Are you the sum of all the identities you make up? Padmini Manivannan hopes there’s more to it.
I come from India, a country where an individual is often defined by the whole. What I mean when I say this is that I am usually referred to as a Tamilian, as a south Indian, as a father’s daughter, a part of a community – all wondrous things to be part of – but mostly as an extension to others. You may think that this is true for most people. But in the case of Indians and Indian families – my definition of these ‘wholes’ – it is almost an act of rebellion to be an individual. It can be hard to extricate yourself from these identities and just be yourself. I make my way through the innumerable traditions and cultural norms, evaluating them carefully, keeping the ones that make sense, letting go of some that don’t fit, trying to understand the rest and adopting new ones I learn along the way.
I sometimes wonder if I am the sum of all the identities I make up. I’d like to think there is more to it. And this is where I start looking at other women, almost as if to seek out other representations of myself. Don’t get me wrong, this is not because I have an identity crisis or am ungrateful for being part of these associations, but for inspiration, for a better understanding of the world, for diversifying my thoughts through the lived experiences of others.
I am not sure if this meandering navigation of the mind is a product of being a 25-year-old and if people, women in particular, eventually settle into mature, decided selves of their beings. My immediate inspirations are the people I surround myself with, the people I come across in books and stories, and through my social media feed (‘feed’ – like somehow we’re cattle?).
The act of looking up to people we find inspirational is an act of seeking truth and direction. My mother (kind, compassionate and giving) and my best friend (a multi-talented freak of nature) are the first people I turn to for comfort. JK Rowling gave little girls and boys around the world, including me, their most beloved role model and Emma Watson, who played this character, has continued to be one. A few years ago, I also discovered the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer and feminist among other things, who urges you to have uncomfortable conversations about gender and race, and warns you of the dangers of a one-dimensional story. More recently, the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rose to power. She tells the unfiltered truth and her speeches have acquired a lilt and swagger that only the most powerful orators seem to possess.
On the days when I find myself unable to rise to my expectations, feel apprehensive about the future, or am simply blanketed by the lethargy of a slow afternoon, I go back to the solace of these women who have accomplished so much, women who champion this sense of individuality and in turn, lift up the whole community.
Padmini Manivannan recently graduated from the Master Signals and Systems at TU Delft and hails from Chennai, India. She loves doodling in her free time.