In this book, Dr. Ajita Chakraborty presents her memoirs and selected essays that throw light on psychiatry and the way she practised it. Born in 1926, she was a pioneering women psychiatrist in India. She took a stand against the mainstream that simply used the premises and methods of western psychiatry as these were developing, insisting that an Indian school of psychiatry must develop to suit Indians who were certainly not to be seen as just a variant of westerners. As Dr. Ashis Nandy points out in his discerning foreword, 'she represents the chaos, the uncertainty and the inner conflicts over theoretical compromises and therapeutic experiments that cannot but be the lot of a practitioner of a new discipline in an old society, more so when that society has its own ideas and traditions of mental health and ill-health.'
Dr. Chakraborty declares in her memoirs that right from her childhood she knew she wanted to be a psychiatrist. At the age of twelve she read Bijoylal Chattopadhyay's Moner Khela (The Mind's Gaines) where he analysed fictional characters, following Freudian methods, and she was riveted. She says she was propelled by the need to know herself; to 'pursue a career that explained things to me'. Dr. Chakraborty left for the UK to train in psychiatry as soon as she received her MBBS degree in 1950, returning to Calcutta in 1960 as the first fully trained female psychiatrist of the country.
The memoirs discuss her difficulties in building up her career; there was resistance from the medical establishment despite her formidable qualifications. Apart from the DPM, the qualification in psychiatry, she also received the MRCP and the FRCP, and later the FRCPsych. Her first appointment was at the prestigious Presidency General Hospital, at the adjoining mental observation Ward, in the absence of a department of psychiatry. She worked very hard in making it almost a full-scale department, creating records of patients and their treatments, providing a much needed database. This experience helped her in conducting the massive survey, covering ten millions, in Greater Calcutta, reminiscent of the Manhattan Project of the USA, with valuable information that was published as a book (Social Stress and Mental Health, Sage 1990), while a major portion on the mental health of urban women came out later ('Mental Health in Indian Women' in Bhargavi Davar, ed, Mental Health from a Gender Perspective, Sage 2001).
Of special interest is her account of new developments in psychiatry in the West, the anti-psychiatric movement which was a revolt against mainstream psychiatry, led by brilliant practitioners like Dr. R. D. Laing, whom she acknowledges as her guru. She also writes of the growing recognition of the primacy of culture in psychiatry, first through her account of transcultural psychiatry (later cultural psychiatry). Thus, the book offers an understanding of how psychiatry is developing in India and the part she played as a pioneer.
Ajita Chakraborty is Fellow, Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. MRCP, Edinburgh, and FRCPs chiatry, the Royal College of Psychiatry in London. She w as Director, Institute of Postgraduate Medical and Research (IPGMER), Kolkata, and had served as Professor and Head of the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry. She was also President, General Secretary and Treasurer ofthe Indian Psychiatric Society.
Ashis Nandy, a major voice in the Southern world, has authored eleven books and co-authored, edited or co-edited a number of others. He is a Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Developing eloping Societies, Delhi.
Why did I write this book? The question became imperative only at the end of it. After retirement, I took sometime finalizing my back-breaking work on the mental health survey of Calcutta. I failed to get the results published in the Indian Psychiatric Society's journal. Later, as described in this book, it was published by a reputed publisher. The success of the work can be judged by the fact that it has sold out completely. However, it was hardly noticed in the psychiatric circles here, deliberately ignored.
I was disappointed and resentful and wanted to write about these circumstances, present an exposure. Stree, publishing gender studies, wondered if my manuscript would be a feminist book. But I could not suddenly turn a feminist. My life had been a good example, but I did not look at it from a feminist angle. In fact, the gender question has always remained rather hazy to me. While re-drafting my manuscript, my tone mellowed (perhaps it was my age), and I came to understand that proving the pettiness of adversaries does not enhance one's stature.
What was then left to say? My life, perhaps, what could I leave for posterity? I was not going into analysing my deeper emotions, but I could still write like a social being, as a psychiatrist. In my lifetime, not many have understood what I was trying to say; maybe one who did is Begum Maitra, who could also express it. Others like Debashis Bhattacharya, Bappaditya Deb, Anita Sen Gupta, Ruma Bose, Amit Ranjan Basu did so in a non-expressive but practical way. My deep thanks to them, mostly for sticking by me. A special thanks to Ashis Nandy, who has influenced me so much and for his kindness in agreeing to write the Foreword. Thanks also to Stree for its support.
I always had great doubts about my writing abilities; actually I had doubts about everything but none was more than on my being: who am I? Not an unusual question in an adolescent, usually most get over it but I did not. This search led to the longish essay on 'self' in Part II
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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