The Question Of Identity
Moushumi Chakrabarty

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T here is a woman in the mirror who looks at me with searching eyes when I'm doing my hair in the morning, just before going to the office. She's asking me a question I have no time to answer; I'm a little late already and have no time for introspection. Yet, can I always put her off, fob off the question with a dash of rouge, eyeliner and a new dress?

These things are no longer so effective. For she's even there at night when I'm preparing for bed. And I realize that throughout the day, despite my slipping in and out of my other roles - wife, mother, journalist and friend - with practiced ease, she remains always there, breathing quietly, a sister-like figure. And so at night, the kids are in bed, my husband is reading a book, I find myself alone in front of the mirror with this woman who looks so familiar. I wander through the inner roads leading to her mind and heart, and am amazed at the thoughts flowering there: I want to be creative, I want to write prose that will touch people. Alas, it is easier said than done.

Being creative requires hard work, and a strong belief in oneself. We've all heard about creativity being "99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration". And it is absolutely true. Now, I am a woman in her thirties. I am married, with two young children, and I have to make time to be creative. When I'm rushed for time upon my return each evening, I can't help but feel it is an indulgence to spend time writing rather than with the kids. Add a job as a reporter, and you've complicated matters more. Besides, there are other issues to be calculated, little things that make up the grand total but which cannot be sidelined.

Cultural conditioning, for one, is something I cannot ignore.I am an Indian woman, very middle-class in her upbringing, brought up to believe in the sound values of merit-based education, and later, as a second thought, expected to try my hand at a job, perhaps to satisfy a "whim". But while nothing was so important to my family as earning good grades, their main goal for me was nevertheless that I should be a good wife and mother, the kind of daughter my family would feel proud as having "settled" in life.

And yet despite all this I had always secretly longed to be a journalist, or even just to write. I've always written, as far back as I can remember. First there were school essays, and then, on a trip to Darjeeling, intense outpourings in a diary in appreciation of the sheer, breathtaking beauty of nature. I knew I was hooked for life on writing when my first poem was published in the local newspaper.

I eventually settled on journalism as a goal. With that in mind, I studied English in college as a way of broadening my perspectives, dipping into the seas of words written by the masters and savoring their thoughts and experiences. I genuinely loved reading. I had been a lonely child and books were my best friends - they still are! It seems no wonder that I always wanted to be able to write one. But I hadn't bargained for some things in the process.

When it came time to consider working, my mother wasn't keen on the idea. She said it would be best if I continued studying literature. She imagined me studying at university until the time arrived for me to marry. That was her dream. Not that I can blame her; now that I am a parent I understand how she wanted me to live her dreams. As for myself, however, I was adamant and crammed for journalism entrance exams. After so many years, I can still remember the joy of passing them! But despite the admission to a program teaching journalism, despite writing the articles/features for college magazines, local newspapers and odd poems in my diary, nothing that I dreamed of seemed to happen. I didn't write a great novel or bring out a book.

And then the right man came along. I fell in love and got married. Very quickly, I found I'd totally immersed myself in the process of playing a young and desirable wife, waiting for my husband to return from work. I was the picture-perfect wife, dolling myself up every evening, enjoying the satisfying nights, but after all was said and done, there was still an empty space inside myself after he'd gone. After some time, I realized I'd stopped writing, disheartened by rejection slips and a lack of direction.

Then I thought - Ah! I want to be a mother. That will erase this strange ennui. I am pregnant! The wholesome joy of the baby, oh! Yet, she grows up too. After a four-year gap during which I tried to fulfill myself. Though busy teaching children at a local school, there was soon that restless feeling again. I quickly make up my mind one evening while serving dinner to noisy guests . . . another baby! Yes, that's what I want. And so I cajoled hubby dearest: don't you see? This teacher's job is not what I was born for after all. That's not the job for creative people like me.

So I resigned from the teaching job and awaited the arrival of baby number two. It was smooth sailing for a while, then again, unexpectedly, those pangs of "missing something." I am dispirited and take up a job as a reporter for a newspaper writing news stories. Even now, wife, mother and reporter all, the question pops up repeatedly: who am I actually? Am I the spouse, the parent, or the journalist? Or am I something else? Perhaps forever a would-be writer who will never finish the novel she started? Or is my time yet to come?

Is it selfish of me to spend time at the computer when I should be reading to my children? Have I ever taken a close look at what I am writing? Who would be interested in reading it? As I focus inward, the answers eventually do come to me, and they surprise me with their simplicity. I write because it reinforces that positive feeling that I have come to recognize as the "me" I have spent years seeking. I feel good whenever I write, so I shall make time to write. Despite the kids clamoring for attention, despite the Muse sulking and occasionally denying me her inspiration, I will make time to write, and thus, to be me.

Moushumi Chakrabarty is an Indian journalist/writer living in Bahrain. She has two young daughters, Trishita and Ritika. She is also an aspiring novelist with a penchant for good mystery novels.

email Moushumi at:

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