I am but a flickering image on someone else’s screen. A choice selected from a fixed menu. A victim, fallen prey to someone else’s idea of who I should be, become.
When and where did the image that I now am first begin to flicker into life? I think it must have been eons before it took its current shape in my last mother’s womb. It probably goes back to my founding mother, Mitochondrial Eve. That makes the image that I am some two hundred thousand years old.
Yet, if my image’s founding creator, Mitochondrial Eve, saw me today, she probably would walk by unrecognizing. After all, her creation had been pummeled out of shape by who knows how many millions of cohorts over the millennia, spread over several geographies. The image greeting her now would be expressed very differently from the one she conceptualized.
It had died, been reborn, metamorphosed into something else entirely. It was an intermittent process taking place in fits and starts. It jerked ahead on its evolutionary path each time a parent or an outsider flicked on or off a genetic switch, so as to stamp their presence. I was here. That was the statement crafted onto someone else’s expression. This happened over and over again as each creator attempted to take possession of Mitochondrial Eve’s baby.
I have no living memory of those past creators of the image that is the id in me. I only know that those genetic switches dictated a propensity, creating my current avatar.
That propensity was first activated when it responded to influences in my current mother’s womb. Her thoughts, her reactions, her emotions, her dreams were imbibed by a not-so mute embryo, accepting here, rejecting there.
The seeds of the image I now am were sown then. But they sprouted into tender shoots only when they encountered an early childhood environment. It was then that the early tendrils of a forming image began to take shape, blossoming with a pat on the head, a hug, a word of praise. It wasn’t easy. There was a price that had to be paid for the flowering. The nascent image had to listen and be ready to be moulded with each repetition of the words, “Be what we want you to be…a good child, a studious one, never questioning, always willing to do as you are told.”
It wasn’t the only option on the menu. There was a choice. Between becoming a good child or a troublesome one. Choose the correct answer or not. Either which way the tendrils would form into the selected image. It was cast in stone. Never mind that the image selected sometimes displayed a life of its own, displaying a willful desire to be something else.
A life of its own, did I say? Hmm. Not really. The image just wanted to try the other available menu options. What would it feel like to be naughty? What response would I elicit by being bad-tempered? Would I get my way?
The image tried but sooner or later settled back into its cast. After all, the programming of its genome sequence was protected well by a strong firewall.
That firewall was finally breached only when the security system was breached by a barrage of viruses from the outside, offering more diverse programming options.
Alas, those sources too came with a menu option, set by creators wishing to hijack the image.
Be cool. You can. All you need to do is sport a trendy haircut and wear off-the-shoulder blouses over holey jeans. And oh, don’t forget the accouterments. Conspicuously display the yoga mat in your catch-all bag. Sip a turmeric latte. Keep up peeps.
Be an activist. It’s no big deal. Take up a cause. Go, hug a tree. Take a selfie. Post endlessly on Facebook and Instagram protesting against the desecration of the environment. Or, any other cause.
Be a traditionalist. Wear your nationalism on your body. Walk fashion street in a Modi jacket or achkan. Talk knowledgeably about kalamkari work on your dupatta.
The programmers said to the flickering image on their screens, “You have to listen. You are our creation. Outside our menu of options, you have no being. With a flick of the switch, we can wipe out your identity.”
The image that was I sighed and resigned itself into being a flickering image on someone else’s screen.
All that it had left were its own memories. Of being pulled left, right, left of center, right of center….everywhere but centered in itself.
A question remained though. The image that was I asked, “Were those the images that made me? Or, was it I who made them?”
This blog post is the result of my long wondering if we were merely androids, placed here on Earth as some sort of grand experiment by an other worldly Creator. I don’t know about you but I often feel stuck between my genetic programming and external influences that define who I should be ideally. I try and resist both.
But lately, that resistance has become tougher. Self-awareness has made the task of resisting genetic propensities easier. But, the ask from the outside world has got much tougher. What with all the boxing in and labeling of people.
Let’s take the hijacking of the word bhakt for instance by the so called liberals in India. Here’s what I posted on Facebook sometime ago, objecting to the label and image imposition:
“If you want to be heard, please discuss the pros and the cons just like any critical thinker would urge you to do. Please also refrain from shaming each other by labeling people as bhakts or otherwise. The word ‘bhakt‘ will never be the same for me again. There was a time when a ‘ bhakt‘ would bring to mind lovely images of a lovelorn Meera singing bhajans to her beloved Lord Krishna. Not any more.”
It’s sad. But the liberals (?) in India have effectively erased the images of a lovelorn Meerabai, a saintly Tulsidas and countless other true bhakts of all that is good in this world.
It is time then for the image I have of myself to reawaken, find its spirit and say, “Yes, I am a Bhakt. Just not your idea of one.”
Featured Cover Image: Studio portrait emojified by Antonio Roberts (Flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0)