“Who Am I?”
This is a powerful and profound question that often sets people on a life-altering path. So you might be amused to know that you can find some answers in the cinematic adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s timeless classic, The Jungle Book!
At its very core, the story revolves around establishing the true identity of the protagonist Mowgli, a ‘man-cub’ raised by a pack of wolves in a jungle. Mowgli is befriended by a panther and a bear while being hunted by his arch-nemesis, a vengeful, half-blind tiger. Each of the key characters in the movie has different expectations from Mowgli, stemming from different perceptions of Mowgli’s identity. Let’s look at some of these characters.
The panther, Bagheera, is depicted as a mature character who is fiercely protective of Mowgli. At first, Bagheera urges Mowgli to act like a wolf, but later he takes responsibility of guiding Mowgli to his ‘people’ in the man-village. Throughout the film, he is seen admonishing Mowgli for his tricks, which are not meant for the jungle in Bagheera’s opinion. Later, during a pivotal moment at the climax, it’s Bagheera who urges Mowgli not to fight the tiger like a wolf, but to fight like a man. In a sense, the panther permits Mowgli to express his true self, be himself, and thereby, unleash his maximum potential. To draw a parallel, the panther can represent our parents/guardians who at times believe they have our best interests at heart, but actually curb our interests and passions when they are not in alignment with present social norms. However, when they do support and believe in our dreams, it can lift our spirits phenomenally and provide us with the courage and conviction to be ourselves.
2. The Wolf Pack
Led by the firm leader, Akela, and Mowgli’s foster-mother, the wolf pack firmly believes that the ‘man-cub’ can be taught the ways of the wolf and eventually be one of the pack. At one juncture, when Mowgli is dejected at not keeping up with the wolves, Akela declares confidently, “Chin up little one, we will make a fine wolf of you yet.” In the corporate context, there is a very real danger of trying to institutionalize new members so they become ‘one of the pack.’ Within the framework of your team’s cultural values, it’s vital that members are still given the liberty to be themselves and not conform and act in a particular manner just to fit in the pack.
3. Sher Khan
Yes, even the ‘villain’ of this story has a strong perception of Mowgli’s identity –that of a man-cub who will grow up to be a man and therefore, needs to be hunted down. At the climax, when the tiger taunts him for carrying the fire torch, Mowgli drops his fears and throws away the torch, emphatically asserting, “I am Mowgli of the Seyonee, and this is MY Home.”
More often than not, when we are pushed to stressful, high-pressure situations, we tend to drop our masks and demonstrate our true character. So we must be grateful to such situations, which help reveal our true natures and allow us be more in touch with ourselves.
The lazy sloth bear is undoubtedly one of the most loved characters in the movie. Baloo unabashedly accepts Mowgli’s tricks. He even makes good use of them to boost his selfish honey-collection efforts and thereby accepts the most realistic identity (call it version, if you will) of Mowgli – that of a man-cub who belongs to the jungle.
When he remarks to Bagheera, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him,” Baloo hits the nail on the head, for he truly believes that Mowgli can realize his potential in the jungle itself.
In a highly dynamic complex world, we all juggle multiple roles at home, at work, and in our local community, often disillusioned with our true self. We often try and adapt to each environment and try blending in, to somehow fit in the pack. As demonstrated in the movie, you can still belong to the pack and yet be true to yourself. Yes, it does help to have friends and supporters who believe in you, but the moment of truth kicks in when you truly accept yourself, dropping your fears and shedding your masks!
Keep asking “Who Am I?” and you might just end up finding yourself. That would be some adventure to brag about – An Adventure Unto Yourself!