Who am I?
While this is a deep philosophical question, this update is not about philosophy. I am trying to understand my identity as an explorer.
I am also trying to answer the question:
What about the world deeply resonates with me?
I was born in India and have spent a significant part of my life in Singapore and in the UK. Since 2016, I have travelled through South/Central America, Southern/East Africa and South East Asia. I have also done a fair bit of weekend travels to Europe.
As I aim to answer the question posed, I am trying to understand the dimensions of different parts of the world that appeal to me.
As an Indian, I am deeply connected to India. My identity is deeply integrated with the history and culture of India. I am Indian today, yet not in whole – part of me doesn’t feel Indian anymore. Here is the conflict and therefore the need to answer the question.
My core is Indian but as mentioned, my complete core is not Indian. Having spent so much time in different parts of the world, my Indian core (100% upto the age of 18) has embraced different aspects of our world and has evolved to Indo-Global (maybe 80-20, maybe 70-30). In other words, as I embraced other bits and pieces of the world, I started to shed some aspects of my Indian core. It has been a constant struggle to let go of certain Indian elements and embrace some international elements.
The other elements vary from Singaporean to British to American and so on. In other words, every part of the world has influenced me and made an impression on my core and the layers beyond the core.
The constant struggle between acceptance of worldly influences and Indian rootedness, as I alluded to, has been an evolution. Take for example: The idea of community and individuality. India, just like Asia, thrives on community – it served the country well during the Covid crises, a lot more than it is given credit for (the pictures on western media don’t really do justice to the depth of community seen during the crises). The West emphasizes strongly on individual freedom. I have bounced back and forth between these two poles of community and freedom and as time as passed, I have tried to find a balance. It has, as mentioned, been a constant struggle.
There are also other dimensions which really matter to me – all of these influence me as a human but more importantly from an explorer’s perspective, affect the way I explore and view the world.
- Self Belief
- Nature and Sustainability
Arts and Music
When it comes to Arts and Music, I am very much drawn to European cultures. I love classical music, Opera and have a genuine interest in the arts of 1500s-1800s. I don’t really have that kind of appreciation and love for any other arts/music from other parts of the world, including India. I enjoy learning about the world but my heart always goes back to Mozart, Verdi and Van Gogh. Clearly a layer of my identity is European.
When it comes down to culture, I am deeply drawn to Indian culture – not surprising at all given that India is a significant part of my core.
What do I mean my culture?
Culture is a broad encompassing term but for this purpose, I consider culture to be the key (defining) elements of a society. For India, generally speaking, it is family, social harmony, cohesiveness and richness in heritage. Considering these dimensions, by extension, I am drawn to Arab, Black African, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese and the Native cultures across Americas. This is something I observed during my travels. I felt an immense closeness to these communities and it is driven by their cultures which are quite similar in many respects to Indian culture.
The above effectively links up nicely to communities – while there are communities around the world, this layer of my identity strongly resonates with Asia more than other parts of the world including the Middle East and Africa. This is likely due to the strong influence of Singapore and the importance of community across the multi-cultural fabric of the society. While this layer of my identity strongly resonates with most nations of Asia – I would go as far and state confidently that I will feel connected to the Saudis and the Iranians because of the importance of communities in the region.
Freedom – a much used word in the West and generally across the world. This has been a tough one. It has taken a general evolution of my ideas of freedom and today my stand is as follows:
I am a firm believer and supporter of democracy but I reject the idea of intense liberal democracy as advocated by the West today.
I won’t go into my reasons as that is a longer conversation but what matters is how this evolution has influenced my identity. I strong support the need to balance social harmony with individual freedom. In my younger days, I strongly leaned towards the idea of liberal democracy as advocated by the US. Today, I find it acceptable to live in a democratic (one can argue a mixed view on democracy for India and Singapore) society such as Singapore, India, Japan and Germany – all with flaws but balanced in line with my expectations. This means when I explore, I tend to show more understanding to a country’s norms rather than enforce my morals onto them – something which the West tends to do which I firmly reject. Individuals matter but clearly without considering the balance with the needs of a community, only chaos will ensue. Instead of trying to change others all the time, sometimes it is better to accept others for themselves.
Mastery is important and only two countries strong resonate with me – Japan and Germany. There is something inspirational in these cultures where the ideas of craftsmanship and engineering supported by deep work and focus are taken to a new level. I don’t need to say more – One has to only look at the products and services in these countries to get a sense of what I am talking about. Therefore I try to be the same in my life and I try to do the same when I explore – not settling for the highlights but I try to dive deep both before and during my explorations.
There are many reasons to love the US and there are many reasons to hate the US. As far as I am concerned, I absolutely admire their ability to believe in themselves – the idea of American exceptionalism which has permeated to all layers of the country and is seen by a genuine self belief that one can make it – the American dream. It is that quality which I have embraced quite recently and have incorporated as a layer of my identity. It will serve me well when I embark of my nomadic journeys sometime near in the future – I don’t know how I will do it but I have learnt from the Americans to never give up and always believe in yourself.
Nature and Sustainability
Nature matters. It always has. For the natives of Americas, it is part of their identity and culture – the idea of connectedness where we are all part of one ecosystem. It is that which I have embraced as part of my identity. It is this influence which has helped me to become a staunch minimalist, to give back to communities as I explore and to minimize my carbon footprint. Sustainability is core to my identity today and the native cultures are the reason for that.
There are many lessons I have learnt on the road. I wrote a book detailing some of those lessons. The book is called The Journey to Infinity (I’ll talk about it in a later update). Beyond those lessons, what really matters are your values. Values such as respect, compassion, curiosity, love, acceptance, tolerance etc really matter when one explores. Buddhism and Buddhists in general have influenced me the most and helped me shape my value system. My experiences in Nepal, South East Asia have been critical to the evolution of my values system and it is this system with which I aim to explore the world.
So there you have it. My identity is multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and definitely global. While my core is largely Indian (and will always be so), the influences of different cultures around the world have helped shape up my identity. As expected,, my identity will also evolve, just as it has over the last two decades. It has also enabled me to answer the question:
Who am I?
I am a human being with a European heart, an American Spirit, an Asian Mind and an Indian Soul. And that is the type of explorer I want to be as I embark on my next journey to embrace the world.