Nupur Mahajan Column: Hello, who are you?

By the time you are 40, you are a crowd. For your wife, you are Honey. This publicly, for once out of earshot you oscillate between “tch” and “phew”. Your survival kit to your wife terms you Jaan or even, Love. To the men who stiffen at your distant drone, you are Sir and Sir, means business. For the men you allow yourself to Sir, you are a 10 on 10 — KRAs or ACRs, you are on top. And you are yet the topper for that Whatsapp group of Cathedral classmates. For them you yet define “front bench cool”. Meanwhile, for your mother, you are now your father.

It starts young, they say you are bright or funny, or bold or a crybaby. And you play the part. Others salute you; fetch you water and you learn to command. Later, you are an MBA/MBBS/CA and you live that.
You are bright, right? Must appear so even when you hail a cab. Cross the road. Ask a girl out. Then, you play husband. Responsible, provider, doer. Sometimes, silent-sufferer. Another layer, another role-play. Meanwhile you are CEO and it gives you that acquired swagger or even, conscious humility. You walk to your secretary now, listen to more people than you have time, and tell yourself you can. You must.

Yes, you can. When as a little boy you realise daddy is someone and by extension you, a somebody, you play heir apparent. You refer to yourself in plural. Wait to be waited upon. Issue orders without saying a word. Soon as your report card declares you ahead of your mates (and the race), you play legend-in-the-making: front row, a silent suavity, an acquired gravitas. No laughing in corridors or passing chits in class. No fun. It’s not what you do. You are on your way to be someone, someone big. And when you are, Mr. Big you play the part without even playing it. For it determines you.

Layer upon layer. And with each acquired layer a certain dictate. A set of must-dos. An acquired personality. You assume each layer is a discovery into the real you, a building block. A résumé of you that determines, and proves, that you are better than the rest. And, in effect, casts you as distinct, different? And of course, ahead. It is. Indeed. Life is a discovery of all that we can be, and how fittingly we can be so. But it is as much a journey of discovering and nurturing who you truly are. For being labelled and then living up to the part (no matter of your choosing) you are in fear of never knowing you.

For, you are not the sum total of all you do. You are not what others think you must do/should do/could be. And no, you are not what others cannot be, and hence ahead of the race. What race? And who put you there? Your father’s raised eyebrow. Your teacher’s pat. Your friends’ evident envy. No, I’m not saying what you do is necessarily in conflict with who you are. Only that don’t allow what you do to determine who you are. For when played out such it compels you to start toeing the line of ‘who you should be’, which could well be in conflict with ‘who you are’.

Of course, who you are, isn’t a eureka moment in class one or even undergraduate school. Rather, a discovery somewhere now. And it isn’t late. Now is the right time. Now, when you play all the roles you desired. Your choices that fulfill your idea of you. Only — now — turn the idea on its head. Play the role; don’t become it. Tap in to your core, your unchanging inner compass, and let it determine you. And now, be true to you and play the role. Let the role not play you.

Yes, we were told, by no one in particular, that all we seek — love, respect, power, balance and happiness — can only be acquired by being what is expected of you (fast and first). Also that this is an ever-changing metric. In keeping pace, not only are you a slave to your legend but also having reached the end of the rainbow you yet seek the very booty you set out for… Take heart; the belief is flawed. I am CEO/Commissioner/Doctor Saheb and so I will be happy. No! Not really. Try this, I am happy and I am CEO. I am happy and I am getting married. I am happy and I will master cheese soufflé.

Nupur Mahajan is a sum of many parts. Ideas are her business even as her creative streak sees her straddle television, advertising, publishing, radio and brands. Reach her at

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