The Identity Conundrum

The Identity Conundrum
Artwork by Shreyasi Debnath

The scuffling footsteps barely raised the din that was already mounting in the crowded corridor on the fourth floor of St. Peter’s College. Lars Erikssen was a 22-year-old guy, currently doing a major in Psychology. However, he was late for the 10 o’clock lecture. The clock the other end of the corridor showed 10 minutes past. He rushed past the other individuals in the corridor and reached lecture theatre number 5 on the fifth floor within another 4 minutes. Apprehension shot across his brow as he twisted the doorknob and entered the hall. Mr. Holmes was scrawling something on the whiteboard. Determined to get to his seat unobserved, he made his way towards the sixth row of seats as inaudibly as his shoes would let him be. Upon reaching, he lowered down his bags, took out his notebook and tried to make sense of what was the day’s topic of discussion.


“Fifteen minutes to the dot. That’s how much late you’ve been today Mr. Erikssen.” The voice of Mr. Holmes reverberated. The deep baritone the man possessed was hard to be unnoticed or ignored in any way. How the hell had he perceived? Lars thought. In the entire time that he took to open the door slowly, closing it and then making it to his seat, he had never seen the teacher have stopped scribbling and looking back.


“And to answer your puerile thoughts, this room is air-conditioned. When you opened the door the warm air created a rise in the temperature which I’m sure most of the dimwits of this class did not notice. That announced your arrival as well as the fact that had it been someone else they wouldn’t have tried so hard to make themselves unnoticed.” Mr. Holmes’ watery blue eyes seemed to pierce into Erikssen. Franklin Holmes was their Philosophy Professor, a suave man of 40 years, very observant, intelligent, as well as sarcastic. He exuded a charm no one could resist. As a result, all of his lectures had a full house audience.


Lars felt his face go red. “Sorry sir,” he managed to mutter.


“Are we not?” Holmes chuckled, “Are we not sorry for one or more stuff in our lives! And that brings us to the topic in question for today – Existentialism and the conundrum of identity.”


And the lecture resumed. Mr. Holmes was discussing the four basic truths of existence and how they are allied to the enigma of identity. Erikssen pondered over the content. It has been clear to the existentialists that nothing commands the course of our being like the four basic truths of Death, Freedom, Isolation, and Meaninglessness. The irrevocability of death is what pushes us to experience our existence to the fullest – the finality which engenders among us an urge to forge an identity for ourselves that contours our lives. And amid that, it is catalyzed by the concern of our growing sense of Freedom. Freedom has been a bone of contention for humankind since long back. Wars have been waged for it. However, in the modern day world, the concern has been the freedom to choose an identity for ourselves. It is quite true that with time, with the uncontrolled modernization around us there has opened a plethora of different identities to choose from. But with the onus upon us to choose for ourselves, we seldom forget what it is to keep in mind while choosing. We forget to face the hard truth about what resonates with us actually. In reality, we just end up running after false hopes, made up aspirations, people-pleasing directions, and in the process, we relinquish the chance to nurture our true self.


“Hey there Mr. Daydreamer! May we get your ass back on the ground or do you wish to paint the clouds right now?” A roll of laughter followed Mr. Holmes’ words. Erikssen blushed with a light shade of crimson. He had completely become oblivious of the fact that he was inside the classroom and was supposed to pay attention to what was being discussed.


“Yes, sir. I’m here.” He managed to reply.


“Can you tell me about the fifth stage of Erikson’s theory of personality development?”


“Sir I believe it revolves around the developmental conflict of identity development with it’s’ antithesis of role confusion.”


“Good. Now elaborate upon it kindly. Make us acquainted with your view on it.”


“Sir I’d rather prefer you explaining it. I don’t wanna be the butt end of jokes currently.”


The shade of crimson was slowly deepening. Mr. Holmes chuckled a bit and continued with the session. Erikssen at first reflected on the conundrum that was Mr. Holmes. He was the star of their college, that one professor whose lectures everyone religiously attended. Even people doing their major in other subjects visited his lectures. However, Mr. Holmes did very little interaction with the students outside the lecture theatre. People have gone to his office multiple times with high hopes of having philosophical deliberations at length but have always come back dejected as he always used to turn them out after a brief tête-à-tête that lasted exactly 7 minutes. However extensive or complex the situation or question be he always summed up his view within exactly 7 minutes. Erikssen always thought what he did inside that office of his.  


But currently, his thoughts veered to the matter being discussed at hand. Mr. Holmes was explaining about Erikson’s fifth stage. He talked about how the lack of the ability to choose properly has resulted in picking poorly leading to profound role confusions when down the line people waver and start questioning their own life choices. It is true that the process of solidification of that identity is life-long but it is how we choose and find that one particular thread which resonates with us that decides the course of our lives and leads us away from role confusion. The latter is again fueled by the penchant of the humankind to isolate itself from aspects of self and others at times. It brings them further away from the purpose of life. Further away from the conscious decisions that shape our lives. And in that process, we end up creating disturbances in our own lives. We stop taking control of it. We live fulfilling the expectations of others, thinking it to be peace, while silently and unconsciously we keep strangling those beads of happiness that defined who we were, the true self. The self that is not shrouded by the façade of the persona. Although existentialists claim the ultimate meaninglessness of life and the universe, the onus rests upon us to fabricate the meaning of our own identity. No matter how small, akin to a grain of sand, it may feel in the face of the cosmic enormity, the identity that we hold dear to us, it is by holding that thread only do we manage to etch a speck on this earth.


Erikssen had nearly skidded into a philosophical reverie when the loud ring of the bell shattered it to pieces. He gathered his books, determined to confront Mr. Holmes today. He needed to clear this conundrum of identity from him. He had been fraught with his career choice for some time now and had been secretly feeling a profound lack of a purpose in his life.


The college hours were over for the day and he knew his only chance of getting a hold of Mr. Holmes was before he got into his car. Otherwise, he’d have to wait for two more weeks before another one of Holmes’ classes. Erikssen quickly thrust his books inside the bag and rushed after him. For a man of nearly 50, Mr. Holmes seemed to walk quite fast. By the time Erikssen had managed to come down the stairs towards the side exit, Mr. Holmes was already going through the front gate. By the time Erikssen came out of the front gate, Mr. Holmes had already put his car in the ignition and was careening out of the driveway.


“Fuck me! How the hell does he drive like that and manage to stay alive and keep the others on the streets alive!!” Erikssen thought. He got into his own motorbike and started to follow Mr. Holmes from a safe distance. He wished to get his queries cleared today only. And he was ready to follow his teacher to his home. And after forty minutes of relentless shadowy pursuit, Erikssen saw his teacher pulling up in front of a fifteen storied building. The latter got out of his car and entered the building. Unwilling to lose any more time, Erikssen pulled up behind the car and followed his teacher into the building. The first thing that struck Erikssen was how a Professor of Philosophy could afford a place at a billion-dollar property like the one he found himself in. “What’s your story man?” Erikssen thought. Amidst all these, he found that he has lost the track of his teacher. He desperately searched amid the directory of the residents but could find no one named Franklin Holmes. Confused, he was just going to get out of the building when a lady of around late 30s strode towards him in quick long steps. She had the nose like the beak of an eagle, steel grey eyes and an expression that she could see inside your soul.


“Please follow me; you are awaited at the table.” The lady spoke in a high voice.


Certainly more confused than ever Erikssen followed the lady across the foyer towards the solitary door towards the eastern side. The lady entered first and held the door open for him. Erikssen entered and found himself in a spacious room filled with at least half a dozen people. They were gathered around an oval-shaped table. At the head of the table was sitting Mr. Holmes, chuckling in a sarcastic way.


“Hello, Mr. Daydreamer. Welcome to my humble office. We were waiting for you to join us only. Oh yes, I saw you following me long back. I have a keen interest in you, lad. You’re not like the others. You can go in and out of places unnoticed, being in that trance of yours. As long as you don’t open your mouth you can help us in a lot of ways. I run a small business of mine for which I need some local help. Should you choose to take on that identity it would be immensely beneficial for the both of us. “


Erikssen was thoroughly baffled. What the fuck was happening! Who are these guys? Who is Mr. Holmes actually? “Sir what is the job?” He managed to mumble.


“I need your help to be my eyes and ears here when I’m not in town, which is very frequent as I hope you have already deduced from the irregularity of my classes and the gaps in between. And oh yes, you need to check on all the incoming and outgoing inventory of the LSD and Meth during my absence.”


Erikssen felt his legs start to rattle at the mention of the drugs. Franklin Holmes, a drug dealer; an identity he never imagined.


“Should you choose to accept this, I’m sure the odds will be in your favor lad,” Holmes smiled.


That was the last thing Erikssen saw and heard before he fell down and hit his head at the edge of the chair.