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Meet Dr.Manisha Roy, Writer, Jungian analyst.

Manisha Roy

I was born in a small oil town at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas near the northeastern border of India close to Tibet and Burma. Although a modern industrial town, Digboi was surrounded by wild natural beauty of dense forests, mountain rivers and waterfalls as well as wild elephants and rhinoceros. With an average rainfall of around 200 inches a year it was a land of lush vegetation with wild orchids and many unknown trees and vines.

My father worked for a Scottish company as an engineer and held an executive position in the later part of his career. My parents lived in Assam for nearly thirty years and all five children were brought up in this beautiful and peaceful town 900 miles east of Calcutta, the seat of Bengali language and culture. Both my parents originally came from wealthy families who were landlords for generations in what is now Bangladesh. I am the second of five children and the eldest of three daughters. My parents had high aspirations for our education and I had been deeply interested in studies from early years of my life.

At age fifteen, I graduated from high school with full scholarship for the university. I traveled nine hundred miles west to Calcutta to go to college leaving behind our little town with its comfort and security to the unknown world of one of the largest cities of the world. I graduated from college with honors in Geography and a Master’s degree two years later securing second position at the university. I knew by then that I would go abroad for further studies. While at the university I met my first husband, a Bengali young man who studied economics.I fell madly in love with his ability to articulate ideas of many great thinkers of the world. He was particularly interested in Karl Marx and talked a lot about his ideology. When I told my parents that this was the man I wanted to marry, my mother was dead against it not so much because he was a Marxist, but because I dared to defy her authority and choose my life’s partner. She wanted to choose the suitable groom according to her choice. Eventually she had to give in because I was determined. This was my first victory in my life-long disagreements with my mother.

In 1959, two years after we were married, we decided to explore the world of ideas together and left India for higher studies to the United States. The first campus that offered my husband a fellowship to study economics had no doctorate program in Geography. So I decided to move to Anthropology and two years later received my second Master’s degree. Then we moved to the University of Chicago where my husband wanted to study with a particular economist. While in Chicago, we began to have problems and a rift developed. I wanted a child, but my husband argued that the world was overpopulated. I had hard time understanding his rather idealistic and unrealistic view about marriage. He wanted to follow the example of Sartre, the French philosopher and wished to be free within marriage. We returned to India in 1965 hoping to salvage our marriage in a different environment. But the rift grew further and in 1965 we separated. It took another five years to get the divorce.

For two more years after separation I tried to find a job and a place to live in Calcutta. My parents were then living in Calcutta after my father’s retirement. My mother and majority of the extended family reacted to my separation from my husband with such shock and disapproval that I had no place to live. The scandal, rejection and judgment were too hard to bear. In their eyes from a model accomplished woman, I became a fallen one overnight. In the 60s the conservatism of an upper-middle class traditional family had no room for compassion for a woman who dared to leave a husband. I was also refused jobs on same grounds. After several years of struggle I reluctantly decided to return to the States and to finish my doctorate. This time I knew that I was leaving India for good.

In 1969 I obtained a fellowship from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California and received my doctorate in Psychological Anthropology in 1972 followed by a year of post-doctoral fellowship in Chicago University and a junior professorship at the University of Colorado at Denver.

In graduate school I was fortunate to be a student of Margaret Mead for one year. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was an important part of my graduate curriculum, although I was never quite attracted to Freud’s rather mechanistic and rational approach to human psyche. Two years later I stumbled onto a collection of essays by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung and was strongly shaken by his ideas. His theory of the archetype created such a commotion in my mind and heart that I could not ignore it. I knew then that I had to explore this scholar for whom human psyche also meant human soul. I saved nine thousand dollars from a yearly salary of twelve thousand and took a year’s leave of absence from my new job and went to Zurich to study at the C.G. Jung Institute.

I also began personal analysis and a year later I extended my stay for one more year and then I knew that I would like to go deeper into my inner exploration. For the first time in my life the theories in the classroom and books made sense in terms of my life’s experience. I began to understand why I had made mistakes and repeated them. I understood the inevitability of neurosis as a gift of Fate to steer one toward a path of transformation, without which human soul is never satisfied. It was exciting to realize that creativity and religious instincts are natural human traits without which life loses meaning.

I needed to stay longer in Zurich, but my bank account was nearly depleted. I then approached the chairman of the Anthropology Department of Zurich University and he offered me a part time teaching position. My doctoral dissertation was meanwhile published as a book titled BENGALI WOMEN by the Chicago University press. A year later I was offered a visiting professorship and I resigned from my associate professorship in University of Colorado and made Zurich my home for several more years. Now I was fully committed to finish my analytic training.
In 1972 I had met Carl von Essen, a medical doctor who was of Swedish origin. I was impressed by his attention to me. His quiet persuasion and patient waiting continued while I was in Zurich and in 1978 he was offered a job by the Swiss government to direct a research program in nuclear medicine in Villigen, a small village north west of Zurich. Six years of distance finally ended and we were married in 1979 at my younger sister’s rose garden in northern California. We began our life in Brugg a small town near Villigen on the river Arre. Thus after fourteen years since my divorce, my second marriage began. Our differences in race, culture, religion, history and personality made this marriage a real challenge. But my analysis and inner exploration helped me to face this challenge with hope because by then I realized that if I could make peace with myself, my marriage will fall on track, because the outer life reflects the inner world. Fourteen years of life alone and its exploration prepared me for this marriage. Otherwise I could not adjust to such differences.
In a sense my whole life has been a journey of adaptation to strangeness. Since birth I have lived in cultures which were not my own. The first fifteen years of my life were spent in Assam - a state with different language and culture from those of my parents. From age twenty-three I lived in foreign countries with only occasional visits to India. I have been keenly aware of being an outsider all my life. It was only after years of analysis that I reached my real home – an internal place -- where all cultures could coexist. But I am going ahead of myself.
As a child I was brought up in a family where religion was observed primarily through rituals, which kept our family securely rooted in the divine and the cosmic world. As a child I joined the extended family in the celebration of annual worshipping of the Hindu goddess Durga at my paternal grandfather’s village home. The imposing image of Durga with ten arms holding weapons and riding a lion while killing the ferocious demon, was so securely imprinted within my soul that even to this day she accompanies me. All I need is to close my eyes and she appears; and I feel protected. The name Durga literally means ‘a fortress’ or she who protects her worshippers. My mother had a household shrine where she kept images of her favorite gods and goddesses. Every evening we sat in front of the shrine for sometime and sang and prayed together. Even as children we felt a connection to something bigger than life. Much later I knew that what I felt then was a connection to the sacred world.
By the time I grew to be a young woman I was restless and stimulated to explore the world of ideas. I was eager to learn everything. This thirst began when I was a teenager. I had converted and old bathroom into “a room of my own”, a sanctuary where I had spent most of my day with my books. Around this time I began to keep a journal. With my success in school I discovered that along with the thrill of recognition, I also enjoyed a meditative peace that came from deep concentration. It continues to this day.
Since my education was based on Western-style philosophy and pedagogy, I was easily seduced by the excitement of progressive Western thought. My association with my first husband added fuel to this fire. Under his rational and secular influence the gods and goddesses of my childhood were soon buried under questions, arguments, analysis and judgment. I was so drunk with the power of this new knowledge that I began to see the stagnation of the old culture of India. The strong social disapproval after my divorce added to this disillusion. I was hit by the bitter realization that the security of an old culture is offered only to the conformists. I turned my back to India and rejected my tradition.
As my training and analysis continued I traveled further and deeper into territories of new knowledge and myself. The more I explored about the unknown corners of my psyche, the more I realized how central my ‘Indian self’ is for my identity. My ‘Western self’ is also vital, but I was not born with it, it was acquired. For a full and creative life I need both. In analysis I struggled to bring the two in a balance as I do in my everyday life. My dreams helped in this effort by bringing up familiar symbols and images from the unconscious. For example, soon after I began analysis I had the following dream:
“I am standing on a river bank and watch the river flow. As I watch it I notice how the water is drying out, slowly exposing the sandy river-bed where several statues of my childhood gods and goddesses lay half-buried. I know that I have to reclaim them and put them in their rightful place."
Even though I had left my country and religious practice, the gods still survived under the water of the river of life half-buried in the sand. The dream removed the water like in a reverse video so that I could reclaim them again. There were many such dreams bringing back images of my early life to build a bridge to my religious and cultural roots. I realized I needed to pay attention to my gods and goddesses who were now more like inner figures of energy.
Another dream that came to me repeatedly with intervals and different versions, makes the same point in another way.
“With a group of people I am walking slowly uphill, going toward higher mountains, sometimes in single file because of the narrow path, eventually leading to a high valley, finding an emerald glacial lake reflecting the snowy peaks of the surrounding Himalayas. The air is still and crisp.” ,BR> In the dream I know that this lake is the source of the holy river of India, the Ganges. The lake is called Manas Sarobar (the lake of contemplation) This is a pilgrimage that many Indians aspire to make. I had never been there but I made this pilgrimage several times internally and symbolically, thanks to my unconscious. The tranquility and peace of the dream remain with me until the demands of outer life remove me from it. And then the dream comes again to guide me back to the pilgrimage.
These dreams were healing because they reconnected me to my origin that I had rejected earlier, and gave me a safe container where I could accept the dualism of East and West and eventually transcend it. Now the gods are close to the consciousness accompanying me whenever I need them.
After these dreams I began to see the first possibility of reconciliation with my culture. My ‘Indian self’ that was born and nurtured in the soil of an ancient religion and culture, which I had to rebel against to save my self-respect and independence, now can accept the same culture again. Moreover my analysis had helped me to accept my own light and dark sides and I could understand my mother and my culture better. This realization unleashed a sense of freedom that transcended the conflicts. The wounds from the rejections I had done, received and suffered in my conservative tradition were healed at last.
After receiving the diploma in Analytical Psychology in 1982 my husband and I left Switzerland and returned to the United States and settled in New England. Today I spend most of my time writing and also have a private practice in Cambridge. Occasionally I teach at the C.G. Jung Institute of Boston and travel around the world to lecture. But I do that less and less. Once every two or three years I visit India. It’s nice to cut down work and spend several hours a day walking along Charles River where I see young people run, row or bike. Living in a university town reminds me of my youth. Writing keeps me alive. My various interests such as cooking, painting and friends bring me joy. I have learned to live with a husband whose world and mine are so different that they are similar on some mysterious level! I try to love without its demands.

((Dr.Manisha Roy writes from Cambridge where she lives with her husband Dr.Carl von Essen.) Click here to read disclaimer )

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1.killing God August 2, 2009How can she write like an atheist? 
2.Meet Dr Manisha Roy December 30, 2008anonymous 

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