Finding Myself Outside The Known

This for me has been one of the biggest questions in establishing a personal identity: which part of me is me, and which part is simply a product of family, societal and cultural conditioning?

And for me the most important part of recognizing an individual and independent identity has been in the discovery of those things that I had not been exposed to by others — my parents, the society, culture and country I was born into.  There are foods, music, ideas, beliefs etc. that we identify with, not because we’ve discovered them for ourselves, but because we are simply used to them.  They bring to us a certain comfort of familiarity.  And so we often cling to them, and believe these to be representative of who we are.  I think most people do that.

But for me, the truly marvelous experiences in life, have been those that I was never exposed to growing up.   Things that are unfamiliar, and unknown, and yet, they resonate deeply with me — like somehow we belong!  That’s when I can feel a sense of being that is separate and independent of all I have known, that is self-defined, and I can rejoice in the realization that I am not a ‘product’ but a real person, a free entity.  And for me that experience, that rejoicing, that discovery has been in the many little things I’ve experienced or discovered in my life-time.   Not least of all, in the music from South and Central America.

Growing up in India in the 70s and 80s,  I hardly ever heard Spanish spoken or music from the Latin American cultures.  I heard these first when I moved to the U.S. and instantly fell in love! I found Spanish spoken with some of the South American accents, to be particularly musical, almost like wind-chimes.  And the music from different parts of South America, whether instrumental or vocal intrigued me so, I built up quite a collection over the years I lived in the U.S.  When I lived in Washington D.C. there would street musicians performing in places, and for a while a small group of Mariachi musicians would play during lunch-time outside the metro near my place of work.  And I would, without fail, rain or shine, show up at lunch time, with my sandwich in hand, and sit on the ground near them, and just be enthralled!

When I returned to India, I had my canned music, but I hadn’t realized how much I missed the life and spirit of South America’s music, the physical feel of it, till a few days ago, when I got an invitation to a concert by Paraguayan Harpist, Ismael Ledesma, to  commemorate the 200th year of Paraguay’s Independence.    It was a wonderful evening and Ledesma, with his beautiful accent explained his pieces, many of which were his own compositions.  I did wish he had played some more traditional pieces, but all in all — I came away feeling like for those two hours, I had a reunion with my Self!

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  1. For me as a boy, I became afraid of living my whole life in the narrow world of some “world view” or “world religion” like all the adults I saw around me. I thought that science could lead me to mental liberation, but even it has its limitations. Just this week, I heard a quote by the theoretical physicist in a wheel chair (Hawkins) who said that “women were the greatest mystery”. Maybe I am a bit jaded, but I am looking to solve a greater mystery.

    My wife is from mountain region of Colombia, South America. A friend of hers from the Colombian coast gave us a CD of a coastal traditional music called Cumbia. It has a mixture of Latin and African beats. Last week on my way home from work I listened to the CD and tried to memorize the words and music at the end of a song to make my wife laugh. As i arrived home from my 35 minutes drive, I walked into the house singing and dancing the Latin music as best as my Scottish genes could do. It worked – she laughed.

    Oh, Rita – I am loving your blog!

  2. Sun Sarp

     /  February 5, 2012

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