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Duality in The Schizophrenic imagination by Nayantara Sahgal

Duality of identity refers to the concept of having two different identities  simultaneously. People might be living double lives, exhibiting conflicting traits or grappling with a dual identity crisis. In the schizophrenic imagination, Nayantara Sahgal discusses about the concept of schizophrenia in a different sense. She explains schizophrenia as a state of mind and feeling that is firmly rooted in a particular subsoil, but above ground has a more fluid identity that does not fit comfortably into a single mould. She gives the example of Jawaharlal Nehru, her uncle, to express the situation of duality. Nehru was a man of divided identity, he belonged to two worlds – one shaped by Indian heritage and other influenced by British culture. He reflects assimilation of these cultures. She suggests that the educated Indian class suffered from duality of identity as they abandoned their Indian identity to embrace Western culture. They lived two worlds and it was a symbol of duality. Another example she gives is of Nirad  Chaudhuri, an Indian scholar. She contrasts him with Nehru because Chaudhuri did not struggle for India’s freedom. After independence, he moved to England, engaging deeply with British culture, even advising English on their traditions. He was comfortable in the colonial mindset and did not have to suffer from duality unlike Nehru who lived both the world. Nehru was dedicated to the freedom struggle.

Sahgal gives her own life experiences being born and brought up in north India, a region deeply influenced by history, religion and colonial legacy. She gives description of Ganga plains and its beauty. Its  cultural richness is contrasted with repeated invasion and slaughter in that area. Despite being rich in beauty, the location has dual identity – one of its deep, rooted cultures and traditions and of repeated invasions and bloodshed. Her hometown was Prayag, which is an ancient name that features in Ramayan and signifies the deep rooted Hindu culture. However, it’s present name, Allahabad symbolises Muslim conquest and rule that shaped the city’s identity. This duality of identity is further continued by British who named streets after Englishmen and built statues of Queen Victoria. Such events signify the absence of single identity in the diverse Indian culture.

Again, she suffered from dual identity even in her school. It was like clubs that did not admit Indians. Though schools allowed Indians, but they did not teach anything about Indian culture. So native Indians felt alienated in the school. The Eurocentric curriculum mainly focused on English histories rather than Indian heritage. However, in her home, she found solace and inspiration from the freedom struggle against foreign rule. Her family was deeply committed to the cause of Indian independence and sacrifice their carrier and lives. Her identity at home and in school was polar opposite and thus she suffered from cultural schizophrenia.

In a modern world, the priority of people changed. Now people earned livelihood, take holidays, enjoy clubs, parties, etc. The writer does not feel comfortable in such a lifestyle and feels like an outsider. She lives in a dual identity and cannot feel united. In her childhood, history in school was taught in a very different way, than what she learnt at home. The colonial curriculum never taught about real Indian freedom fighters. Instead Kipling’s ‘Gunga Din’ focused mainly on white colonial mentality. she was given more knowledge about Christianity, the world was created in six days, and knowledge about the Bible instead of learning about the Indian heritage. She feels close to God in her own culture. She always felt being displaced as she was infused with different identities.

Her old grandmother read Ramayana, but screamed loud in fear when she saw a mouse on the floor. However, she is the same woman who protested against foreign cloth shops and stood with her head held high against British. She was badly tortured by British yet remained adamant. Duality of identity existed in her family also. Although her family practised nonviolence, once her father physically assaulted a guard who insulted his mother. Such incidence reflected duality that maintaining non-violence while facing injustice is very difficult. The author desired for a normal family, but political activism disrupted her family.

Sahgal discusses about Hinduism. She remarks that all Indians are not Hindus and not all Hindus want to follow Hinduism. Therefore, in order to escape religious ties, many people called themselves atheists, agnostics or seculars. But the author believes that they cannot change their identity so easily. Just by changing their names, one cannot escape from their true identity. She cannot forget about the contributions of her grandparents towards the freedom struggle. Instead of living a dual life and a dual identity, it is better to embrace our own diverse culture. Her father was a proud Sanskrit scholar who died in prison. But he also felt sorrow when London was bombed, Paris was attacked by Hitler etc. above all, humanity rules, and we must accept our identity as a human first

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