Hello,who are you?

Thackeray being Thackeray would not have thought twice about bowling a fast one at Sachin. And Sachin being Sachin too would have no problem in hitting this rather bad Bal for a six. Even if he doesn’t, the rest of the country, being what it is – crazed by cricket and dazed by its champions -, will do it for him. So we will not agitate over this raging all-India debate about what goes into being a Marathi Manoos. But me being me, am surely excited by the opportunity this ‘identity’ crisis offers. So thanks to Thackeray, here is an X-ray of the ‘I’s that makes every one of us an individual, Indian and whatever else you and I are!

‘I’ has always been a challenge to philosophers, psychologists, scientists and spiritualists alike. Variously defined as awareness, consciousness, ego, intellect, atma, soul, spirit etc, ‘I’ for them is a matter of profound significance and therefore extensive research. Scientists, specifically, have been obsessed with the question of and quest for ‘I’. Needless to say, they proceeded on the assumption that their quarry resided in the head. Their methodology relies heavily on monitoring behaviorial patterns vis-a-vis external provocations ranging from abuse, love to electric shocks. They claim to have cracked almost all the riddles of human nature and even say they can trace the precise locus of various emotions that constitute the ‘I’ to specific brain tissues. But despite such strides inwards, there is a fundamental flaw: Any study of a third person is subject to distortions and bias and ceases to be a study of ‘I’. Less so when even rodents are used for tests. So, admirable though scientific insights are, they are not adequate.

Bharath’s seers of yore, on the contrary, chose to convert their own selves into labs, slogged with their souls in solitude and came up with stunning revelations about the modus operandi of ‘I’. Now, subjecting this ‘I’ to study and scrutiny is much unlike other experiments. To be both the object and the observer calls for a great degree of sophistication. The sense organs with the help of which we spontaneously relate with the world are of no use here. The mind therefore becomes the sole tool and it is rarely in a calm state of, er, mind, minding every other business other than its own. But despite such odds, they had perfected the art of getting rather ‘self’ ish to know thyself! According to them true knowledge and bliss is when the individual I, rooted till then in ignorance, realises its real nature, and identifies with the Almighty.

Of course, the inner ‘I’ (the scientific ‘I’ as well as the spiritual ‘I’) is a lofty ideal that can be understood or realised only with a lot of effort. The ‘I’ that is more common place, user friendly and easy to recognise, however, is the one in the mirror. This ‘I’ has a face, form and a name: Formal Identity flows from the awareness of this physical ‘I’. Though the wise dismiss this ‘I’ as dangerously delusional and a diversion from discovering that real ‘I’, it dominates thought and action and is quite demanding too. The gratification of this ‘I’ in as many ways is life’s sole pursuit. Ranging from the ‘Hail Myself’ themes of hot headed dictators like Hitler, to the ego-tickling itches of pompous politicos down to the petty and pedestrian passions of the lowly common man, the ‘I am…’ syndrome shows up in various shades and styles of good, bad and ugly.

So there is this inner ‘I’ of the seer-scientist and the gross ‘I’ that we all behold and hold dear. But there is also a third ‘I’, an ‘I’ that seeks a larger identity and a wider worldview. This ‘I’ results from the engagement of the ego-centric ‘I’ with the external environment. This environment includes, besides the physical, the religious, political, ideological and cultural too. The sense of belonging is central to this ‘I’. Your identity flows from the group to which you are affiliated. Clan, caste, class, club, cult, community, country …this ‘I’ has an eye on every possible stream that one can hope to be part of. Some categories are so mutually exclusive that ‘I’ can exist harmoniously in two different groups. But often, the domains overlap giving rise to conflict of interest. But ironically, this expansion of the external playground of ‘I’ is by no means an elevation. It is actually a slide from the ‘I am divine’ formulation of the spiritualists to the ‘I the great’ exhortations of the ego and then to the narrow and restrictive ‘I belong’ paroachial one. Aah, so after much mental labouring, we have finally arrived in Thackeray territory.

Identity politics is universal. The Yankee and the Southerner or a Scot and a Brit may co-exist as a nation, but the identity divide is stark even in so called homogenous or advanced societies. Small wonder that India with scores of knives in its stomach is a veritable nation of split personalities. For every I, there is an equal and opposite I, pulling in another direction. This ‘I for an I’ combat not only conditions our minds but also confuses and confounds it. TN is a classic case in context and can give an inferiority complex to the Thackerays. First, the Justice Party of pre-independence vintage rode on the Aryan-Dravidian divide based on the now defunct Aryan invasion theory. For Periyar’s DK the Brahmin, non-Brahmin bogey came in handy to drive a wedge in society, albeit, in the name of social reform. Enter Anna and DMK, it was time for North-South politics. Hindi became the flashpoint since it symbolised the thriving N as against the waning S. All through, the alibi has been Tamil identity as certified by these champions. Now after fifty years of K, ‘whose heart beats for Tamils world over’, it looks the rest of us living here or who speak that lingo but outside of his family are not Tamils, for we know who his heart really beats for.

Fatal though such futile identity politics are to national unity and an individual’s sanity, they have a funny facade too. Now, why would the ‘marathi’ Sena send reps to the ‘Indian’ Parliament? Or what’s the rationale behind a TN Shiv Sena when in fact the outfit in its initial days riled against veshti clad Tamils of Bombai? And before he delivers his verdict on such complex issues as Sachin’s Indian Marathiness or Marathi Indianness, will Th’ray answer this simple cricket quiz? Is Sachin a batsman who can bowl a bit or a bowler who can bat better? No, Bal?

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Jawahar T R