Mullah Nasiruddin once visited Baghdad. The big and famous city was brimming with traders and visitors from nearby places. Fearing that he may lose his way in the crowded lanes he decided to lodge somewhere and rest the afternoon before venturing out in the evening.

He booked himself in a sarai (travellers lodge). As he lay down to sleep, he asked a traveller resting on the next bed, “listen brother, when I wake up in this crowded sarai, how will I recognise myself as me, as there are too many people here?” Taking the mullah to be a fool, the man jokingly offered to tie a balloon to Nasiruddin ‘s ankle as a sign of easy recognition! After Nasiruddin fell asleep the man untied the balloon, and for fun tied it on his own ankle.

On waking, the mullah was totally confused, he said, “listen friend, the balloon says that you are not you, but me! But if I accept that you are me, then do tell me please, who am I?”

This story of the absurd genre connects deeply with a great truth that the Vedanta philosophy propagates; that the real you is not definable by your identifications. Try to define yourself without listing your identifications, (upadhies) as known in Vedanta. Ask who you are? The answer cannot be ‘your’ name, ‘your’ address, ‘your’ father’s name, your education, your position in your workplace, your dress or your body! Interesting.

They all belong to you, but in no way are they you, the possessor of them all. Even your mind is ‘your’ mind. Who pray is the owner?

The mullah’s question is not so stupid as we thought. All great Upanishads try to unravel the same question that Nasiruddin asked: “ Then who am I?” His identity was also tied to a balloon an ( upadhi), without which he was lost!

Prarthna Saran, President Chinmaya Mission Delhi.

Email: prarthnasaran@gmail.com