Friday, November 18, 2011

What is your story?

(Written for my column Monthly Misgivings in Page Seven magazine)

What I take to be my most staggering insights often turn out to be common knowledge that I have been unaware of. When I talk about them in my customary, hyper-excited way to people, I leave many of them with a look of disappointment at my naiveté. But I still give myself some credit for arriving at the insights anew, by my own path, and in my own time. 

Here's my recent burst of epiphany: we can radically alter our stories about ourselves, our past, by just approaching those stories - our interpretations of the happenings of our past - differently. I know you feel like saying, "Uh, Duh!" But do stay with me. I admit that when expressed the way I just did, my so-called insight sounds like something quoted out of context from a self-help book. However, when you arrive at something from experience, when it is truly felt and known, or, to belabour my point, when it is an insight -- something that is seen with the inward eye, it can lead to profound shifts. 

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was answering questions for an interview in an e-magazine. There was a question there that I have always been asked in other situations. And I have given the same answer, the truth, but apologetically and trying hard to sound matter of fact and unromantic about it.

Whenever I am asked how I came to learn Bharata Natyam, I tell this story: when I was six years old, my parents saw me trying to drum rhythm on the dinner table while listening to Carnatic music on the radio in the mornings. They thought that I might be interested in learning to play the mridgangam. So on Vijayadasami, the last day of Navaratri that is considered auspicious for new beginnings, they took me to a wonderful arts institute in Kumbakonam, where we then lived. We walked along a corridor in the rooms along which classes for vocal music, violin, veena, dance, and mridangam were in progress. It so happened that in the room just before the one where mridangam was being taught -- and the idea was that I would learn to play the mridangam, a Bharatanatyam class was in progress. I stood at the entrance to the dance class and watched in rapture bodies moving in ways that my six year-old human self had not seen until then. And I told my parents that it was dance that I wanted to learn. 

That was what happened, and that is what I tell people. But I have always tried hard to make it sound like a mere statement of facts and not as a story that suggests that I chose, as a child, what I wanted to do with my life, that I answered my calling. I have repeated that story to myself and others as just something that happened and nothing more than a happy accident. Thanks to this, my self-talk about my relationship with dance has failed to acknowledge the beauty and conviction of another, more beautiful, interpretation. It is that I really did make a significant choice in that moment when I said to my parents that dance was what I wanted to learn. I wish I had a way of making my words express to you what a universe of difference that shift in interpretation makes to me now. I wish I could make you see what it means to me to re-imagine this incident with a sense of intention, volition and purpose. 

What was more amazing, though not unbelievable, was that just when I was getting a grip at this process of re-writing my past, a very wise and dear friend happened to talk about it to me. Just like that, without any prompting from me. It would only be too easy to dismiss such synchronicity as mere coincidence and to refuse to see everyday miracles for what they are.

I did not re-write a story of pain and suffering. I do not know how hard that could be. Thankfully, I started with very pleasant memory and bolstered it up by admitting intention, choice and decision to it. In the process, I gained a more nourishing, impassioned self-narrative. Do I even need to spell out the wonders such self-narratives can do?


Rashmi said...

Nice post. Very contemplative.

Shruthi said...

This is such a beautiful story. And let me tell you this okay, when you arrive at an epiphany, it's awesome, irrespective of whether it is common knowledge or not.

for our wisdom to be effective, it needs to have convinced us and for us to be convinced, we need to experience it firsthand, no?

Shruthi said...
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Prashanth said...

that is a really nice write up.. gives us a chance to contemplate on the choices we make and ho

Vrinda said...

Beautiful post Ani... I remember we had a collection of shortstories in our final year. The crux of one story hit me on the day of the final exam. I was so excited to share this revelation with the gang before we got into the examination hall but their reply was unanimous- "Yeah. So? You didn't know it till now?!" Apparently, my epiphany was a few months late. Still, gotta lovve how it makes one feel. :-D