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Junior's mad about monikers
by Clara Chow

I HAVE recently finished reading Hari Kunzru’s enormously entertaining novel, The Impressionist (2002).

A picaresque, exotic tale of a half-Indian, half-English boy with the uncanny ability to pass off as a member of any ethnicity, sexuality and social class, it is a post-colonial take on modern identity in a world of hybridisation and shifting categories.

I’m late to the charms of Kunzru’s award-winning debut – the author himself is of mixed English and Kashmiri Pandit ancestry.

Essex-born, he is now London-based.

Nevertheless, I’m finding that the fluidity of identity that he writes about is an extremely timely issue in my household.

Now that my son, Julian, is no longer a toddler but a sturdy- legged boy of three years, he has decided to put on and take off personae like top hats.

Shrugging off his pet name of Juju, he insists on certain days that we address him as Gordon, his favourite,haughty blue engine from the Thomas And Friends railway series.

The name change extends to his preschool hours, where the teachers wink knowingly when “Gordon” arrives.

On other days, he is Sir Topham Hatt, the railway controller.

He even has a cap which he doffs convincingly in the manner of the fictional gentleman.

Then, there is a whole range of weird characters, which he
makes up with his father.

“I am Mover Crazy!” he declared one night, while hopping around wildly like a mad bunny.

Enter, too, Mover Smelly, Mover Ah-choo! and Mover Haha.

He can also morph into my mother.

“I am Grandma,” he announces matter-of-factly at home, without mimicking her mannerisms, happy just to inhabit her name.

On a whim, he also triumphantly adds aliases to his full name – a favourite being Pluto – shouting them out like magic words.

I love how he tries on these identities, pulling them on and shrugging them off like colourful suits.

And, while Kunzru’s The Impressionist is a horror-tinged creature without an anchoring identity of his own, empty, nameless and invisible, I see Julian’s pretend-IDs as his way of working out who he is turning into.

I pray that at the end of the day, he will inherit the best of his parents’ attitudes towards selfhood and belonging.

The Supportive Spouse slides from one stage of his life to another with what seems to me like efficient unsentimentality, not unlike The Impressionist.

He does not hoard old mementos, nor dither over reinventing his career or social circles.

Having lived in a foreign country before, he knows about being the outsider, and appreciates the notion of home.

Meanwhile, I am the product of Singapore systems.

The fact that all the people and places that have shaped me can be revisited in a two-hour drive or less on this island has given me the claustrophobic surety of a blind person moving in her own crowded room.

Perhaps, in writing this and other columns, I craft my multiple identities for readers’ consumption.

If so, for as long as I write about him – as long he allows me to – I am the custodian of my son’s public selves.

And I hope he has many through the years.

Crazy, fun, distinguished and compassionate.

Flawed and wonderful.

Shimmering into coherence.

And making our family richer with his metaphysical adventures.



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