What is in a name?

What is in a name?

Years ago when I came to Mumbai (then Bombay) as a job seeker, the first thing my uncle asked me to do was to go to the rationing office and apply for a ration card.

He said, the ration card was (and lo, it still is) one of the most important documents one should have in one’s possession.

So, armed with a certificate obtained from the rationing authorities in my hometown about deleting my name from their records, I went and applied for the card.  A fortnight later, I revisited the office to collect it.

A clerk asked me to wait. The names of applicants whose cards were ready would be announced, he said. I waited, with my ears alert to the impending announcement.

A few minutes later, some names were called out.  Not mine.  After a long wait, I went to the clerk to make enquiries. He looked at me with a bemused expression on his face. ‘Have you gone deaf?  I screamed ‘Kumar, Kumar’ 10 times,’ he said.

So that’s it. He had taken the liberty of amputating the head and tail of my name so as to mouth it the way he wanted.

Had it assumed an anthropomorphic form, I thought, my name would’ve bled to death! Kumar, Kumaran, Sumar, Shivkumar etc are the names by which I am known to people hailing from north of the Vindhyas – indeed there are exceptions.

For them verbalising my name looks rather demanding. Most of them have difficulty with the first syllable in my name. For some the difficulty persists with the last two letters as well. So they, like an overzealous, knife-happy surgeon amputate my name!

The company I was once working with had several foreign visitors – customers, suppliers, technical and legal advisors. Often, I received them on arrival.

Whenever I handed my card to the visitors in exchange of theirs, I impulsively cautioned them that pronouncing my name could be difficult as it did not lend itself to easy articulation.

But all of them discounted my apprehension, uttering it with effortless ease. Look at the irony. An Indian finds it difficult to pronounce another Indian’s name while foreigners do it swimmingly!

So, not much amused by the manner in which some of my compatriots take liberties with it, I had once toyed with the idea of changing my name, though I frenetically faulted politicians for rechristening roads, places, cities, and at times even states. Moreover, my name, I often felt was obscure and devoid of any charm.

But to my chagrin, I immediately came to realise that such a name change was beyond me what with my wife queering my pitch.  According to her, my name could’ve been given to me by my parents at an auspicious time in a temple, and therefore it’s sacrosanct.

Trifling with it meant showing disrespect to the departed souls. Therefore, if you ever think that you’re going to change your name, you have another thing coming, she said, nipping my plan in the bud.

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