Identity: In Search for A Narrative…
This paper invites the reader to explore how shifts in human society have impacted the notion of identity, and consequent role-taking.
My professional training at Sumedhas Academy for Human Context, argues for looking at Identity as a process, and that much of a subliminal understanding of self, shadow, role-taking, and maturation comes from the narratives in which one is embedded in – it is through the discernment of these personal narratives and heroic quests, that one may have a sense of defining self and identity.
The paper begins with a critique on work done by Professor Pulin K. Garg on Identity & Role-taking, and his lens of looking at Indian Identity in the recent years. Pulin Garg brought in his immense creativity and insights into looking at patterns of identity in Indian Managers, and linked these with the richness of Indian mythologies including the Mahabharata and Ramayana. In a fascinating paper titled – ‘Cultural Identities & their Implications for patterns of Leadership in Indian Organizations’ – Pulin explores Identity (Who am I?), its deep resonance with Indian mythologies and its impact on leadership. It was Pulin’s writings and work, that have inspired many others to join in and do further research on Identity.
Many thinkers including Raghu Ananthanarayanan, have leveraged Mahabharata as well as Ramayana – as incredible textual resources for exploring Identity and Role taking in the Indian context and for the Indian manager. Raghu, for example, in his latest book on – ‘Leadership Dharma, Arjuna the timeless metaphor’, invites the reader to explore and work with the notion of Dharma from the lens of Arjuna – a key protagonist in the mythology, and link it with the struggles of leadership and coaching in today’s context.
However, in this paper, I am arguing for the need to look at today’s context from emerging and contemporary mythologies, post-industrial narratives, and urban legends for I feel that the existing old mythologies and narratives may have their own limitations – despite their inherent richness and pull for the Indian manager.
I am sure that the reader has already read many takes on leadership from the lens of Indian myths including through the writings of Gurcharan Das, Devdutt Pattnaik, Smita Tharoor, Prasad Kaipa etc., and may still be left with questions and a search for narratives that enable a deeper sense making of what may be happening in the world today.
Critique of Pulin Garg’s Paper: “Cultural Identities & the Indian Manager”
In his paper on Cultural Identities, Pulin offers a brief synopsis of the underlying assumptions as well as his insights on the Indian manager. Many such assumptions as well as his insights are dated, as the paper was written in 1970s – these refer to an India of 1970s, two decades before the Indian economy got liberalized, before globalization, and before the advent of technologies of digital, AI, and robotics.
Pulin Garg’s Assumptions: Identity, Role-taking & Leadership
- ASSUMPTION 1: Identity and psychological role-taking of Indian managers ‘lie in the traditional ethos of the agrarian society … rooted in the emotive and action structure of the individual.”
Pulin recognizes a tremendous shift and split that the Indian manager was undergoing in his times – and that this split was key to the understanding of identity patterns. He argues that much of the emotive and action structures prevalent in his times, were rooted in the traditional ethos of the agrarian society. This rendered a split between ‘cognition / thinking’ and ‘acting / feeling’.
He defines this deep ‘split’ as between (a) the cognitive idealization of ‘western technological and managerial knowledge’ that is construed on the inherent linear & discrete categorization, and (b) the latent pattern recognition in the inner world of the manager, that is deeply emotive and symbolic, to have a real sensing of Indian phenomenology.
Pulin criticism of western knowledge as discrete and founded on categorization is, in my sensing, quite well founded – perhaps he saw management theories in 1960s and 1970s as a field of knowledge to begin with quite ‘Aristotelian’ and not really engaging with the inherent complexity of the Indian context including themes of authority, leadership, and management.
Personally, I don’t think highly of management literature in the 1960s and 1970s, for it did not have much to offer beyond categorized cognitive frameworks and instrumental tools – these were neither sophisticated enough for what Pulin thought of what the Indian social and individual really needed nor were these providing energy to re-look at authorization, systems, structures, and norms.
- ASSUMPTION 2: “Working with Transience & Disruption Today through the Parallels of Yesterday – Leveraging Mythologies”
Pulin stipulates that exploring myths that are embedded in the disruptive civilizational epoch – from ‘Gathering / Herding / Cattle rearing’ societies to ‘Agrarian’ society would offer tremendous insights as well as a basis for the framework on Identity.
In my sensing and while he does not articulate it so, he looks at the inner tension, as referred to in the first assumption, of the modern Indian in the 1970s – a tension between the Techno-Economic mindset of the Industrial world (Cognitive knowledge) and Socio-political Agrarian mindset (emotionally embedded) through myths that map an earlier disruption.
The figure that compares and offers a resonance between the two transciences are summarized:
I state this with some conviction, for in my understanding, India missed out on the romanticism of both the industrial revolution and the equivalent of the Renaissance in the 18th and 19th centuries, given our colonized past.
Thus narratives, myths, adventures, and journeys that got created and worked through both emotionally and cognitively with, in both modern Europe and in the Americas, found no real echoes and resonances in the Indian milieu. For example, Thomas Hardy could write about the angst and tragedy embedded in the transition towards Industrial societies, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke could speculate about space travel and robotics, Sartre could evoke and provoke debate around the modern state, socialism and democracy, or even Ayn Rand could magically speak of capitalism and the virtues of Selfishness… there is a certain richness in emotive identification with the epoch that India did not and could not have created within.
In these two centuries, we became the colonized colored people with scant self-worth, impoverished and yet dependent upon our invaders, and traumatized and alienated within. Faced with this deprivation, Pulin was extremely creative when it came to working with the emotive patterns within – he used myths of the earlier disruptive epoch that the Indian manager identified with and was evoked by.
Pulin states in his paper, “the problem, an individual faces is to find an integration and harmony between the Identity and the Role – successful socialization can lead to this integration. However, in the culture of transience that our society is going through, this integration is rarely achieved. Looking back at our cultural history, a viable parallel of the culture of transience came up during Mahabharata. Mahabharata was a culminating struggle between the protagonists of the life style of the cattle culture and the emerging life style of the Village based agrarian and craft culture…”
- Assumption 3: TRANSIENCE creates the FOUR KEY DISPLACEMENTS which FRAGMENT & SPLIT the Individual – Each FRAGMENTATION can be identified with a ROLE IDENTITY embedded in Mahabharata / Ramayana
Pulin speaks of the inherent tension between the ROLE and the IDENTITY, in the times of disruption or transience as the first step towards working with the individual.
Given the backdrop of the Transience or Disruption, the first tension is experienced between the ROLE that an individual needs to play within the context, and the IDENTITY that he or she gives Self. Thus, the individual withholds tensions while integrating ‘ROLE versus IDENTITY’ or DISPLACES this tension in four key ways …
The four key displacements that split or fragment the individual psyche, when the ROLE-IDENTITY is threatened, is summarized below:
- Displacement between ACTION and KNOWLEDGE – This Role-Identity of a Yudhistara / Duryodhana is unable to co-hold inner wisdom with right action.
- Displacement between ACTION and FEELINGS – This Role-Identity of a Nakula / Lakshmana is unable to access FEELINGS and integrate these in ACTION
- Displacement between ACTION and SENSING – This Role-Identity of a Sahadeva / Hanumana is unable to co-hold intuitive SENSING and SEEING with ACTION choices
- Displacement between SOCIALISED ACTION and PRIMAL IMPULSE – This Role-Identity of a Bhima / Jarasand is unable to co-hold the two.
Pulin in his topological frame (though it looks like the classic 2 x2 quadrants in his typewritten paper) depicted below, speaks of the following:
The Starting Point & the Central ZONE: ROLE – IDENTITY
In this part of the topological model, Pulin argues that the individuals will have potential and resources, when confronted with action choices. However, the central box, also experiences the forces of all four vectors (Identity, Self, Role, and Situation) and thus holds a very complex tension.
The central theme of this tension is ‘ambivalence’ and Pulin cites two extremes of working with ambivalence. The two extremes are signified with two heroes – Arjuna and Karna.
Pole 1: The Arjuna ROLE Identity
On one side of the continuum, the individual confronted with action choices becomes ‘dubious’ of the criteria of such choices.
Sometimes, as Pulin says, “… the Arjuna Role Identity is where … the individual gives more importance to affiliative needs and its criteria and in other times under impulsive stress, to the task criteria. In either choice, he suffers from guilt and for each act, he pays a price. He is the promise, a last resort of the system. Everybody looks at him for initiative but he persists in his struggle. He cannot make up his mind between a SELF oriented action and a SYSTEM oriented action. He needs somebody to PUSH him into action…”
Pulin’s take on the ‘Agonizing Arjuna’ is harsh and critical – Pulin believes that the managers that fall into this pattern carry a great burden of institutional tasks and are primarily the ACTORs. Pulin believes that they cannot be policy makers for they have a propensity to get stuck in the middle including middle management, often getting sidestepped or just stepped upon. He says that Arjunas tend to procrastinate, though get mobilized by crisis, and thus cannot hold the Corporation as a Whole in the mind, believing that their salvation lies in immediate and limited task orientation.
Pole 2 (The Counterpoint) : The KARNA Role Model
Pulin defines the counterpoint – the KARNA Role model – as someone “who resolves the ambivalence by a complete SURRENDER and commitment to the current power or the dominant role. He has a lot of potential and resources but cannot ever use them for himself, because he has INVERTED the ambivalency onto the Self. He is preoccupied in establishing his righteousness and legitimacy and … therefore he hooks himself to what he considers the legitimate authority… He thus gets used by the power that be or by the dominant role…”
Pulin’s delineation of the Karna model is equally critical – except that he lauds the ‘commitment’ of the Karna towards the systemic tasks for the Karnas too find it easy to become task oriented. He speaks of a certain pride that the Karna Role Model is built on – a pride that does not allow the manager to curry favors, and where the manager suffers injustice in silence.
It is interesting how Pulin discerns and differentiates Karna from Arjuna on two key fronts:
- Unlike Arjuna who may vacillate in his role-choices by not engaging with ambivalency of the context or of the choice criteria, Karna inverts the same ambivalency on Self and chooses to surrender to the dominant or the powerful.
I think the myth of Mahabharata allows for a dramatic personalization of this pattern. Both Arjuna and Karna emerge as dependents who pay a price for every heroic task they assume, except that Karna works with questions of legitimacy around self, and not of the context.
Arjuna surrenders to Krishna and resolves his ambivalence around systemic choices and the consequent feelings of guilt.
Highlighting the inner ambivalence between ROLE-IDENTITY is critical when we look at the shift from agrarian to modern industrial societies. Given the inherent complexity of the industrial society, including ownership of capital, and listening to other voices such as that of Customer and of Employees – the transience generates ambivalence and dilemmas on a daily basis.
- On the second front, Karna appears to be a lot more self-righteous, and a lot more willing to own heroic and impossible tasks.
This Self-Righteous Karna, with tremendous and intense inner ambivalence around his own legitimacy in the system, aloof and yet heroic, becomes a seductive space for many a manager who is encountering systems that are more task and output oriented with very little choices around creating Affect.
However, he also speaks of the four displacements referred to earlier and it is here where Pulin is extremely creative and insightful.
DISPLACEMENT 1: KNOWLEDGE versus ACTION
ZONE 1: Between SITUATION and the ROLE
Pulin identifies this displacement of tensions as the inherent fragmentation between Knowledge and Action for an individual manager.
Given the transience, there is always the question around right knowledge.
As per Pulin, the symbolic identity that arises when there is a displaced tension on Zone 1 (between the Situation and the Role), has to do with ‘system-centered appropriate role behaviors. The two role-identities that symbolize this primary role model are Yudhistara and his counter point as Duryodhana.
The KNOWLEDGE-ACTION Displacement – Pole 1: Yudhistara
The Yudhistara is a role identity, as per Pulin, where the individual allows self to be fragmented between KNOWLEDGE and ACTION – where the inherent knowledge that the manager holds is wise and comprehensive and yet beyond being a mere private mode of satisfaction, this knowledge is never used for right action choices.
Pulin states that the action choices are ‘ritualistic, appropriate, routine, and hackneyed … where the individual withholds SAGACITY from the system… he is almost fatalistic … would never break the prescriptive boundaries, and hence actions are without feelings…”
Thus, this displacement creates the role-model that is totally role-bound, mere extension of the past, while honest, sincere, hardworking and loyal. Pulin uses the word ‘Pillar’ for this symbolic identity that brings strength in routine and stable environs, making themselves indispensable and surrounded by loyal mediocrity.
The KNOWLEDGE-ACTION Displacement – Pole 2:Duryodhana
Counter-intuitively, Pulin brings in the symbolic identity of Duryodhana, who carries the deep anxiety of being DEPRIVED of his legacy, and thus operates from a comparative framework and does not like to shown up as inadequate or insufficient.
It has taken me some time to understand Pulin’s stance, where I think he is juxtaposing Yudhistara’s deep trust and a sense of continuity with the Situation / Role with Duryodhana’s paranoia and insecurities of ‘discontinuities’ and deprivation between the Situation and the ROLE.
He paints Duryodhana as more vigilant, anticipative, perceptive and yet completely oriented around Self. He also paints Duryodhana as intense (as opposed to the feelingless Yudhistara) and generous to a fault.
However, Pulin’s assumptions around the displacement that fragments KNOWLEDGE from ACTION for an individual is quite interesting. Firstly, he defines Knowledge as more subjective, tacit, and personalized, and how the displacement allows neither Yudhistara nor Duryodhana to integrate it with right Action.
DISPLACEMENT 2: FEELINGS versus ACTION
ZONE 2: Between SITUATION and the IDENTITY
The Transience in the context, as per Pulin creates a displacement between Feelings and Action choices, and creates the symbolic identity that Pulin says. ‘parallels’ that of the primary role of ‘Nakul’. Pulin calls the symbolic identity as the ‘Organization Man’.
Pole 1: Nakula
‘Nakul’ as described by Pulin is an identity that allows self to be fragmented between Feelings and Action – he is efficient, totally in command, does what is asked for in the situation, and a loner. His feelings are never apparent, and he does things that are needed to be done. Pulin calls him a ‘social climber, who forgets old debts of help, and whose collaborations are ends oriented and not result oriented... a hard bargainer who is ruthless and yet very sweet…’ Pulin sees this symbolic identity as someone who will never make it to the top, for these are echoes and shadows – the proxies.
Pole 2: Lakshmana
The counterpoint to Nakula as per Pulin is Lakshmana – who becomes the proxy role to the superior but is inadequate in a crisis – for Lakshmana withholds personal feelings – often seen as ruthless, manipulative, snobbish, and ends oriented – but with the redeeming factor of being ‘loyal’ and ‘dutiful’.
In today’s terminology, the Nakula represents the cold yet friendly, aloof yet efficient and ruthless yet dutiful and ends oriented professional – who is internally alienated from his feelings.
DISPLACEMENT 3: SENSING versus ACTION
ZONE 3: Between SELF and the IDENTITY
The Identity, described by Pulin Garg is the ‘classic identity of the spectator, who limits himself to minimum engagement with the environment on his own initiative… an observer … who is acutely aware of reality processes … and yet does not offer own resources until invited.’
This, he states, is because of the fragmentation between action and sensing, and he likens it to the role of Sahadeva.
Pole 1: Sahadeva
This symbolic identity is represented by managers that are, as per Pulin, ‘errand boys… who perform well when well supervised, who vis-à-vis authority display the syndrome of bestowal … await recognition and reward but do not seek it actively…’
Pole 2: Hanuman
Like the Nakula-Lakshmana combination, Pulin brings in Hanuman for the counterpoint of Sahadeva. He describes Hanuman as ‘a servant par excellence, with tremendous reserves and potentials that are not valued enough … these are mobilize only under instruction, command, or persuasion … otherwise he is invisible or in the background’.
The only difference, as per Pulin, between the two symbolic identities of Sahadeva and Hanuman is that Sahadeva – locates Self in the System, and the Hanuman locates Self in a person (Rama), and through the person relate to the System.
DISPLACEMENT 4: IMPULSE & WISH versus ACTION
ZONE 4: Between SELF and the ROLE
Pulin calls this symbolic identity of the ‘reactive identity of a Giant … that makes them seething cauldron of action potential … but does not have the ability to set Goals and direct themselves in a Purposive way… but get aroused by provocation … react with extraordinary strength … ruthless, manipulative, and destructive…’
He refers to the fragmentation as between a primitive organismic integration of wish and impulse and the socialized integration of action. In many ways, this description resonates with Ashok Malhotra’s depiction of the second of the existential universes – the Universe of Strength and Belonging.
Pole 1: Bhīma
Pulin also compares this symbolic identity with that of Hercules… a great doer when challenged, both self-indulgent and lone-performers with low sense of teaming. Bhīma is self-reliant, and fears exclusion.
Pole 2: Jarasand
Jarasand is seen as a counter-point to Bhīma where in the narrative of his birth – a vertical fragmentation between the left and right side is mentioned – the right side refers to the socialized Self and the left side refers to the Impulsive Self. Jarasand can be unpredictable and yet show an interesting split. They sometimes appear as sophisticated and integrated peoples, and sometimes go on a rampage becoming highly disruptive.
- ASSUMPTION 4: DEPENDENCE of ROLE IDENTITIES on CHARISMATIC Leadership for TASK & the EMOTIVE INTEGRATION
For all the symbolic identities mentioned thus far, including Arjuna who is fragmented between GOAL and ACTION as well as between WISH and WILL, Pulin assumes that in transience – these symbolic identities do not have strong EGO processes, and that external means are needed to operate effectively.
He therefore assumes a certain dependence of these psychological role identities on two kinds of Charismatic leadership.
|Charismatic Leadership on TASK INTEGRATION – KRISHNA||Charismatic Leadership on EMOTIVE INTEGRATION – DRAUPADI|
|Charismatic leadership would provide a long-range policy and a vision that ensures that the Arjunas, the Karnas, the Bhimas, the Yudhistaras et al do not become disoriented or self-destructive and actually collaborate towards purposive action.
This task based charismatic leadership is symbolized by KRISHNA
|Pulin also maintains that while Krishna offers a purpose, a policy, and a long-range plan, the symbolic identities also require an emotive purpose and a sense of togetherness – and offers DRAUPADI as a symbol.
He maintains that DRAUPADI offers emotive integration by inspiring them, shaming them, nurturing them, but never by commanding them.
I guess while I might be terming this process of needing integration from a charismatic leader at task and emotive levels as ‘dependence’, Pulin would have stated this as completing the pattern that lies within the Indian identity.
Charismatic leadership was in vogue when Pulin was teaching at IIM Ahmedabad, but over the last two decades, the valuing of this kind of leadership has been on a steady decline.
Other aspects of leadership that more akin to the symbolic identities include – Servant Leadership, Authentic Leadership etc. etc. I would like to invest some time on this assumption in the next section.
CRITIQUING PULIN GARG’s PAPER on CULTURAL IDENTITIES
Over the recent years, I am acutely aware of several patterns of responses from managers and leaders. I am not too sure that the abovementioned arguments and many more are the only explanation when it comes to working with their context. I fear, that while there is a huge pull of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with all its evocations and complexity, the two mythologies many not completely address the current set of narratives that belong to this ‘yuga’ / age. It is not that the framework is not insightful or that it does not offer enough opportunities for self-reflexivity, I would like to believe that something else is afoot.
The Framework, at best, and only partially echoes and weakly resonates with the current Disruption or Transience experienced today, as humanity evolves from Industrial to Post-Industrial age or the Clockwork existence to the Networked Ecology
In the assumption 1 of the earlier section, Pulin Garg uses the transience from Gatherers / cattle herders to Agrarian economies, and leverages the Mahabharata as a mythology that is embedded in this very transience, to find resonances and echoes in the shift from agrarian mindset to industrial mindset.
Limited by India’s colonized history, and with no contemporary myths and narratives, he perhaps assumes in the 1970s, that the emotive identification of an Indian manager is still ensconced in the earlier transience.
Almost five decades have passed since the creation of this framework. Today, the context in India (an emerging superpower in the globalized world) is undergoing another transition quite unlike the earlier transitions – a disruptive epoch that is changing, challenging, and transforming how humanity has survived thus far.
One of the major stages of evolution that humanity has witnessed in the last three decades has been captured by Ashok Malhotra in his EUM Framework as the shift from the Clockwork Universe to the Networked-Ecologies. Human Consciousness is a lot more networked, inclusive, loosely networked, and collaborative.
There are strands of this consciousness that are closer to the understanding of our interdependence with nature.
There is also awareness that the modern human being is disconnected with his / her environment or ecology.
Liberal democracies and market capitalism are showing their scars and their ugliness – global politics has rendered no nation insulated or buttressed – unless the latter like North Korea seeks to be a pariah in the global world.
Technology has been both destructive and still the beacon of hope as our resources dry up, water-wars loom in the horizon, and global warming threatens to kill life on this planet.
Socially, the world of men and women is changing – feudal patriarchy is being challenged in India, and diversity is at least a conversation catcher if not a driver of tomorrow’s society.
An impending transience that is being spoken of today as the only alternative to humanity self-destructing is the birth of Artificial Intelligence, that may rescue mankind from split between the human being and nature.
These key shifts challenge the relevance of specific and earlier displacements / splits as coined by Pulin, and thus the consequential mythologies and symbolic identities referred by him in the Mahabharata.
Myths are no longer just local – international narratives and stories grab our interest and provoke / evoke us – films, documentaries, Facebook, et al are offering an average human being several stories a day. Communication has intensified and the world of identity and narratives has undergone a dramatic shift.
Let me spell some of these new shifts and the consequent displacements / splits that fall outside Pulin’s framework:
Fragmentation 1: ACTION / GENDER
You may ask me why am I splitting ACTION and GENDER – I think it is an important question for all of us to work with. We claim that many of systems and organizations that we are a part of – are becoming too masculine and too boring. It is also because the members of these systems are unable to offer a certain aspect of their own gender to these systems.
The epochs of Post-industrial and Industrial have only revealed, unveiled, and challenged the power of and the centrality of as well as the economics of ‘patriarchy’ came with the agrarian mindset.
While modernity in form of industrial revolution reinforced some of the gender stereotypes initially, the last few decades have been extremely intriguing.
Initially, In India, the advent of Industrialization reinforced, if not rewrote the ‘static-masculinity’ as the apt gene-code for the modern Indian manager. Organizations reinforced the need for structures, policy, norms, and roles – and yet many of these, as pointed out by Pulin were still interpreted and accepted at a cognitive level. Static masculinity comes closest to the taxonomy of categorization that Pulin refers to.
The first displacement that modernity brought in was to split the gendered Indian into deploying masculinity in task spaces, and holding femininity with ambiguity.
This I believe is true for both the Indian man and the Indian woman.
The post-industrial epoch has exposed how an entrenched static masculinity can be oppressive, bounding, and not allowing for any creativity. The Y2K wave was the fore-runner of the ‘template driven control’ culture for most systems, and most educated middle class men and women fell for the demands and seduction of static masculinity.
At this juncture, I would like to differentiate the Yudhistara as a Role identity from the phenomena of static masculinity – while there are resonances in the action behaviors.
- The princes – both Yudhistara and Duryodhana withhold subjective, tacit, and personalized knowledge – a displacement 1 as identified by Pulin Garg, and thus commits and complies to tradition and continuity when it comes to choice of action.
- The modern Indian withholds femininity – especially dynamic femininity, and thus acts similar to the first prince, but experiences a more dehumanizing split where he or she denies the feminine within. Thus, the systems and structures reinforced in the modern times are without a ‘soul’ or ‘inane and meaningless’.
The post-industrial epoch is now highlighting the need for looking at the feminine perspective, that the earlier epochs could ignore and avoid.
Indian texts of the past in my limited reading have been found wanting when it comes to engaging with femininity beyond the socialized roles of the mother, the container, the lover, and the spouse.
Pulin’s protagonists are all masculine, save his references to Draupadi. But even there he demonstrates an antiquated lens of offering charismatic leadership of tasks to Krishna and charismatic leadership of emotive affect to Draupadi.
Fragmentation 2: ACTION / SEXUALITY
Again, the question may come – why Sexuality and Action are being fragmented. I think it is an important dimension for us to work with.
Michel Foucault, in his work on History of Sexuality speaks of how the Industrial epoch leveraged and yet enslaved sexuality as a force for manufacturing. Control over sexuality and sexual drive was, as per Foucault, the underpinning of building the modern society.
Foucault like Pulin, questions the taxonomy and the knowledge constructs of psycho-analytic thinking – especially Freudian, terming the epistemological foundation as anti-women. Foucault brought in interesting insights of how modern society was construed on daily chores and practices that, if looked deeper, reveal the extent of the need to control sexual energy of men and women.
Indian society is no different in this respect – especially the bourgeois class that has ridden the ‘India Shining’ wave to make wealth and garner resources – but beneath the sheen of prosperity and acquisitions lies the shackles and repression of sexuality.
Even mere heterosexual pleasure is seen by many as a source of guilt and taboo in modern India – other patterns of sexuality including homosexuality or bisexuality are completely subterranean.
Sexuality, like Gender, is a critical dimension of one’s identity, and yet there is no recourse to mythologies and narratives in India, that allow for any aspect of legitimization or even identification.
Thus, homosexual men, homosexual women, transgender, bisexual et al find it difficult to access mainstream narratives and mythologies that allow for working with one’s identity as a process. Deepa Mehta, in Fire, through her character Radha, offers the conundrum of a lesbian who cannot access her identity in her mother tongue to explain who she is.
The Vagina Monologues – a brilliant play on how women work with sexuality was so threatening to Indian society as recent as in 1997, that a star cast of American women including Goldie Hawn were booed off from the tarmac of Chennai airport, and the shows were cancelled fearing ‘corruption of Indian culture’.
It is not that Sexuality has not been worked over the past thousands of years – it is that the lens of sexuality, through narratives and myths are today inaccessible to a large part of Modern India.
Putting it bluntly, all the symbolic identities leveraged by Pulin Garg – Arjuna, Karna, Yudhistara, Duryodhana, Nakula, Lakshmana, Sahadeva, Hanuman, Bhīma etc. are all men and masculine. Sexuality and desire is at best seen as subterranean indulgence, or potent forces to manipulate or be manipulated, and to be controlled.
Pulin, with all his brilliant insights into Indian identity steers clear of working with just sexuality, and maybe in his times, it was difficult. He sticks to a safer ground of working with the fragmentation of Action / Impulse, and chooses not to differentiate it to the next level.
I would like to differentiate here between the fragmentation of ACTION / IMPULSE (as worked by Pulin through Bhīma and Jarasand) and fragmentation of ACTION / SEXUALITY that I write about in this section.
- In Action / Impulse, Pulin speaks of displacement between Identity and Role, and refers to reactive Giant within – someone who is courageous, and gets impossible things done. However, in this process, the symbolic identity such as Bhīma may get indulgent, easily bored, or become extremely ruthless, insensitive, and sadistic.
- In the fragmentation of Action / Sexuality, I am referring to what repressed or denied sexuality may impact the individual – masochistic or sadistic, over-controlling, violent, and extremely ruthless. While the action behaviors at the outset remain similar to that of Bhīma – sexuality is not seen as something to be controlled or over-socialized – rather it is control that fragments the individual.
Fragmentation 3: ACTION & The Near Extinction of the Dynamic Masculine Hero
Post-industrialization along with AI, robotics and mechanization has transformed the way humanity creates value. It has heralded the entry of women into traditionally held as ‘macho’ jobs and tasks that were earlier considered dangerous or unsuitable for women. What has been the most remarkable shift is that the modern man or modern woman need not be entrenched in ‘dynamic masculinity’ with associated behaviors of aggression, self-reliance, adventure, physical courage etc.
Google and satellites have mapped the earth so well, that there remains no unknown and mysterious lands left to be discovered or colonized; chances are that your chubby neighbor has either climbed to the base camp of Everest or dabbled in sky-diving, or has skied through Greenland; Odds are that aggression and adventures are no longer fashionable except in gaming and simulations … the world seems to be changing sending the dynamic masculine man into exile, even though resistance comes in the form of ISIS, lone wolves who shoot down innocents, and right-wing men both in India and abroad.
While this shift is in process, what is emerging is that the hyper-masculine hero within us, is ending up with no legitimate spaces in today’s society. Maybe it is too early to say so, but the signs are not very encouraging for us.
Donald Trump, a symbol of hyper-masculinity, is being at best laughed and extremely derisively – the power he wields and the fear he ought to exhort seems insipid. Romanticism associated with the dynamic masculine seems to be more or a coping mechanism in times of stress.
There seems to be no Quixotic calling! No charging of windmills and no passion of living.
Long live the dynamic masculine hero for the hero is no longer needed…
Fragmentation 4: ACTION / Inner Alienation
True to the predictions of Karl Marx, industrialization pioneered a strong sense of alienation, and postindustrial societies have only enhanced this form of inner alienation.
The greatest fragmentation on the theme of alienation comes in the form of man-nature relatedness. There is no rhythm with the ‘CHI’ – the life-force that flows through the Gaia with the modern man.
Savage Destruction of the environ stares back at us both in the times of war and of peace – consumptive patterns have rendered the modern human being blind as well as impotent when it comes to impact on the environ.
This alienation takes form of both physical and psychological damage to our identity and our role-taking.
The INDIVIDUAL as the focus of enquiry – a process that is embedded in GROUP Processes
Pulin works with Identity processes at an intra-psychic level and for the individual. However, working with narratives happens to great extent in groups, and is anchored in group processes – both conscious and unconscious. While Pulin speaks of patterns and the inter-relatedness, group processes and group dynamics can get tricky.
If the individual becomes the focus of enquiry, there is a possibility that many aspects or identity processes that are systemic or collective, and which further get split or reinforced, may get confused with individual identity processes.
Let me detail the unconscious process of Projective Identification that usually happens within groups, as a way of articulating the limitations of Pulin’s approach.
Traditionally, projective identification in groups takes the following shape –
- The Unconscious attribution to another member within the group of aspects of Self – in the Indian context, many of the impulses including sexuality and aggression are taboo and these often get attributed to the other.
I personally have been on the receiving end of such attribution or projection on to me. My Sikh identity receives such projections – unconsciously – and in many groups where I am working with Indians, who are non-Sikhs, I get to be experienced or seen as aggressive, or Bhima. My experience of working with non-Indian groups has been bizarrely different.
- Secondly, an accepting response by the Other of those attributes that are induced in them, so that they become owned as a part of the receiving person’s own self
- Thirdly, the recipient of the projection identifies with the emotions induced in them
- A belief held by both or the group that the projected attributes originate from the wrong person / or the Other
The context that the group carries, along with its taboos and its socialization as a collective has an influence over the process of projective identification.
If I was to look at Sahadeva Role identity, as per Pulin, and how projective identification renders it difficult to work with it in groups – because it is a symbolic identity that is easier for the participant to disown. Very often the outsider within the group or the minority member in the group gets attributed this identity – because of a group process, and not entirely of the identity processes of the individual member.
Pulin himself claims that very few individuals seem to be owning this aspect of their identity.
Working with groups after groups that occupy leadership space in modern organizations, I am perturbed by the possibilities of Projective Identification. I suspect this may happen in any group or team. Thus, Identity as a process becomes difficult to work with on Gargian’s framework for there may be unconscious group processes of resistance, of projection and introjection etc.
IDENTITY in a society overwhelmed with the SIMULACRA of production / consumption of Identities
In TAO, we take pride in working with narratives and stories. For us it is important that the individual is able to give herself or himself a narrative for unfolding and for maturation.
Yet, in the recent years, I am discovering that many of the managers and leaders are having tremendous and yet authentic struggles with co-creating or creating stories for themselves.
At best, one hears are caricatured Hollywood / Bollywood anecdotes, snippets, symbols, and images – most of these, in these post-industrial times, seem to have lost their original significance and are churned around – meaningless and inane.
For example, many of the Bhima narratives written these days are structured around – ‘primal savages’, ‘sexy daughter of the old chieftain’, ‘bahubali type exploits with competing tribes’.
The production and consumption of stories that are around individualistic and heroic exploits seem to have reached a peak where no new adventures can be thought of or no new twists can be ascertained … and yet many of us invest time and money to consume this ad infinitum.
The other day, I watched another dose of Thor on the big screen – the movie, one more from the Marvel stable tries to be different – by bringing in some humor – and yet the adventures of the protagonists as well as the traits of the villain(s) were predictable and trite …
It is almost as if the average alienated bored urbanite, with a boring work and personal life is bombarded by the rich tapestry of movies of super heroes and heroines – has abandoned his or her AGENCY, and heroic quests. There seems to be no heroic quest anymore.
And thus, in this scaled up production and consumption of heroic adventures – we have created a simulacrum where parables of heroism have lost their meanings and intents …
Many of the older myths and stories have perhaps lost much of its original evocation for the modern man and woman today.
New and Emergent Myths / Narratives
This takes me to looking at modern myths that seem to have a hold on the 21st century millennial and how she or he looks at Self and Identity. Many of such narratives suffer from over-production and over-commoditization, and many are lost or untapped – localized and centered around a caste, class or religious base. Some interesting ones that I can cite here would include the following – these are illustrative and not comprehensive:
- The ‘#MeToo’ narrative has seen women across ages, countries, and class, coming together and in talking about the victimized woman identity – an outcome of power-imbalance, insensitivity, and patriarchy. This has been initially seen as a narrative of breaking through the silent oppression – breaking the silence – a cultural phenomenon of sexual oppression as opposed to individualized victimhood and personalized trauma.
What #MeToo has brought forward is the articulation of women against a pattern and culling the earlier narrative of ‘victim-blaming’. With the joining of millions of women, the earlier pattern of victim-blaming for a vast majority of women who have borne assault and pain heroically and yet silently has been challenged.
What has been most heartening is that women have found it safer, and more importantly, they are being believed in. Today if nine women talk about their harassment from Roy Moore – most men and women, however cynical and skeptical they can be, believe in them. Compare this to how Monica Lewinsky was attacked by most.
I think this movement and many others are giving the silent suffering victim narrative – a new form – a narrative that may change man-woman relatedness across the globe.
- The ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ narrative is another global narrative that occupies the imagination of many across the planet. What initially was Haitian folklore, has become a narrative that people across the globe identify with – all the stories, including a recent Hindi film starring Saif Ali Khan (a celebrity) usually follow a small group of survivors, who are facing a crisis. Most narratives generally progress from the onset a zombie plague (failure of science & technology), to then initial attempts to seek the aid of existing structures and authorities, the failure of the very same authorities – failed dependency of existing structures and systems, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own. Such stories underline the need for Self Preservation and self-reliance in the face of dystopian destruction.
Going deeper, the Zombie narratives offer an insight into how aliveness is co-held with deadness in the modern society – a schizophrenic human identity pattern that creates an either-or within. The deadness is also attributed to failed systems, dysfunctional structures (such as fences and walls) when it comes to safety and preservation, and a regression to fight or flight.
- The ‘Slavery’ narrative takes new shapes and forms – it just proliferates and shocks us from time to time. Morphed into patterns of mass-exodus and child labor – it lurks everywhere including in India. While modernization and new technologies may take away our collective energies from how labor is still deployed by the powerful, and how it is seductive to assume new forms of slavery to perpetuate creation of riches.
- The Lone Wolf Narrative – regardless of my personal feelings towards the Lone Wolf, it seems to have captured a lot of attention and identification from young men and women all over the world. I think this narrative is a dangerous manipulative fantasy – yet it seems to have its own followership.
As Christopher Schaberg, in his blog, thephilosophicalsalon, points out –
Taken literally, “lone wolf” is a curiously naturalizing phrase. It turns the person into an animal, a predator—ah, but here we’ve already admitted the non-aloneness of the lone wolf, as a predator by definition requires prey. The lone wolf theory postulates cause and an effect, clear and distinct. There is a hungry predator, and vulnerable prey. Even as this complicates the myth of singularity, the narrative manages to get absorbed into the trope.
The Lone Wolf narrative is built on the premise that is quite supportive of market capitalism – a person can merely linger in a freely moving state, within and yet outside, beyond all normal boundaries, shared values, and societal structures – an extreme version of ‘FREE RADICAL”.
You can easily see the link between the Lone Wolf and the Zombie Apocalypse – one feeds the other!
It is an interesting world we live in – in spite of the bleak future that inhabits the modern narratives, the protagonist is offered multiple choices and trajectories that impact identity. Identities that were stamped over by the powerful meta-narratives are, with the advent of technology and media, given a voice. Many parts of USA are wanting to go beyond the ‘Hero’ culture – that does not celebrate ordinariness and static femininity.
I write this article to commence my journey into discovering new-age narratives that may enable us, men and women to get in touch with narratives that have been lying in the dark, and yet which offer a fresh perspective towards new meanings and meaningfulness.
 Pulin K Garg taught at IIM Ahmedabad for many decades, integrating his training as a psychoanalyst with organization behavior and development, and his knowledge of Indian history, culture, and society. After investing into ISABS and having taken on roles as Executive Director, he founded ISISD in 1978 – an institution of behavioral scientists that aspired to offer an Indian perspective to OD and the psychological growth of the individual. He was known for anchoring intra-psychic work in personal growth labs, and has several legacies including ERI – a 5-day behavioral lab offered in IIMA. He has been hailed as a teacher and a Guru by several thinkers, who have impacted me and enabled a journey of maturation for me.