(Discovered on the same typescript as the last... possibly stirred by the same musings... time of original construct, as usual, unknown!)
I was led to ponder by the newly married heroine in last night’s telefilm. She was irresolute whether to change her surname because of the vexatious alterations this would necessitate in her bank account, passport, IT file.
So these are the markers of identity, I thought?
Or are they?
One cannot help sympathise with her predicament. The testaments are hard to come by as it is without subjecting them to further vagaries, as women are.
The earliest bit of conversation a child is made to rehearse is
“What is your name?”
“My name is………….”
and a name becomes the first rampart of identification. Noun: the first part of speech we study, the name of things. The grammar of self begins to fall in place thereon. With due apologies to Shakespeare, one is never comfortable being called something else, being at ease instinctively responding to borrowed nomenclature. Aliases don’t become second skin unless a Mafioso or spy whose business it is to fob identifiability.
A woman is denied the right to her name, and that down, to most manifestations of self. Society expects of her that she marry and curtail her distinctivenesses accordingly. She is but a letterbox the inscription on which keeps changing. Manu Samhita, that canon of Hindu patriarchy, claims her to be a preserve of male relations, first the father, then husband and son.
What if she never has the last, I wonder? Is that her point of un-being? Is that when she is finally free to set about discovering herself?
Sadly, watchfulness instructs me, a woman who’s never borne a son has defiled herself, in the million accusing gazes trained on her since birth. It is unbecoming conduct, salacious tongues whisper just within her earshot, so she may live a thousand times her shame. She has broken the invisible purposefulness of her womb, Nature’s uncalled for gift to her. Putravati bhava, may you be the mother of sons, is said in blessing and meant to warn.
If you can’t train your womb to obey, you wouldn’t get a chance to know what hit you. (Or maybe, get a lifetime’s microseconds of hurtful slow discovery.) You will un-be. Unbecomingly, in the vilest of un-free ways. You will lose forever your freedom to Be.
It is naïve to suppose this cornerstone of feminine belonging as an Indian, eastern or far outdated experience. Philips Larkin wrote as recently as the last century:
Marrying left your maiden name disused.
For since you were so thankfully confused
By law with someone else, you cannot be
Semantically the same...
‘Now it’s a phrase applicable to no one’ laments more than the loss of a reference, it keens the obliteration of an individual’s consciousness of her entirety, marriage notwithstanding: the easy banishment half the human race cowers into, suddenly in the middle of their lives ‘thankfully confused’ to become ‘no one’.
An unmarried woman may yet overcome social baggage and eke out a life, once married she is branded forever. I observed my mother’s tribulations, being Mrs. So-and-so without having a paper to show for it and came to the conclusion, between a spouse and a certificate, the former being human and fallible therefore more prone to deviance, it is the certificate that is worth holding onto.
Let us not assume it is easier retaining ones personhood if born a man. A convenient start certainly, hail patriarchy, but not all conclusive.
At its easiest, identity denotes the set of specifications - name, address, parentage, age, date of birth, sex, physical attributes, educational credentials, some would say religion and nationality too - selective statistical data whose combination is presumably unique for each individual. One empathizes with the difficulty of pinpointing a person without taking recourse to this information. We no longer live in an age when the whole of human race resided within each other’s eyesight and communicated by gestures.
But supposing the individual in question ranks these trappings as less important than his emotional and psychological make-up along with the intricate history which went into the shaping of these? It is here the question of identity gets compounded, conjunct with additives like self-, personal-, internal-, external-, etc. etc.
I was an objectivist from long before I read Ayn Rand – she merely put in words my vague stirrings towards selfhood – and found difficulty in reconciling with the public image of me. If one believes the Bhagavat Gita, that this life is a cloth I will subsequently shed, the gamut of information open to speculation about me falls to dust.
Who am I?
Who should I be?
Each question has two takes, my own and the world’s. The school report cards of which I was so confident no longer define me. The certificate that proved my birth is lost. Who can say how long the credentials I possess now will stand by me, when they shall fail and what will become of me then? Shall I cease to exist if the facts about me are erased from the memory of every living person I know and from my own? Those that flit through multiple personalities on schizophasic voyages, can they be said to not exist simply by shedding labels, because they refuse to comply with the reality construed by others?