Aging more , understanding less

Song of the post: Intro: Persona

Every time I listen to the chorus of Intro: Persona, RM’s words, ‘Persona, who the hell am I?’ cut through me and leave me wondering, ‘Yeah, who really am I?’  

Sometimes I feel like I know myself. When I’m arguing with Appa about decisions—life-altering ones like whether or not to buy a new flavour of chips, when I’ve already put two more packets in the shopping cart; or trivial ones like ordering biryani from Nandhini or Biryani Mane—he doesn’t agree with, I have very nearly screamed at him, ‘I know what I am doing, I know myself better than you know me’. 

Then there are moments when I surprise myself. When the dosa doesn’t tear as I’m flipping it, when that extra drizzle of oil in the kadai actually helps, when choosing the bigger paintbrush gives me a better result than the small one that I usually go for, when I manage to keep calm as I make phone calls to strangers during work, asking them to be on time for an event. 

These little moments, as insignificant as they seem, make me wonder if I really, truly, know myself. I understand my thoughts, my decisions, my preferences, but these only amount to one facet of a universe of my own. We are in an age where knowledge is power, and with the earth spinning so fast (30 kilometres per second!) and the world changing at lightning speed, it is inevitable that we change along with it. I also wonder if one can ever really keep up with all of these changes and still be confident enough to say, ‘Yes, this is me’. 

‘Write, please, because it is still possible to do that.’ 

As I think about this prompt from time to time, there are thousands of ideas and phrases swirling in my head that I struggle to make sense. I seem to have forgotten that I can still write, and these words on the competition poster have stirred up a dormant part of me, hungry for words on paper, starved of feelings in my heart.  

I wake up at odd hours of the night because I have thought of something great, and I would much rather annoy my sleepy self as I quickly type the words down in my notes app, than wake up in the morning, rested and heavy with regret.  

I have missed her, this person, this part of me who itched to write, who wanted to write about the world but didn’t know how, so she started with cautious, baby steps. This part of me that used to be so fearless, that decided to one day just hide. Why did I hide? 

I guess writing came easier when I was younger. Like when it was easier for me to look up at the blue sky and see the clouds in all their glorious weirdness—shaped like bunnies and mushrooms and… wait, is that Perry the Platypus? I don’t know if it was because I was naïve and lacked experience or because I simply did not feel as much as I do now. I am not sure. Maybe it was easier because the words occupying my mind weren’t so many and so random then. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen more of life, and gotten to know myself better. My mind has become a cacophony of thoughts from which I can only pick out phrases in short, intense bursts; and I feel that if I don’t catch them right then, I’ll never see them again. It feels like now, when I look up at the blue sky and all I can see are…clouds. Just plain white fluffy clouds–stratus, cumulus, nimbus. 

Which are really pretty, too!  

When I look at myself in the mirror and try to straighten my posture, I see a short and petite body filled to the brim with pretty songs and cottage-core reels and watercolour paintings and stormy skies and harem anime and ice mocha at constant war with filter coffee and Starry Night socks during rainy nights. A new kind of fear, fear of putting myself out there, appeared strong and won a long, hard battle against confidence, which just shrugs, as if to say, ‘Yeah, what can you do? I’m done.’ With age, even though I am itching to buy an unaffordable, fancy wall hanging for a place of my own, all I end up doing is scroll through Instagram with an impassive face and an unbearable sadness in my heart on seeing people I know living different lives from my own. With time I find that the more I try to understand myself, the less I do. Five years ago, this thought would have sent me spiralling, but now, with every passing thought of revelation, I just smile.  

It’s a smile of victory, a smile of triumph that this is one more piece of me (of the many, many) that I was able to decode.  

When I began writing, aeons ago (back in my undergraduate days, perhaps 8 years ago?), writing about myself was easy. It was, quite frankly, the easiest thing ever. I wrote with such ease that I thought I knew myself. If I didn’t, how else would I have been able to write like this? Write at least 4 blog posts for my blog every week? Read so voraciously? Make decisions so easily? How?! 

With age, my expectations of myself and my writing grew. I placed them on a shelf higher than the top shelf where Amma stores all the glassware and Appa his liquor bottles. I placed my expectations there knowing I wouldn’t be able to reach them. I just had to reach a little bit higher on my tiptoes or use a stool so that I don’t break anything, myself or the glass. I can’t remember a time I allowed myself to use a step ladder for my writing. If I wrote, it had to be the best thing ever. Being mediocre was not an option since I began writing so well. My writing identity revolved around being honest and oftentimes, it was described as so. In order to put down those kinds of words, I had to be honest with myself, put in the effort to understand my thoughts. It sounded like a lot of effort and, while I don’t shy away from hard work, I did feel like the more I knew about myself, the less I would like. I was scared of knowing who I really am, removed of all the background city and people in my life. What if I wasn’t the kind of person I believed I was? What if this person that others see is simply a veil, which hides something less pleasant? Being honest to myself was scary, I wondered what would become of me? If I couldn’t digest the truth about myself, how would I put it on paper? How could I write anything anymore?  

The journey towards understanding my true—no, own—self began more consciously when a classmate once came up to me, unprompted. “You’re an introvert, right?” 

Have you ever seen that old Tumblr post where someone asks if you would read a book which had your own story, up until the day you died? I had clearly thought, no, I don’t want to read such a book. For me, the whole point of living my life is to figure out this journey, unravel it and move forward with time. 

When my classmate dropped that statement on me, it felt like someone had handed me a page of that book and asked me to hold it, and not read it. Naturally, I had read it.  

I had blinked. I didn’t ever think of myself as an introvert, much less expect others to notice. I tried to be friendly with everyone, and even though it took a lot of my energy, I still did it because I liked it. I liked getting to know my new classmates, liked hanging out with them outside of a classroom setting, and at house parties, and dinners, and shady street food places across the city.  

So, it didn’t occur to me that the word ‘introvert’ could be used to describe me.  

‘Yeah, but-’ the classmate had an answer ready at my confused face. ‘You don’t initiate conversation, you don’t approach people first, but you speak with them if they start. That’s a classic trait of an introvert.’ 

I felt exposed. How could this classmate, who had met me less than two weeks ago, make such claims about me? It sounded absurd.  

I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of being right, but looking back on my life, I supressed a sigh as I realised he was right. 

It has become increasingly clear to me that the probability of knowing oneself so well that it is near impossible to surprise yourself is very low. People around us have their own versions of us in their heads. I am the milk-for-breakfast girl, the crying-in-front-of-a-stranger girl, the bullet-journal girl, the short girl, the hold-hands-on-an-escalator girl, the eyeliner girl, the dumb didn’t-know-Prakrit-was-a-language girl, the girl who talks to the dogs, the girl who always lends you her extra pen, the girl whose hometown is actually Bangalore. These are all fleeting, momentary impressions strangers hold of me, and they are all true.   

I like to look at it this way: We are all parts of a gigantic puzzle in this universe, our pieces scattered in all sorts of expected and unexpected places. When people travel to different places under the bold statement of ‘soul-searching’, they are off to find these missing pieces. Often times, we duplicate a piece to give it to someone we love, and they take it so happily, so reverently, adding it to themselves and changing both your pictures in the process. Sometimes, unbeknownst to you, a random piece finds its way to you through an artist you love or an author you adore. When did it sneak in? How did I not realize?  When you click with someone you just met, your pieces have come together with a bit of an earth-shattering force, rearranging that part of you, or all of you, depending on the force.  

We can’t often see the big picture that we are a part of in the universe because we are always standing too close. The farther you step away, the clearer the picture is. Have you ever had a dear friend take a candid picture of you that made you go, wow, I really look like that? That’s how your friend sees you through their eyes. When someone truly believes in you and your abilities when you’re deep in doubts about yourself, it’s because they are standing away from you, looking at you and your big picture, all in one frame. Sometimes, it’s nice to take a step back and look at ourselves the way others do. It’s a refreshing perspective, adding more to understanding yourself.  

It’s okay if we don’t know everything about ourselves. There ought to be something in life that keeps us on edge, something to look forward to. For many, it could be their big and bright dreams. For me, whose Big Dream consists of being happy in life, it’s exploring myself. The surprise element works best when you truly embrace the tangled mess that you are.  

Who knows what I’ll discover next? 

I wrote this for a competition held by my Alma Mater, and thought I could post it here. Many, many thanks to Nat who edited this piece for me and was so encouraging. I don’t think I’m fully back but it could be a start.