Sunday, June 7, 2009

a rose by any other name would feel like a pansy

juliet was an idiot; or maybe it was just that she could think of no better way to get into romeo’s pants. moving as her sentiment was to romeo, it’s always kind of left me cold. clearly, neither juliet, nor romeo, nor the rose lived in a world where names are immortalized on a bristling battalion of credit and debit cards, diving licenses, voter’s id cards, ration cards, pan cards, passports and personalized cheque books. it’s evident that juliet never had to sign any payment receipts at the grocer’s or provide her name in block letters and in triplicate to the bank for a loan. lucky girl, juliet. at least her folks gave her a pretty name and let her keep it.

i'm certain that my folks love me better than juliet's loved her, but they just weren’t as sentimental about my name. i’ve borne it like a cross for the last 31 years and in this time believe it or not, it’s been worked over twice.

we moved a lot when i was at school and every one of the eleven establishments i went to (except the last one in tokyo) had a cleaning lady who went by my name. don’t get me wrong, i have no grouse with the cleaning staff. it's just that my name is a highly regarded attribute and extremely popular with the masses in india. in fact, some of the schools i went to were called my name, as were stationary stores, textbook supply shops and tuition classes. the point i am trying to make is that in all my growing years, my name was the absolute antithesis of ‘cool’ – that indefinable quality that sets the cheer leaders apart from the girls who captain debate clubs.

perhaps it was unfair on my part to blame the folks entirely for this debacle. my mum did tell me that she wanted to name me ‘nandita’ after her best friend from college when i cribbed to her all those years ago. “your name” she told me, “is entirely your grandfather’s fault. he wrote me a letter the week before you were born that informed me in no uncertain terms that his grandchild would be a girl, born on the eve of the goddess and that she would therefore bear her holy name.” my mother kept that letter and i have read it many times over. it never fails to leave me completely awestruck by my grandfather’s astrological precision and for some completely illogical reason, by myself, for arriving exactly as and when he'd specified i should. the name however, never ceased to be a sore point. and all i have managed to forgive my grandfather for is not insisting that i bear my grandmother’s even more impossibly unfashionable name as well.

i scrawled my despised first name and my crazily long last name across the front pages of all my notebooks and text books until i was thirteen. but when i wrote it in block letters on the cbsc board exam forms, my father inspected it and informed me i’d spelt my last name wrong. “there’s no ‘h’ in your last name” he said, “we pronounce the ‘h’ but we don’t spell it that way.” needless to say, i was absolutely astounded - “you mean you and mamma never noticed that’s how i spelt it all these years?” “no you didn’t!”, he said and pulled out all the notebooks and textbooks he’d painstakingly labeled for me. and then we compared the labels with all my scrawls across the front pages. that day i had to accept for the first time that i’d been spelling my name wrong all along.

i let go of the ‘h’ in my last name after that, and i missed it painfully at first. somehow, my last name looked a just a little bit sissy and lopsided without it. i felt that it lacked sibilance and personality, and that it just wasn't me. finally i came to terms with it by telling myself that my last name belonged to my dad and he had every right to spell it exactly the way he wanted. so when i began forming my signature on the back pages of my notebooks during the mindnumbing history and geography lessons, i decided i’d leave out my last name entirely and sign with just my first. sure i hated it, but i supposed that this part of my name at least, unquestionably belonged to me.

two years ago my folks called me at work and told me that the family astrologer had decreed my name was all wrong. “her numerological numbers add up to one and eight…very unlucky in a girl,” he’d told them, “making her too headstrong and independent…making her inflexible to marriage.” he concluded, striking below the belt. now my parents are sensible people. they are neither superstitious nor are they prone to melodramatic gestures. EXCEPT. except when it is pointed out that their perfect creation, the golden fruit of their loins and the glowing report card of their parental acumen is as yet, inexplicably unhitched. they used every dirty trick they knew after that. they pointed to every pitfall in my life and managed to link it to my ‘misspelled’ name, they threatened me and pleaded with me and bribed me and painted heady pictures of how my destiny would miraculously unfold...and finally promised to get off my back IF i’d agree to change my spelling again.

the astrologer’s prescription was ironic i think. he suggested that that i add an ‘h’ to my first name and that i just keep the initial of my last name and let go of the rest. this is just bloody hilarious i thought, as i inscribed my new name and signature 25 times each day for a month like he recommended. “no, this is just bloody stupid, you schmuck” said the voice in my head.

changing your name is a long and fiddly process. it involves gazette announcements and newspaper ads and never ending paperwork with the records departments at banks, employers, the passport office and all the other institutions that issue the myriad bits and pieces of your identity. i doubt i’d have swung it without my father’s dogged determination and singular skills with itemizing and crossing off lists. but finally, there i was with the missing ‘h’ back in my name and the controversial last name entirely knocked off.

did it rock my world? sure, i perpetually feel a little naked without my serpentine last name reassuringly trailing behind me. and every time i sign a document, the new ‘h’ feels like an uncouth hog elbowing me in my ribs to make space for himself. even after two years my ‘new’ name just doesn’t seem to fit at all. it still unsettles me and makes me look like a stranger on paper. and though i have often enough been accused of being a romantic, i find it difficult to concur with shakespeare on this matter of names. after all, i still tear up about a quarter of the cheques in my cheque book simply because i’ve misspelt mine. again.

ps: that was a very long blurt about me. you might enjoy this picture of colonel tatta singh more.

he is the only one i know with more reason than me to bitch about his name. however, as i have explained to him, there is little we can do about it, since his face really does look exactly like his balls.


Mathangi said...

Ah to be blessed by a name as infinitely pronounceable as yours!

mentalie said...

i doubt your friends at present would do any better with my name than they do with yours, mato :) but that said, i suppose the grass, as colonel tatta singh once told me, is always sweeter by the other lamp post.

Supriya said...

bloody handsome fellow that tatta singh! hadnt realised the h connection till now. love the post. totally emphathise. going through infinite misery with my surname being pronounced as bohan and in madras. prithviraj chauhan will be stirring in his grave!

mentalie said...

ah i told you yesterday, bohan is not half as bad as it can get..:) chuppi!

Anonymous said...

Ha! Tatta Singh made me laugh till I fell off my stool!
Names are horrid I say, mine gets distorted, misspelled, the works! Yech.

Sangfroid said...

LOL at tatta singh. That name sure suits him :-)

So, you are Durga or Kali :-P

Came to your blog from Ki's and quite liked what you write. Blog-rolling you.


PS: And by the way, I too happen to have a very common first name. I do not mind it though.

mentalie said...

ki, sangfroid: my name is the bane of my life. it's not just that it's common, it just refuses to settle down, you know?

Kokonad said...

Hilarious post, ha ha ha! Though I can SO RELATE to you.
Kokonad. People thought it was my nickname and my actual name sounds less like a fruit. When the priests asked my dad what he will name me, he coughed and they all heard Kokonad.
I almost wish that was the story. But it isn't. :)

Absolutely loved your blog, Mentalie! Me regular from now on!

Kokonad said...

Poor Tatta Singh. Seriously. Poor Tatta Singh.
I am laughing so hard that I really feel bad for him.
Loved that part where the missing 'h' caused your name to go lopsided!

Champion Kickah said...

the tatta singh bit in the end was pure genius. reminded me of david sedaris.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

-- ..i suffer from the exact OPPOSITE problem. My parents saddled me with a name which about five people in the universe have (i googled for it). so it has been butchered, it has been massacred, it has been truncated, elongated, mispronounced, misspelled, and all of the above at the same time. And my surname is not all that common either. AND now i hyphenate it with married name. Fun and games.

mentalie said...

champion: thank you, but no, no you are too generous. the genius is the colonel's not mine!
kokonad: i absolutely love your blog too :) and the doodles are delicious. i'm a fan!
cynic: i suppose everyone has their own cross to bear :) you don't need to google my name if you live in india. all you do is take a walk. i am on every other paan stained wall and hoarding you'll come by. bletch!

Supriya said...

sending link to this post to mrs chatterji, who the colonel reports to everyday!

last word by the acp