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India: Various Pasts And A Schizophrenic Present

Malvika Maheshwari

A Project of Ashis Nandy
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 198, Rs. 595.00


The back cover often plays an important role in the reader’s journey from picking up the book from a stack to making it to its last page. It’s so important that many a book and blog have been written for helping writers and publishers write the perfect back page, or ‘creating a killer back cover.’ Ashis Nandy’s Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair is an example of a back cover text that not only, like a well-cut movie trailer, sets the tone for the reader but one that stays until the end. Above the author’s portrait are printed his words in yellow: ‘these essays are about an India that is no longer the country on which I have written for something like four decades. (…).’ With only a few pages into the preface, it becomes amply clear that the book would be hundred times more enjoyable to those who are neither new to the history and evolution of Indian politics and society nor to Nandy’s astute reflections on the same. The subject, its treatment and the writing of this book—all bear the indelible mark of his genius, candour and clarity. Even if it is not the India that Nandy used to write about, what remains unchanged is that his writings continue to be an essential lens to comprehend the meaning of India’s various pasts and the madness of its schizophrenic present.   There are eight essays on India in the book that follow a somewhat loose chronological structure, but more intimately, the solid thematic framework binds them. Nandy writes, ‘The fate of India might be decided not so much by its normal politics or economics but by the large pockets of its political culture that have become the domains of two predominant psychological states: narcissism and despair. To identify their institutionalized forms and inner dynamics, I have begun to call them regimes of narcissism and despair.’ Both these regimes, as the author argues, are not built just on the ‘state of mental health in a society’, but on the political-cultural crisis in a society ‘from which there is no apparent escape.’ Since most essays in the book are based on formal lectures given by the author since 2005, and have been published earlier, some readers might already be familiar with what Nandy means when he refers to ‘regimes of narcissism’ and ‘regimes of despair’ in a ...

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