Being your actions

History tells us that what a person does can earn him a title and become a name.

The renowned philosopher, Rene Descartes, postulated the theory, “I think, therefore I am.” Very true, but, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would like to add, “I do, therefore I am,” for our actions too have a large hand in shaping our personalities.

During my childhood, many years ago, there was a vegetable grocer by the name of Narayan. Most people, however, referred to him as Chena Sami’ The word ‘chena’ in Malayalam refers to a kind of yam popular in Kerala. Surrounded by heaps of these brown, rounded tubers, sat this man selling them day after day. As time wore on, it was noticed that with his round and balding head set atop a rotund body, he looked very much like a chena himself.

People jokingly remarked that his surroundings had grown on him and so named him ‘Chena Sami’. The appellation stuck and his real name faded into the background. Such epithets were not uncommon those days. A popular physician, for instance, was hardly known by his christened name. He was ‘doctor’ to all. Even his wife addressed him as ‘doctor’, perhaps fuelled by the fact that wives in those days were forbidden from referring to their husbands by name.

History tells us that what a person does can earn him a title and become a name. The Mughal king, Babar’s true name was Zahiruddin Muhammad. He was called ‘Babar’ or the ‘lion’ because he looked and fought like one. I remember the fascination I felt when my teacher in school told us “how he could carry two men, one under each arm and run round the ramparts.”

We also know how Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi evolved through a lifetime of struggle into the Mahatma that he is revered as now. A story about him illustrates this well. The train in which he was travelling was pulling slowly out of the station when a reporter ran up to him and asked for a message to take with him back to his people. Gandhiji’s reply was a hurried note scrawled on a piece of paper: “My life is my message.”

Our thoughts, we are told, rule our behaviour, but psychologists have gone so far as to say that behaviour can shape our feelings and thoughts. There are times, they point out, when we cannot control how we feel and what we think. On such occasions, instead of letting the mind run in circles, it would be better to engage in an activity that brings genuine pleasure and satisfaction.

I know of a person who takes to washing clothes when she is angry. The resultant vigour she brings to this task has a two-fold advantage. Her clothes come out sparkling clean and her anger  loosens and disappears.

The fact about acts then is that they have a voice and can speak for themselves clearly. As somebody succinctly put it, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say you are.”

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