Is there a real you?

We all have complex personalities that give rise to multiple identities; so does a nation.

Updated - November 11, 2017 03:28 pm IST

Published - August 27, 2017 05:00 pm IST

Illustration for Edge

Illustration for Edge

Who amongst us has not seen an usually mild person exploding into action when deeply moved or provoked? “This is not the Mahesh we know!” or “This is not like our mother at all!” is what we think or say.

Just as we slowly form impressions about another person, we build self-images as well. We gradually become so attached to this image of ourselves that any departure from it startles both us and others.

Is that person really you? Yes and no.

Many theatrical forms and dances have a way of signalling a change in the persona of the performer. He or she swings away from the audience and twirls back with a visible alteration of manner and expression. Suddenly, the shoulders either straighten or droop; the torso appears to grow or shrink or stoop; the mood alters. The whole audience understands and is ready to respond to the switch.


Why do you think this is so? Because all of us recognise that every one of us is made up of different personalities. Even a Pope is a friend and a son, a brother and cousin, a student of or a teacher to someone else. Perhaps it is in realisation of this, that famous film star Peter Sellers said in an interview, “There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.” He sounds like he was joking, but to build his career he could not afford to have too strong a sense of the non-actor Peter Sellers.

Then, we have proof of how great and inspired teachers and leaders succeed in releasing a ‘you’ which you didn’t know was lying dormant in you. You may have read how a single exposure to Gandhiji’s talks or presence caused many people to abandon their everyday lives, even their families and careers, and join the struggle for swatantra . Ordinary women who were not even politically informed or motivated and for whom their jewellery was the last security, donated their ornaments in response to Gandhiji’s appeal for funds.

There could be a ‘real me’ that is added or implanted by someone — either casually with no ulterior motive, or with a plan to send you tumbling towards a future you did not plan for yourself.

So, the first rule of awareness of the self is, be aware! There may be hidden facets to your personality and instincts which could be stirred by unusual events or when you are under unnatural pressure.

National identity

Let’s take another look: we have slotted most people into ‘this sort of person’ and ‘not that sort of person’ and even go on to stereotype whole nations in the same manner. In the book Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan, Krishna Kumar describes how differently the same incidents at the time of the Partition are recorded in history textbooks published in India. Pakistani scholar Rubina Saigol has confirmed this in her research as well. Perhaps we can ask ourselves some questions about the nature of this ‘me’ or ‘you’. In other words — identity.

Hence, as we mark yet another anniversary of the month that Britain let go of her colossal possession, here is a thought: Is there a national identity? Should there be one?

The late great Hindi novelist Nirmal Verma wondered how we could wipe the grime and fatigue of thousands of years and went on to say that our tradition has three epics: the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha and the unwritten epic of Indian civilisation itself, which is a fabulous mix of the eight different faiths that have flowered in the subcontinent.

No one born and raised in this country can avoid their multiple identities. They exist, even if you think otherwise.

The author is Consultant, Publishing (Oxford University Press). Email:

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