Who am I? — An inquiry into finding my identity

13 min readApr 15, 2017

My kids asked me recently — Appa, Who are you? Are you a good boy or a bad boy? It reminded me of two things 1. ‘Who am I’ is one of the greatest questions for spiritual inquiry into finding one’s true self as advocated by the great Indian saint, Sri Ramana Maharishi. 2. The climax scene from the popular Tamil film Nayakan where the protagonist Velu Nayakkar(played by Kamal Hassan) will be asked this question by his grandson. Velu Nayakkar will say ‘Theriyalayaeppa!’ (தெரியலேயப்பா) which means ‘ I don’t know’ in Tamil. It was easy for Velu Nayakkar but not for me. When I tried to act like Kamal Hassan with the same answer, my kids put me in a tight spot — ‘Can you tell some bad things that you did when you were a little boy?’.

This was a difficult game. I was thinking in my mind what to tell and what not to tell. I was also cautious that these kids may use my own stories back to me when I correct them for their mistakes. Finally, I shared a few ‘safe to share’ stories on

  • how I kept quiet when my father asked ‘who tore the calendar?’ which resulted in my father punishing my younger brother assuming that he was the one who did it
  • how I gave inflated accounts to my mother in order to buy chocolates when she sent me to buy groceries
  • how I got slapped by my class teacher when I tried to use body language from my classroom to a friend who was walking in the corridor
  • how I got caught when I tried to copy from a book during a class exam

My kids were so happy to hear that I had done mistakes and it gave them some assurance that it was not only them who are doing mistakes. But they were not happy with the punishment that I got for these mistakes.

I moved from Velu Nayakkar to Ramana Maharishi’s question — Who am I? Sri Ramana Maharishi is the great saint who was born in Tiruchuzhi near Madurai, lived in Madurai opposite to South Tower of Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple when he got a life changing experience and moved to Tiruvannamalai from there.

The Maharishi lived in Madurai in the road opposite to the south tower before moving to Tiruvannamalai

I have been reading and engaging with Ramana Maharishi’s teaching through the works of David Godman, Papaji and most importantly, Mooji. Just last week, I was in a Web based Mooji satsang for a week with a community in Geneva where we were exposed to the teachings of Ramana Maharishi. According to him, the central path to liberation is self enquiry. The key teaching is to come out of our bodily and material attachments because the ‘I’ is not the body. To explain this — My watch means me and the watch are different, my shirt means me and the shirt are different and so, my body means the body and me are different. If I am not my body, Who am I?’. That question ‘Who am I?’ is the process. The repeated inquiry with that question is what leads to liberation, according to the Saint.

So, Who am I?

Climbing Mt.Fuji alone in 2007 with no gear

As a kid, I used to be a good boy who tried to please everyone. It continues even now in some form. Also, I didn’t do many mistakes till my graduation. I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t have girlfriends though had a crush on a few girls, didn’t lie to my parents to go to movies with friends to name a few. In my culture, they call someone like me as ‘Pazham’ (or Palam: zh is a special ‘L’ sound in Tamil), which means FRUIT in Tamil. It is also a funny term used for teenagers who know ‘nothing’. No surprises there since I was born in a small town called Pazhani (or Palani), which means ‘YOU ARE THE FRUIT’.

Who am I? I was a Pazham, a fruit.

I used to think that I was a good boy but as I grew older I realized that I didn’t do many of these mistakes because of fear and not because I had the inner integrity. On lust related matters, I was good because I didn’t get an opportunity. I had all the fantasies and lustful desires. But I didn’t have the courage to go and propose to the girls. So what is the easiest way to look good? Act as if you are not interested in those kind of things. One can trust people who do all those things, share with their friends and ready to face heat from parents but people like me, who act outside and try to look good, are more cunning and nasty because we are wolves in sheep skin.

Who am I? An actor who tries(d) to look good to others.

I was a bright student in school. I was also the captain of the cricket team in school and college. I never liked to loose, be it in academics or cricket, and I cried when I lost. Even in a small card game at home, I hated to loose. Whether it is a cricket match on the street side or a cricket tournament, I competed as if my life was dependent on it. It went little extreme when I cried when Boris Becker, my childhood idol, lost and when Javed Miandad hit a winning six in the Sharjah cup final. I remember drawing a bus and never stopped detailing it because of the inner need to make it perfect. But I slowly lost interest in giving the best because of our irrelevant academic system. From a student who was always the №1, I lost interest in studies because it was not enjoyable anymore and I was getting enough marks to get into colleges and from colleges to a job.

Who am I? I was a competitor.

I did and continue to do a few really good things also. While doing my Engineering, I used to take free tuition to students who could not afford private tuition. Also, every Wednesday, I used to go to the Govt. Hospital in Madurai to help poor patients who were in need of blood and connected them with student blood donors either from my college or from other colleges in Madurai. It used to be so satisfying when I got the blessings from so many people who were in need of help. It also made me sad looking at the plight of the poor people who were illtreated by the hospital staff and always wanted to do something about it. These days, I spend 3 — 5 hours every week advising people on all kinds of problems from mentoring young people, providing career counselling, solving work place problems, building companies, helping couples resolve marital conflicts to name a few.

Who am I? I am an aspiring social worker.

I enjoy reading, writing, debating, dancing, singing, cricket, tennis, table tennis, sketching, making videos, designing, observing people , traveling, sight seeing (!!) and the list will go pretty long. I wanted to always try something new and I was good in almost everything. With too many interests and too much curiosity, I tried my hand at everything. It continued at work also. I was not excited about doing the same thing over and over again. I started my career in Computer Animation. I enjoyed it, did well but by the time I finished leading an animation series, I was wondering whether there is anything new that is left to learn after 6.5 years in the field. May be there is a ocean left to learn but I had maxed out. Every 4 years, I changed jobs and also, changed industries. I have worked in Computer Animation & VFX, Venture Building, Strategy & Innovation Consulting, Community Building and International Affairs. I have worked in private sector, big organizations and startups, non-profits and international organizations. All my assumptions got shattered when I went through so many experiences.

Who am I? I am a jack of all trades.

After I started working, I started travelling. My colleague and friend Shekhar took me to Tirupati for the first time along with another colleague Kurusil. I was complaining about Tirupati and telling Shekhar how great the temple in my hometown Madurai was. But I admitted to them that the darshan was the best ever. Something brought me back to Tirupati for the second time. After that, it became a routine where I used to come alone, walk in the hills, sleep on the roadside, take bath in Pushkarini pond and wait in the long queues to get the darshan of Lord Venkateshwara. I have traveled across the entire Indian ocean, took 112 flights in a single year in 2011 for work, visited 40+ countries and counting. Travel opened my eyes and challenged my assumptions. It polished my rough edges. It eliminated my need to be right and expanded my horizons. It made me realize that I was a frog in a well and it helped me to jump out of the well.

Who am I? I am a traveler.

In 2004, I got introduced to the habit of reading books by my friend and mentor Suresh Lakshman. Since then, books have been a great source of energy, ideas and inspiration for me. Through books, I realized that I can travel into the minds of Mahatma Gandhi, J Krishnamurti, Clayton Christensen, Malcolm Gladwell, Paolo Coelho, Elif Shafak, Bruce Lee, Charlie Chaplin, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Paramahansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharishi to name a few. It helped me to think better. Just watching and reading J Krishnamurti improved my thinking so much. I also realized that through books you can find your gurus. I found mine — Jiddu Krishnamurti, Wayne Dyer, Paramahansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharishi, Clayton Christensen, Bruce Lee and Charlie Chaplin. I try to learn from everyone and from every situation including arguments in Facebook with my friends. Through them, I realized that the only thing that is a constant is the question. I keep pushing myself to ask great questions. Keeping the questions going when we seem to have the answers is the way to the growth process.

Who am I? I am a learner.

I ended up marrying someone from a community which is in bitter conflict with my community for a long time. My wife is Sinhalese. The mother tongue of my kids is Sinhala. If language is the only identity, they are Sinhalese. My mother tongue is Tamil. I see how Tamil media portrays Sinhalese and how Sinhalese media portray Tamils. But life presents interesting possibilities. I love my kids more than anything else in the world. A Tamil who loves Sinhalese. I strongly believe that love can ‘trump’ divisions, identities and hate. A parent loves his/her child unconditionally. I have seen it from my parents. As a parent and a father, I am able to love my kids unconditionally which is beautiful. I also feel that I am responsible for everyone and everything in this world.

Who am I? I am a father.

My MBA experience brought my interests in academics back. I am a natural fit for arts, management and abstract subjects. With no money to even buy books, I started reading a lot of books to get the gist of one book. I started to read 2–3 books a week and read more than 150 books in 2 years. It continues even now where I read at least one book every 1 or 2 weeks. I started to enjoy studying like how I was in my early years. I got two Masters and I have studied in 8 universities in 6 countries. I graduated in Engineering, Business, Global Leadership and I am a voracious consumer of knowledge. I also attended so many leadership development programs and last year, I attended the 10 day Vipassana Meditation where I learned to be with myself in noble silence. I went to guitar classes with 8 year olds and recently, went to Hindustani classical music class with my daughter.

Who am I? I am a life long student and a student of life.

The journey to my MBA took me through some very challenging situations in life and it humbled me. I have seen many more complex struggles and suffering since then, some of which can be shared and some of which cannot be shared. The suffering made me travel inside for the first time in life. During times of suffering, my analytical side took a pillion seat and faith became the driver. I used to go to temples as a kid and I used to pray that I should get the first rank in the class. I was assuming that there was a god above whose job was to give me and others what we wanted. When things go well, this person called GOD was not important. But when things didn’t go well, he would be suddenly remembered. Over the years, I realized that the temple is a metaphor for our inner travel and the god is within each one of us. I started to seek to understand myself more. I am like a tree in winter. I shed my leaves and started to penetrate the soil deep with my roots. I also seek new people, new experiences, new places, new ideas, new songs, new insights…..I like the freshness in everything ‘NEW’. I want to be ‘renewed’ on a regular basis. I want to be like a child, ‘fresh’ and being fully present. I also realized that being an adult without the childhood blind spots is even more beautiful. I want to be like water. Water keeps moving, always. If it gets stuck, it becomes vapour, moves much higher up (when it gets stuck it is moving higher up and that is super inspiring) and forms clouds, pours rain or ice and keeps transforming and moving. Life is a journey and we need to keep moving.

Who am I? I am a seeker.

These are some dimensions of what I think of who I am. I used to think I was so important but with time, I realized that except my kids nobody thinks that I am important. We are all a tiny speck and everyone is replaceable. The world forgets Steve Jobs and remembers only his work. What do others think of me?

People try to define me based on which phase of my life they have traveled with me. My childhood friends say that I am a bright student, a pazham(fruit) and a good cricketer. Some friends say that I am fun loving, some say that I am a thinker, some say that I am a doer, some say that I am entrepreneurial, some say that I am a risk taker, some say that I am risk averse, some say that I am friendly, my wife says that I am fearless, some say that I am an introvert, some say that I am an extrovert, my kids say that I am very funny, my colleagues say that I am serious, some say that I am passionate, some say that I am detached, some say that I am a saamiyaar, some say that I am a leader, some say that I am a singer, some say that I am a dancer, some say that I am a writer, some say that I am a speaker, some say that I am talkative, some say that I am reserved, some say that I am confrontational, some say that I am an advisor, some say that I am a mentor, some say that I am a coach, some say that I am spiritual, my daughter says that I am a flirt …

I sleep at 9 — 9:30pm and get up at 3:45 — 4am. I don’t like parties. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t eat meat. I don’t do office work after 6pm. I meditate 1 hour every day. I read at least 10 pages from a book everyday. I tell a story, sing a song and make my kids sleep everyday. I write almost daily, chat with my college friends daily and also, spend significant time in social media also. My WEF colleagues say that I am a conservative because I don’t go to evening drinks and parties outside office hours. I don’t watch English films and don’t listen to English songs. I watch Iranian films, Indian films in all languages, Japanese films. But my friends back in my home country say that I am too liberal because of my views in Facebook that challenge their lead assumptions. My childhood friends think that I have achieved something great while my colleagues think that I am laid back and not taking much effort to realize my true potential.

Now who is right? In their respective point of views, they are right. Humans are a moving problem or a paradox. The melting of the individual(I) into the collective consciousness(We) is the ultimate realization of the human potential. The river merges with the ocean, the ocean water forms the clouds, pours the rains and reconstructs the rivers. No man has entered the same river twice. Our skin renews once every two weeks and we are a constant work in progress. I am not my body. I am a no ‘body’, nobody, every ‘body’ and everybody. I am all the above. I am also beyond all the above.

Life is a combination of inward and outward journeys. I realized that I am a space. The space exists at the intersection where both the external and internal realities can manifest. I find myself through others and everything in this world. The learning is to let ‘I’ die and manifest through others.

Linkedin has an interesting option to add a headline below your name. I see so many visionaries, ‘Out of the box’ thinkers, and most of the people relate to themselves based on their work. I tried to put something in my Linkedin Headline but realized that every headline that I wrote was ‘limiting’ myself to a box. I am not my job, I am not my credentials, I am not my university degrees and so, for a long time used this headline ‘Disrupting Myself’. But it has become clear in recent times and my new headline is ‘How may I serve you?’ and this helped me to come out of the box. Through my service, let them define ‘Who am I’ for them. ‘Who am I?’ is not a question that has to be answered by me but rather by the people around me and by the impact that is created in their lives because of my contribution.

We started with Sri Ramana Maharishi’s question ‘Who am I?’ and the quote below from Sri Ramana Maharishi sums it up beautifully for me.

How may I serve you?

— — —

PS: I may evolve from some of these positions over the years but this is my position at this point of time.




Father, Entrepreneur & Writer; Edison award winning innovation; Daytime Emmy nominated animation; Author of two books; WEF Davos, Cannes Lions, TEDx