The other day I was watching an interview with a sportsperson who was talking about his ‘community’. It got me thinking. Who forms my community? I found that I couldn’t locate my community easily.
Christians? I am not a believer. Keralites? I’ve never lived there. I barely speak the language. Male? I’ve been told I am not a typical male. Writers? I don’t know. The ones I meet, I don’t seem to have much in common with them. Bangaloreans? I don’t think I feel close enough to the culture. I feel more like an interloper. Just passing through. Advertising? I don’t know again. I don’t seem to share the easy ambition, the healthy cynicism. So, for the question, “Which community do I belong to?” the only answer that came to me was, “None”.
I belonged to no one and nowhere. I was a community of one. A sort of aberration. There was neither narcissism nor martyrdom in that realization. Just a blank-faced recognition of the fact. I realise it’s true; I look around and I can’t find ‘my people’. I can find parts of me here and there. A passion for literature. The ability to do nothing all afternoon. A love of sambar. But they’re pieces, not the whole. My identity appears to have no roots in a known tradition and hence, no traceable path into the future. No reference point. Suddenly, I felt very alone.
How did you get here? I asked myself. And a chill went through me as a probable answer popped into my head: You just made yourself up. You’re just making yourself up as you go along. I have no words to describe what I felt when I realised that. It felt both insincere and real. It felt like I was committing a crime while doing something seemingly inventive and brave. Like a man who clears a path in a forest, only to be accosted by forest officials who tell him he’s illegally cutting down trees. The roots of this ambiguity towards self, this fear of self-change started to emerge more clearly to me in my mind’s eye. I realised that, unlike in our time now, when the process of self-change has become normalized, I grew up during a time when the creation of an original self was viewed either as an act of treason or as an act of bravery, nothing in between.
If you broke the pattern and distanced yourself from the community of your birth, you were either a terrorist or a freedom fighter. But you were never simply a person, trying to find their place in the world. And that’s why I felt scared and guilty for so long, for steadily casting off all my previous allegiances. But I don’t feel guilty or lost anymore. I realise now that I don’t owe anyone an explanation for the complicated identity I have created for myself. I don’t even have to answer to my own self. Because the need to create one’s own identity is a right that was always kept hidden from us. I am just a person. Trying to find his place in the world. That is not a crime. That is not even betrayal. That is normal.
First published in Labyrinths