The Doctor and Mrs A.

Ethics and Counter-Ethics in an Indian Dream

Sarah Pinto

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In 1940/41 a young Punjabi woman, ‘Mrs A.’, ill at ease in her marriage and eager for personal and national freedom, sat down with psychiatrist, Dev Satya Nand, for an experiment in his new method of dream analysis. Her analysis included a surge of emotion and reflections on sexuality, gender, marriage, ambition, trauma, and mythology. She turned to archetypal female figures from Hindu myth—Shakuntala, Draupadi, Ahalya—to reimagine her social world and its ethical arrangements, envisioning a future beyond marriage, colonial rule, and gendered constraints.

In a brilliant reading of Mrs A.’s conversations with Dr Satya Nand, the author opens a window onto gender and sexuality in late colonial Indian society, and the ways in which Mrs A. put ethics in motion, creating alternatives to ideals of belonging, recognition, and consciousness. Through a fascinating exposition, Pinto proposes the possibility of thinking with a concept of ‘counter-ethics’, and asks what perspectives on gender, power, meaning, and imagination are possible from the position of the counter-ethic, and its orientation towards mobility and change.

Sarah Pinto

Sarah Pinto is Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University, and author of Where There is no Midwife: Birth and Loss in Rural India (2008), and Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India (2012), which received the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology.