I have a friend who is an artist. She keeps a personal sketchbook and another which she shows everybody. When she mentioned this to her professor, the professor asked, “Are you a split personality then?”. Why actually, yes we are, thank you. Indians are the masters of multiple personalities! And Indian women, we reign over the masters!
At the very least, we have 3 personas. One is what we portray to our family, one is the way we conduct ourselves at work, and one is the way we are with our friends. This is the bare minimum. . . there are so many levels within this. In the family category, we have a different image with our parents, a totally different one with our in-laws, one with the hubby and kids, one with the cousins, and we flit effortlessly between one and the other. At work, there’s the with-bosses, with-foreign-clients, and with teammates and juniors. Some personalities are so distinct and disparate from one another that you would be stunned that you are interacting with the same person!
At school, I would be shocked when to see girls acting all ditsy and dim and giggly around the boys, and when they’re back with the girl gang, they’re all tough and practical and street smart. Even their voices and accents would change. I would pride myself on the thought that I was the same with all my friends, whether they were boys or girls. I did land up always being the “friend” and never “the girl” and I was okay with that. But that’s important, being okay with it. Even now, when we meet up 30 years later, a lot of the equations remain the same. Well, it was too much drama back then, and it’s too much to keep up with now!
Having said all this, I feel it’s healthy and necessary to have different guises. It shows maturity and a grasp of social cues. As a person, we can freely exploit all facets of ourselves when we can let go and be free to be whom we want. With all the personal pronouns floating around, “they” and “them” can easily describe me right now. A singular pronoun may just not suffice.
I come from a cosmopolitan upbringing. A father who was in the army for 30 years, schooling in a good public school in Bangalore, all filled with people from different financial backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and ideologies. With this also came the feeling of being a bit of a snob. Being a Bangalorean, one tends to feel superior to someone from other cities. Maybe only the Mumbaikars are cooler, maybe.
So when I moved to Ghaziabad, I felt a little out-of-place with all the pushy, loud-voiced Delhiites. And they would call me shy. I have never been called shy or even felt it, ever. I didn’t know what to speak to someone who asked whether Ooty was the capital of Bangalore(!!) or would throw chilies from their dabbas on the floor during lunch, to be swept up by an office boy who would rush around giving glasses of water to employees! How difficult is it to walk up and fill your glass when you are thirsty. Culture-shocked, gob-smacked! It took me a long time to let my walls down.
And with that, came a bunch of neighbours who became lifelong friends. A simple, cheerful homemaker; a quiet and dedicated mom; a rich entitled politician’s daughter; and me…the only meat-eating, car-driving one in 4 floors! I admired them for the hard work they did, thankless duties cheerfully performed, and an openness to learn and grow which is lacking in our stilted worlds. We spoke only in Hindi, bitched about our in-laws, worried over our kids, and I realised a side of me I’d never seen before. They admired me whole-heartedly for being able to drive, for having my own bank account and being able to operate it, for being someone beyond the mother, the wife, or the daughter-in-law. These were things I’d taken for granted in Bangalore. But in Ghaziabad, I was a revolutionary. And it felt good.
Now I’m at a bit of a cross-road, not able to hear my own voice clearly. A friend of mine comes over and keeps saying “I want to see the real you.”. I keep saying “This is me..”, but it doesn’t seem to ring true to him. It’s all different personas floating around, mingling and blending, but obliterating the essence.
I guess one should embrace it all… the party-goer who had 8 Long Island Iced Teas in Goa, who danced the whole night, slept during the day and got up at tea-time; the philosopher who talked with a friend for hours about life; the one who was fearlessly the first on the dance floor; the one who is terrified of recording a video of oneself; the seamstress; the poet..it’s all shards which make up the whole.
I have realised that I can completely be myself with fewer and fewer people. And if we meet once in a while in a comfortable setting, that’s the only time I let myself be free. Not the mom, or wife, or sister, or daughter… just me. Singing, dancing, sewing, talking, interacting, learning, writing… just me.