themes couldn’t be found in Tagore’s mid-life or towards the end of his life?
The key themes get established early. Then they get evolved, they get much more complex, other themes get added. But the key themes that are important for the person, and not for the rest of world, come back again and again. I looked at the letters that he wrote when he was 70, his paintings that were a product of his later years, and also I looked at the middle period, his coming back from England when he remembers the coconut trees in his garden. So, these are the ones that he keeps repeating. I have tried to look at them and identify them. How they get reflected when he gets old. Of course when he gets older, they get more complex, they remain inside, in his psyche.
You draw a difference between psychological and historical biography? What do you make of Jibansmriti?
Autobiographies are very different. Autobiographies are very much in the realm of psychological biography. Jibansmriti, Tagore says, is not historical or factual but memory pictures and that is what my kind of psychological biographer would look for. Both that and Boyhood Days (Chhelebela) are absolutely ideal for psychological biographers.
You write, “Works of creative writer or painter can afford us access to memories that are not consciously available to him”. What were these memories you came across?
Most examples of unconscious memories are in Crescent Moon (Shishu), where the child and mother are central. There are a lot of unconscious memories in Crescent Moon because he has no conscious memory of his mother. There is a strong symbiosis of the mother and child.You cannot write about that kind of emotion if you have not felt it.
Later, I talk of two short stories, The Postmaster and Homecoming, where he writes something his consciousness would never allow him to say, that he blames his mother for abandoning or exiling him. He never said that in his autobiography. Suppressed resentment comes through in these stories.
Tagore wasn’t aware he was resentful of his mother?
Strong emotions are always kept down, be it Tagore or anyone else. No, I don’t think he was aware of it.
The loneliness Tagore experienced on being exiled to the servants’ quarters turned into solitude, which was in fact a well-spring of creativity...
He turned the loneliness into solitude through his gift of connecting imaginations. There was an inner presence of his mother there.
Do you think his isolation in school due to his not being a “boy’s boy” also contributed to his solitude?
Everything has a positive and negative side. He has a feeling of worthlessness, then he mentions going in the carriage with another student, who thinks he is a girl. What does it mean? It means his sexual identity was not clear. The positive part comes out with his creative world, his great empathy with women, no one understood women as he did. His paintings of women also show this empathy, in fact they are psychological self-portraits. Behind the women’s portraits is Kadambari, behind her is his mother but behind it all is himself.
You also talk of Debendranath’s intrusion into the mother-son relationship ...
When Tagore was infant, in his consciousness, his father was away for much of the time. So there was a very strong father hunger in him. Yet when Debendranath came home, his mother would be away from him, tending to her husband.... She was not available to him at all. So, there is some kind of intrusion there.
Kadambari, she takes off where the mother leaves?
Yes she does, at a much later stage. She takes care of the needs of the motherless child.
Do you think there is a duality here in Kadambari’s role? First filling up for an absent mother and then being his muse?
First of all, in his autobiography, Kadambari comes across as someone much older than Tagore when in actuality she was only two years older. She starts being his muse when he was 16. The duality in the relationship is when Tagore feels he is the intruder in the Jyotindranath-Kadambari relationship. Although he is closer to her than she was to him. That’s where the “Butter toast memory” comes in, where Tagore feels Jyotindranath has a complete life with his wife, whereas he is the intruder.
Did Tagore never take responsibility for Kadambari’s death?
In Nashtanir, he does not take responsibility. Consciously no. However, he doesn’t absolve himself of the guilt. After Kadambari’s death, he goes mad, he undergoes a breakdown, he doesn’t wear chappals, he doesn’t wear clothes, he sleeps on the terrace. He punishes himself, it’s a guilt, not acknowledged but punished.
How did Tagore handle his clinical depression?
Tagore himself is very clear that he suffers from depression. His subconscious is depleted. That means depletion of all the love that is there, love of mother, Kadambari, father. That is all out. Now how does one fill up and feel loved again? His cure is of course solitude, his remembered happiness, remembrance of the garden, the terrace, his loved relationships.