On the cusp of India’s Independence, a young woman in Punjab met with a psychiatrist for a conceptual experiment – the development of a ‘more objective’ and ‘Oriental’ theory of dream analysis. Known to us only as Mrs A., not only did she offer a ‘daydream’ to analyst Dev Satya Nand, she presented an intimate account of mid-twentieth-century upper-class Indian marriage, sexuality and womanhood. In her portrayal of the stakes of kinship, she posed an alternate vision – an ethic of singularity and uncertainty formed out of, but departing from, concepts of security and emplacement. This article explores Mrs A.’s account, using the work of twenty-first-century artist Shahzia Sikander to theorize her vision of possibility, and developing the concept of a counter-ethic – a formulation that presses against the parameters of an overarching ethic, occupying its conceptual and social infrastructure, but nurturing a new vision at the points it cannot be sustained.
Sarah Pinto is Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University, and author of Where There Is No Midwife: Birth and Loss in Rural India (Berghahn Books, 2008) and Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).
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