Nasir Abbas Nayyar’s latest book is a study in the discourse on colonialism as a plausible way to interpret the psychological structures of society
Nearly a decade ago I started cogitating the discourse on colonialism as a plausible way of interpreting the psychological structures of our society. I could not find any Pakistani author writing about this discourse. Around that time, I came across Maba’d Nau Abadiat, Urdu kay Tanzur MeiN, a book by Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar. Subsequently, I got his other books.
The themes in his works were discussed in the backdrop of literary development from colonial to the post-colonial social scene. However, it is not as simple as it reads. The discourse on colonialism is no longer in its infancy. It has grown colossally, both in quantity and quality. To bring clarity it demands great acumen on the part of the writer. As a reviewer of the psychological side of the evolving colonialism – or hyper-colonialism – discourse, I am confident that Nayyar is the only author writing in Urdu, who has been able to deal with its implications in almost all social realms. While his major focus is on literary themes, he skilfully incorporates references to other social disciplines in his writings.
An important question often raised in the literature on colonialism is the relevance of this discourse after decolonisation, which in our case happened in 1947. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, used the term neo-colonialism to describe the economic continuation of colonialism. Octave Mannoni and Frantz Fanon were more concerned with the ‘colonisation of the minds’ of the colonised. Their analyses were based mainly on the version of psychoanalysis introduced by French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan. From that point onwards, psychology became an integral part of the discussion on colonialism. Nayyar is not a psychologist by training but the way he deals with the psychological in his writings on literature reminds me of Orientalism by Edward Said. ‘The mind as colony’ depicts Nayyar’s dealing with the psychological side of the decolonisation of the mind. It analyses and deconstructs one of the classics of Urdu literature, showing how the colonisation of minds has taken place.
This colonisation of the mind is neither simple nor easily understandable. An individual with a colonised mind has to be alienated from himself, his culture and his values but not owned by the coloniser, either. This form of alienation is not only far more complex but has no resolution in comparison with the other two types Nayyar has described in one of his articles, Alienation of the Colonized and Displacement and Literature. One may grow out of the Marxist and existentialist constructs of alienation though, through conceivable mechanisms. Given a colonised mind however, colonial alienation is not resolvable. Elsewhere in the book, Nayyar describes this alienation as inestimable in historical discourse but traceable in poetry. I would add formal psychology as another measuring contrivance to deal with alienation. The Psychological Impact of the Partition of India, (2018) edited by Sanjeev Jain and Alok Sarin – both practicing psychiatrists from India – estimated the division of mind, through prevalent forms of psychopathology in India. Nayyar’s descriptions of the prevalent forms of psychopathologies confirm the standpoints of the earlier writings, which declared colonialism not only pathological but also pathogenic.
One wonders, therefore, what should be done to overcome the problems of a colonised mind. This, too, is not a simple question to ask or to answer. However, one can at least identify the mechanisms employed and reckon their merits. Our intelligentsia has tried in the past to handle this matter in a casual manner. They either suggested going against the coloniser, or advocated a multi-layered alliance with the colonising powers. Nayyar has evaluated the second approach, advocated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The beauty of Nayyar’s dealing with this complex issue lies in his comparison of Syed’s approach, not with his known and established opponents at Deoband, but with Lala Lajpat Rai (founder of Gulab Devi Hospital in Lahore).
Muslims in India have adopted an either-or approach; pointing to a choice between either going with the coloniser or against them. Nayyar has drawn a comparison between a Hindu and a Muslim intellectual that shows the difference in the Indian and Pakistani understanding of postcolonial aftermaths. Rai objected to Syed’s unconditional submission to the colonial prescription of salvation and pointed out his inability to foresee the long-term outcomes. Rai therefore suggested a middle ground to exit the either-or dilemma. This may be the reason why Shashi Tharoor could argue against the idea of declaring the Muslim rulers of India as colonisers.
There are parallel themes running across the book. I wish the psychology departments of our universities had at least one Nasir Abbas Nayyar to lay the ghost of colonialism.
Coloniality, Modernity and Urdu Literature
Author: Nasir Abbas Nayyar
Price: Rs 1,200
The writer is a principal clinical psychologist at the Brothers of Charity Services in Waterford, Ireland