Name Game

According to Shakespeare "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet." So, then a name is 'just' a name. But ask people who have names others cant pronounce/understand/think to be funny etc etc and they will narrate their plight. As a Bengali child, born in Maharashtra and brought up in all parts of the country but Bengal, I have been a victim to this unfortunate condition.

Since time immortal, my dad had one wish - to be blessed with a girl child whom he will name 'Mohua' (a very typical and common Bengali name) and as all Bengalis, she has to have a 'dak naam', which will be 'Mou'. So the second I arrived on this earth, I had an identity waiting to embrace me! By my sheer good luck, the initial few years of my life (spent in Maharashtra) were smooth owing to my pet name 'Mou' which happened to sound similar to Marathi 'Mau', meaning soft. So, people simply called me Mau. So far so good.

It was in the beginning of my schooling days (in Bhopal) that I faced my first real 'weirdly named' hurdle. Try as I might, my class teacher could not get my name and finally decided to call me by my surname. I felt irritated and more insulted, as all the other 29 kids in the class were known and identified by their own names. To add to my misery, my classmates too decided to call me by various made up versions of my name. Someone rhymed - Mauwa Kauwa!

Then the doom's day arrived. We were studying the flora and fauna of a particular region called Chota Nagpur belt. A prominent tree found there is called 'Mohua' which is famous for its sweet smelling flower and fruit, and is fermented by the locals to prepare country liquor. All the 29 pairs of eyes turned and stared at me. Then the 30th pair looked me up and said "Oh Mandal, but your first name is Mohua right?". I wanted to scream "yes you jerk, you are right, and this you recognise now, after teaching the same subject for god knows how many years?". But my imaginary screams were buried under the huge roar of laughter that filled the class - "liquor eh?"... That was it, I knew I cannot live with this name any longer.

Teary eyed, I jumped on my dad that evening. He listened to me highly amused. Both mom dad referred to many probasi bangalis who had suffered worst. Like this girl named 'Shraboni' was called 'Sharabi' by her collegemates and even her professors; 'Soumya' and 'Suman' were laughed at for having girl's name when they were boys; 'Amlan' was rechristened as 'Amla - the fruit', 'Mousumi' became 'Musambi' and 'Sourjo Das' was often called the decendent of 'Surdas'. By the time they finished the list, my tears had turned into laughter. And then my father told me why I should be proud of my name - it reflected my identity and made me distinct from the crowd... - and that I should live up to the essence of my name! He gave me a new perspective and I grabbed it with both hands. That day I learnt to be comfortable in my own skin.

Over the years I have lived through many many many versions of my name. The most comic being 'Tharra' - country liquor in the Cow Belt's local dialect. I have met people who laughed at my name and people who marveled at its beauty. And I have met people who took extra pains to learn the right pronunciation of the same.

But hey, I love my name, it makes me who I am...and yes gives enough fodder to write a blog post!

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