Madness is culturally seen as deviant but at times perceived as beautiful, when invoked in notions of the 'mad genius', 'mad poet' or 'mad mystic'. The essay, however, engages with the clinic's medicalised notion of madness as disorder and illness, which requires cure, remedy or reform. The latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(5th edition), which is a resource on classification of mental disorders brought out by the American Psychiatric Association, provides a listing of more than 300 disorders running to 947 pages—beginning with the different variants of 'neurodevelopmental disorders' to the many kinds of 'personality disorders'. It asks whether madness can be reconceptualised as a positionality that provides us with an alternative framework of subjectivity and knowledge. It attempts a conceptualisation through examining nineteenth century asylum records in India.
Elaine Showalter claims in her well-known book The Female Malady(1985) that madness was feminised by the end of nineteenth century in England. The English asylums had a disproportionate number of women when compared to men, for psychiatry pathologised women's behaviour that did not conform to normative notions of femininity. The essay asks whether such a phenomenon occurred in the nineteenth century Indian asylum, asylums being first set up by the British in the mid-eighteenth century at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras(Jain 2003).