Who am I?

Are we limiting ourselves by boxing our identities?

Published - April 11, 2015 04:00 pm IST

We are, at different times, right, left, theistic, atheist, traditional, modern, liberal and conservative. All we need to do is be aware of this multiplicity.

We are, at different times, right, left, theistic, atheist, traditional, modern, liberal and conservative. All we need to do is be aware of this multiplicity.

During a recent conversation, I was asked: Is T.M. Krishna a rebel, a revolutionary or a communist? Around the same time an individual tweeted: ‘(T.M. Krishna) would be my favourite singer if he wasn’t a commie!’

Both shared the ‘communism’ thought. But What I found curious was the need in both to place an individual into a mould, description, an all-encompassing idea, something that defines him. We segregate opinions only to bring them together in clusters that place those opinions and their holders into different boxes. We do this not only to others but also to ourselves. In fact we comprehend, justify and celebrate our own ‘self’ based on these categories. Is it not, one might ask, ‘normal’ to classify and justify? Yes! But we must ask: Is something lost in the process? If not, we will reduce ourselves to pre-designed sculpted mannequins.

Let us look at a few ‘models’! Politically we say a person is of the ‘right’ or ‘left’. In a nuanced way, some are ‘left of right’ or ‘right of left’. When I visualise these directional descriptions of what are essentially ideational processes, I see the full spectrum. Every person has to fit into one of these strands; all that radiates from him will be painted over in the respective hue. In matters of religious belief, I have to be atheistic, theistic or agnostic; socially, liberal or conservative; artistically traditional, contemporary or experimental. We not only get placed or place ourselves in these different positions but also further interlink the religious, political, social and even the artistic. By making these ‘combos’, we complete our own colourful self-portrait.

But can a ‘theist’ not also be a commie? Can the liberal not be conservative on, say, gender issues? Can the artist be traditional, yet experimental? Let us go a little further. Cannot even the most hardcore communist feel, for a fleeting second, that something beyond his control has designed the events unfolding before him? Does the presence of these seemingly contradictory ideas reveal confusion, dishonesty or vulnerability? Each of us experiences these situational conflicts where our own actions or thoughts seem to be touching upon two opposing philosophies. We deal with these perceived dichotomies in many ways. We either pass them off as moments of weakness or conditioning and bury them deep within our subconscious, or argue that the personal must be separated from the public or wiggle out of the situation by the clever use of language.

Recently former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi faced an unusual situation. He has penned the script for a tele-serial on Ramanuja, the Vaishnavite philosopher and social reformer. In an interview, the self-proclaimed atheist was asked about the conflict between his atheism and Ramanuja’s strong unquestionable theism. He unconvincingly said that he respects Ramanuja as a social reformer, but disagrees with him on religious belief. When asked why he did not write about him earlier, he said, “There is no specific reason; I did not get an opportunity to write about Ramanuja then.”

I took no time in judging the octogenarian as intellectually dishonest and making an opportunistic political statement with the hope of gaining a few votes for his fragile party. I had “solved” the conflict that I saw as irreconcilable by placing the individual into the tightly closed trunk marked ‘atheist’ and keeping out that which ‘did not fit’ by labelling it a ‘lie’. To be sure, Karunanidhi himself needed to justify himself by getting the rationalist in him to remain boxed-up in that very same trunk trying to explain the covert presence of that non-rationalist.

But who created that tight iron trunk? Karunanidhi or the viewer: us? Since the ‘inner-self’ and the ‘outside’ are only extensions of one another, can we really point to the origin of identities? Does it even matter? We need to ask ourselves something more significant. Do we need to resolve these perceived conflicts? The moment we come in contact with such situations — whether with ourselves or in someone else — do we need to ‘clarify’ the picture, discard the seemingly inconsistent and spot the duplicity?

The truth of being human is that — individually and collectively — we are contradictory and it is in the conversations between these various voices within and around that we remain alive. When we constantly crunch people into constricted spaces, we are not only erasing the beauty of their multiple tones from our view, but also lowering ourselves further into a deep well from which our view is limited to a narrow circular opening.

In the desperate urge to rationalise our own life, we forget that we are creatures of ‘emotional thoughts’ (reads like a contradiction doesn’t it) that flirt with the rational but bond with the intangible. We are, at different times, right, left, theistic, atheist, traditional, modern, liberal and conservative. We should not have to trivialise any of those to bring ‘order’ to our lives. All we need to do is be aware of this multiplicity.

The views expressed in this column are that of the author’s and do not represent those of the newspaper.


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