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What is in a name anyway ?

By Nirmala &Kaustubh Garimella

Seriously, of late I have been thinking that I need to do something about our family name or rather my surname or as I have learnt here in America, my last name. Consider this, the last time I came back from India after a lazy summer sojourn at my parents home saddled with my eight suitcases full of desi shopping and mango pickles and breezing through the customs, I had almost forgotten my way of life here. Except the fact that I had the ordered for a cab through the airphone to lug me home. I imagined that jet lag came when you are suddenly confronted with the regular routine of living which I had blissfully been unaware in India but it seem to have landed as soon as I left the baggage area.

If you are a frequent visitor to India you would know what I mean. There are these thronging millions, it seems to me that wait outside, craning their necks, holdings placards and garlands ready to receive the never ending VIPs and to spot your loving kith and kin there is like finding a needle in a haystack. And so, how is it that I was not able to spot my cabby here. This is an organized world all right ! Was he not there holding a placard with the name ‘Garimella’ on it. We almost gave up until the last of the people left and we saw this equally anxious looking man holding a placard which said ‘Gary Miller’. ‘Gary Miller’ who is he ? Is he the cousin of the famed basketball player Reggie Miller? I stared vacantly at the placard till my brilliant son came up with an idea. Maybe it meant Garimella? And sure enough he was right. Needless to say, the ride home was filled with suppressed giggles and silent laughter.

I actually sometimes think that I am the fortunate few whose name is not as challenging as a Meenambakam, Panuganti or even a Chattopadhyay. These names have been said in so many different ways that the poojari at the temple would have to perform their namakaran many times. Can you imagine what the shortened versions would sound like. “Hi there Chat, would you like to join us for a chat to eat chaat”. Chatpata isn’t it. Or hey Pan, there is a sale in Macy's for kitchen items or a name like Meena that can become a gender change in some cases. Even more maddening is when a beautiful name like Madhavi is pronounced MadhAAvi or Ravi is called RAAVi.

I had this strange conversation with a caller on the telephone the other day. “Please, is there a Mahes WAR in your house.” What war I thought, the only one I knew was the one that this blessed nation was fighting in Afghanistan or the so called threatening war in the Indian subcontinent. Of course I soon realized that he was asking for a person named Maheshwar. These are the crazy things we Indians get into. I wonder if people here will ever learn how to say our names. But then I guess all immigrants names can be confusing. To me it seems that the Polish and the Chinese have difficult names. While one have no vowels in them, (how on earth can you have a name with only consonants) and the other sounds like a singing nightingale (although the latter have been smart enough to change their first names to Mike, John or Susan) with their Chinese last names. Great Jugalbandi I would say.

In a multicultural society such as it is here, I have to acknowledge the fact that everybody here really tries hard to pronounce your name correctly. Too hard in fact that it is impossible to not be gracious and sometime live with the mispronounced name all your life so much so that you forget the proper one. Many of us have our own Americanized versions like Kris for Krishna, and Sid for Siddharth or Rash for Rashmi. Maybe we all should enroll in new courses introduced in major universities on the “Art of Pronunciation", by the end of which we will all attain Nirvana like Booda (Buddha) under the Body (Bodhi) tree.

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