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THE LAYERS OF IDENTITY

Shivani Kshirsagar

A person`s identity is like make-up, because it has so many layers! We appear in various forms to the outside world. The people you see at parties and extended family gatherings see your glam-doll make-up look. You have your sweetest and most cheerful voice-mode on. You are the life and soul of the party. Your aura blowing glitter of zest everywhere you are floating to like a fairy. Charm is your first name and modesty the last.

Then come the people you meet every day at work. You have your everyday make up look on. Here you are a diligent, dedicated, someone who is keen to learn from their mistakes and an awfully soft-spoken person to your superiors. You are fun to work with and always ready to help kind of fella to your colleagues and stringent to get the work done yet surprisingly respectful about it kind of individual to your juniors. Although you have your ‘9 to 5 foundation’ and lipstick on, yet the bronzer, highlighter and blush that transformed you from a human to a doll are gone. All these people that you work with everyday have, at some point or other, seen worry lines on your forehead, your flaring nostrils and clenched jaws. Some have even seen your misty eyes and cheeks turning red with embarrassment at times. So much for a layer.

From the eyes of your close friends and family, you are even a layer lower. They see you in a ‘no make-up’ look. If only people knew the pile of make-up products essential to procure a ‘no make-up’ look! Now the foundation and lipstick are gone and so is the eye-liner. These are the people who are the sole witnesses to your extreme highs and lows. They have revelled in your success as their own and lifted up your spirits in your failures by reminding you of your strong suites. You have found solace in their arms when you cried like a baby and you have jumped in each other’s joy and shared the kind of laugh-riot where you are almost about to pee. These God-sends are closer to your souls, they recognize the child-like innocence in you, appreciate your brutal honesty, put-up with your spoilt self, pamper even your unreasonable needs, make-out your state of mind, notice the slightest changes in your expressions and would take your secrets to the grave. They would take a bullet for you and so would you. They think they know you in and out, they think they identify you for who you really are but the thing is you still have your kohl, lip-balm and sunblock on!

It’s officially ‘make-up removal o’clock’ in ‘identity-land’. You take a cotton ball, sprinkle ample of make-up remover on it and clean all the worldly perceptions from your countenance, your sole companion from your first breath to the last. Then you look at yourself in a full-length mirror, the first thing you notice might be your complexion (can’t help it, I am an Indian), then maybe you tighten your shirt from behind to lure at your figure. Then your eyes wander to look what mood your hair are in today, are they going to follow your directions like your pet or just do their thing anyway like your house-maid. After running your sight quickly over the blemishes and baby hair in odd yet noticeable places on your face you finally look into your eyes. Something just clicks at that moment. All that comes gushing back to you when you see yourself in the eye is your identity.

The footprints left on the sand of your being by everyone and everything you have seen. The energy that you bring to a place. The impact that you have on other peoples’ face. Dreams that make your eyes twinkle. Fears and secrets hidden safe behind the throbbing ventricles. Feeling blessed but the regret of it that cannot be missed. Your 12 Megapixel portrait mode image of bliss. Love for your work that makes you binge. Horrible memories that make you cringe. Achievements to your credit. Time that took away the pain yet left a thorn to prick. And the kindness and compassion that you inherited as a gift is your identity.

While I see myself in the mirror I see an overly sensitive, optimistic dreamer who was born to love and to be loved.

There are moments that change your life by 180 degrees. For me it was when I was three years old when my new-born baby sister was placed on my lap for the first time ever. I am amazed at my selective memory of that split-second. I felt solely responsible for this weirdly beautiful wrinkled featherless creature for the rest of my life. With my small arms I tried to hold this 2.5 kg of plump white and pink elliptical ball of cotton. In a blink, a three year old pampered and only-child transformed into an elder sister and nothing has been the same since then. A sibling is unquestionably the best gift your parents can ever give you. You ride the roller-coaster of childhood with this soul who came out of nowhere, firmly holding each other’s hands throughout the ride. All the marvellous and bewildering picturesque, the collywobbles and jim-jams, ticks of exhilaration and dismay and spells of validation and disapproval offered by this ride were encountered by us synchronously. She gets me like no one else does. Since eternity we have only seen our parents working extremely hard, being astoundingly kind and generous to every single being, striving to keep the trail of joint family together, and being stunningly patient throughout. Both of us don’t know any other way to be.

Some aspects of my childhood still trouble me. My father is a man of his own ways. To be brief, he is not the best at tackling emotions be it his or others`. He loved my sister more than me and was quite vocal about it. If not in those exact words, he did favour her umpteen times and it was so evident to my relatives that my mother had to somehow cover-up for him every time, which all the more made it worse and even more embarrassing for me. How a parent could be partial towards one child and say that he had confidence that she can make it abroad but I cannot, on my face, and so many other things like that is beyond me. All my life I have tried to please my father. I was just so desperate for his approval and praise that all my major life decisions revolved around it.

Another thing that affected me was that my sister was spoilt as a child because she was the younger one. Once a shopkeeper asked my mother if I was not her daughter. That episode has stayed with me. My mother never ever remotely differentiated between us, but the poor soul had to keep buying something for my sister to satisfy her tantrums. My mother dedicated her life to raise us. Everything was about us for her. I cannot even begin to imagine how she led such a selfless life and no matter what I do I would never be able to repay her for that. She always told me that all I should aim for is to be happy and I am so glad that I took her advice.

My “daddy issues” haunted my childhood memories. I was desperate to be the world`s most special person to someone, like a child is to his parents. I became overly sensitive to everything and still am to some extent. The smallest gesture made me jump with joy and the most trivial words would put me down. This emotional instability and desperation was stupendously handled by my four best friends in college. They never for once made me feel that I was full of immaturity or emotional crap. They just generously gave me what I was so desperately looking for. I have been pampered to unsettling measures by the four angels. I have always went out of my way to make sure they know how special they are to me. I no longer longed for attention and can never ever thank god for these mysterious beings that we call friends.

Today at the age of 25, I won’t say I am completely over the feeling of being neglected as a child because, let’s face it, writing about it has opened those closed gates again and my eyes refuse to stay dry. But I do remember and appreciate all that my father has done to give me a comfortable life. He encouraged me to dream big and have the courage to follow them. He raised me to be independent and open-minded. So I do owe this life to him as much as I do to my mother. I have accepted the fact that he loves my sister more than me which is evident even today. Acceptance helped me move on with my life and make my own choices.

I fell head over heels in love with this guy who had a crooked smile that makes me feel weak in the knees even after 4 years of relationship! He was neither tall nor a lovey-dovey romantic guy that I always dreamt of. He did not believe in celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, and giving a gift seemed like a huge stress to him. Never once did he try to impress me with tricks that the world finds charming. He loved me unconditionally and irrevocably for what I am. It made him immensely restless if I missed a meal. His concern for my health was jaw-dropping. Even though we lived in different time-zones for 3 years, every evening he would be so eager to hear the details about my day. He whole-heartedly accepted my guy best friend and told me about the aspects that bother him in an unexpectedly calm and mature way. His words soothed me in distress and he served as a living inspiration for me to keep working hard no matter what. Even though I had a panic attack the night before he made me travel alone from Japan to India because he didn’t want me to depend on anybody, not even him. There were uncountable times when he went out of his comfort zone just to make me happy. I have no boundaries while expressing my love for him, I never had and I never will. He is undoubtedly the best thing that has ever happened to me. He brings balance and sanity to my amoeba-like life.

I am a doctor by profession and how did that happen is the very question I ask myself every day. I think the answer is pretty simple. I am a Indian girl from an upper middle class family of a small city in Maharashtra who is good at academics. According to most popular belief, my IQ could not be wasted on anything other than an engineering or medicine degree. Considering the huge number of engineers originating from my family and friends, something revolted in me to be different and I became a doctor. Having said that, I don’t regret it even a teensy-weensy bit. From cutting open a cadaver, holding human heart and brain in my hands to helping patients ease their pain, giving people hope and most importantly being able to save lives has made me the person I am today! The lightening of patient’s pain striking my heart, the dreadful eyes of their kith and kin pleading for their well-being, the gut-wrenching screams of the woman in labour and the moment she becomes a mother, feasting her eyes on what can only be called the greatest miracle of mankind, gave me my identity. I have come to the realization that life is like finding a lush green, fresh water filled oasis in a dry arid dessert. We would only be fools to take even a drop of it for granted.

The first choice of my life that I am making only for myself is pursuing writing! As a kid I wrote poems and short stories and even won my first prize of Rs.200 for writing a short story in a kids` magazine. I topped in languages in school and literature was my one true love. To my parents’ relief, I was pretty good at science and math too. So here I am with an MBBS degree and currently pursuing MD. So why suddenly this commitment to writing? One astounding experience led me to this heavenly path! I am currently treating COVID-19 patients. Could there possibly be a more fulfilling job on earth right now? Frankly, it is the most humbling experience to be able to help another human being in such a time of need. But I still feel a void. I don’t feel the wave of excitement and sparkle in my eyes, when I am at work, like I do right now! All I can think is how in the name of god did I spend 25 years of my life without writing all that I saw, encountered and experienced?! So do I regret it all? Absolutely not. But I do wonder how it would feel like to actually learn literature and get formally trained to write. I would give anything to be surrounded by terms like “soliloquy”, “euphemism” and “symbolism”. This reinvention of my love for writing started when I was in quarantine and one of my social media pages showed me something about an opportunity to write and get published in a magazine. It said two days left for the submission. I have only my overly optimistic dreamer self-identity to thank, for grabbing this opportunity and do something for my own happiness for once! No matter what layers make your identity, make sure ‘happy’ is one of them.


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