Oscar Wilde aptly says “be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
When living in a world that is constantly trying to change you, my name is often pronounced as ‘Ismiti,’ ‘Ismriti,’ ‘Ismit,’ ‘Issmiriti.’ Some get it correct as Smriti. With each pronunciation version, my image has evolved and the sense of belonging to a particular time frame has always defined my state of mind and its existence.
Different pronunciations of my name has always denoted different connotations where Ismiti meant I am at home and will be summoned for chores. Ismriti meant I am in my neighbourhood, performing some social service. Ismit meant my brother wants something from me and Issmiritii meant, I am surrounded by a group of foreigners who are trying their best to not pronounce my name as Smith. However, if someone by chance did call me Smriti, I would feel like an elitist, because then I was among a group of people who basically were aware of how to pronounce it.
Assistance and advice
Growing up in the 90s amid different pronunciations of my name, I have clearly lived different phases with multiple identities fulfilling both personal and social roles. Anxious relatives and benevolent friends have offered me both assistance and advice as to how to proceed with my life. I have been fortunate to have them as my medical team without whom, I would probably have lost my sense of direction.
My mother would often identify me as someone who suffered from multiple personality disorder. This was her analysis or diagnosis after watching a film, because I was a very silent entity in school and exactly the opposite at home. Coming from a humble background, she would often ask me to speak a line or two in English, just to ensure I was studying in an English medium school and her investment was not in vain. Come to think of it, I was actually split between the elitist culture of the convent school and my own “Ismiti” background, desperately trying to fit into both. Reminiscing the past and shaping my life the way I want it was totally up to me.
The myriad phases
Between hearing a film playing on a distant television where the hero says hatth mai chudiyaa nahi pehni hai to my friends ranting about being handed down laptops and mobile phones by their husbands as they had less use of the gadgets; between being a part of the participative interpretative community discussing soap operas where one female is valourised and the other is identified as a vamp, to selecting gendered media content for children in the family (when did blue and pink become distinct gender colours?); and between listening to stories of disowning a daughter who chose to elope with a man of a different caste to the daughter in law being exploited by godmen in the name of treatments — I have grown.
An ideal single life is a utopian idea, as the choices we make determine its contour. Pursuing my studies both in India and abroad, I have explicitly understood the importance of education and its power to transform — not only individually but socially too. Therefore, I decided to dedicate my life to being an educationist and educating myself. This educator role has surprisingly been one of my strongest identities.
Enacting many roles
The stereotypical image of a teacher in our community has a striking difference between portrayal of its ideology and reality. I have often witnessed changes in perception in people around me; most perceive me as strict, stern and disciplined although I am anything but. The tag of being the learned one has often landed me in dire situations. Juggling the roles of a mother, a working woman, chores and between busy social service engagements, my visibility is varied across various fragments. The desire to alter the image embodied in the world of representations remains my single identity of being a woman.
I do concur that it is imperative for women in the 21st century to make peace with the fact that there are various roles she must perform. As society evolves, Indian society’s never-ending social questions and spectacles continue with vigour and I have learned to embrace it as being part and parcel of being a woman in this era. The question, however, arises about a woman’s priorities, the role she identifies with and most importantly, the pressure and the need to succeed in each role she enacts.
Finally, with the demanding and changing dynamics of societal relationships, as a woman, I seek answers to the necessity of struggling with multiple identities or moulding ourselves to fit into a distinct one. This may not necessarily be that of a super woman, because then again, super comes with having superlative strength and this somehow gets lost between the voices in the head and the actions that are committed. But then Oscar Wilde comes to mind and all is at peace.