As a second generation Indian-American—born in the eastern state of Maryland to parents who immigrated to the USofA from the western state of Gujarat in India—having lived in at least two very different worlds, the world in which my parents raised me and the new world I’ve only just begun to explore and craft over the last decade, I’ve recently found it very difficult to answer this question: Who am I?
Whenever asked to say a little bit about myself, what typically stumbles out over my teeth is, “Hi! My name is Apurva Parikh. I am a fifth year PhD candidate in the philosophy department at the University of South Carolina. I’m married to a wonderful human being named Punam who works [or more accurately, is overworked and underpaid] as a nurse at a local hospital. I have a dog, a golden-doodle, named Baloo, and hopefully you will all get a chance to meet him at some point during the semester!”
I include the last bit to highlight that the people I’m most often introducing myself to are my undergraduate students. I have terrible social anxiety, so I find it very difficult to willingly put myself in positions where I have to introduce myself or speak publicly to anyone else beyond the classroom. You can say that I’m a bit of a recluse.
If you’re looking for anything beyond what I’ve just said, I gotta say that this is something I’ve been struggling with. In many ways, much of my solitary thought and life, both academic and otherwise, can be understood as an inquiry into that very question: Who am I?
To be clear, by this inquiry, I don’t mean a spiritual or philosophical quest to discover my true Self—the essence of my Being—or who I’m supposed to Be in some special cosmic sense. I don’t have much interest in such fixed essences and ideals. When I ask myself who I am, I usually have in mind two questions: the first, is who I’ve been, and, the second, is who I want to and can become.
I’m concerned with my lived realities, the realities of and within my life, not with some Reality (Sat) beyond or separate from my life that leads me to devalue my life, as it is lived, as Unreal (Asat). As John Dewey says, “Life is no uniform uninterrupted march or flow,” nor, if I may add, is it some special substance or principle (tattva). “It is a thing of histories, each with its own plot, its own inception and movement towards its close, each having its own particular rhythmic movement.”1 It is a thing of histories consummated and histories in the making. What I’m concerned with is my life, my realities, my history, both consummated and in the making.
Though I don’t have much to add here on the question of who I am, I can invite you to join me on my journey of self-understanding as I unravel who I’ve been, envision who I want to and can become, and hopefully experience some happiness (both fleeting and enduring) in the process.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even see something of your own life in mine. Or maybe not, no biggie. Your life is your own unique history. Either way, I hope I can in some way become a part of your history and you can become a part of mine.
~ Apurva Parikh, April 13th, 2021
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1 John Dewey, Art as Experience