Yes, I know the title is borrowed from Umberto Eco but I would like to use it to discuss Shakespeare’s famous quote about the rose smelling as sweet had it been called something else ( what about “takdadum”/ “pinchipoo”/ “ichupichu?). So if there is nothing to a name then why have it? We can be roll numbers or unique ID numbers? The thing is that as human beings we often derive our identities from our names though our personalities may well be something completely contrary to what our name is all about!
When I started this blog I called myself the “Unknown Indian”. However, over the forty nine odd posts I think I have been able to give out a flavor that is distinctly mine so today this “Unknown Indian” would like to devote her fiftieth post to her public identity – her name. Please note though – it is about my name not about me the person.
I do not know why I have been named MEERA. When I ask my parents they are not able to throw much light on this either.. But my father says something about how my maternal grandfather suggested that I be called “Lakshmi” or “Kalyani” in true Tam Brahm style but thankfully my arrogant paternal grandfather dismissed him saying that only cows were called by that name in “our family”! The memories seem to stop with that..!
“MEERA” is a practical name to have if you are child trying to learn the alphabets and write your name. It consists of only five alphabets in English and two in Hindi, Bangla and Tamil with only two “matras”. Having been brought up in Bengal, MEERA was a simple name that sat easily on the Bengali tongue. I also found later on in life that it could not be mispronounced by the Tamil tongue which has a problem with the “D” and “T” being used interchangeably! I personally like vowel sounds and there are three of them in my name.
As I grew older I found a peculiar problem cropping up. My friends and peers started to suddenly tease me about “Krishna” “Mohan” “Giridhar Gopal” etc!!! I have cried buckets full after these instances in my teens. College was worse as I moved to a co ed institution where there were actually real fellows with these names. Even if I talked twice to someone with any of those names I would be teased mercilessly!
As I grew older I came to terms with this situation. I also started reading up about “Meerabai”- the queen from Rajasthan. Though a lot has been written about her devotion to “Krishna” and her role in the “Bhakti movement” or the religious transformation in medieval India, what we probably do not appreciate is her fiercely independent spirit – which was very unique for a woman of her times. She followed her music and was not submissive either to her husband or to the king. As a royal lady she came out of the palace and mingled with the common people reaching out to them through her music. If you hear the words of her songs you will find that a lot of it is beyond “Bhakti” – it has “Shringar” over tones with love and longing of a woman verbalized. I like to think that it was her way of coping with the situation of being married to someone she did not love and so she created this mythical lover giving him the status of God. The film “Meera” by Gulzar probably potrays this the best. I also do not believe the myths about her not being affected by the various attempts made to kill her. I think given the conditions of those times, she must have been definitely executed. Gulzar leaves it unsaid towards the end of the film
But “MEERA” I realized slowly was not just an Indian name. While on one of my travels abroad, I was asked if I was Jewish or if I was from an East European Country ( the later by people who I was in touch through email correspondence. Otherwise my typically Indian features are a sure giveaway about which continent I am form) . “MEERA” to people of these ethnicities is “Mira”.
I like the pan Indian character of my name- Meeraji, Meeradi, Meeraben….!I was once planning a visit to a remote village in Sunderbans in West Bengal. While discussing the logistics with the head of the organization that was facilitating the visit, I was surprised to note that the gentleman , assumed that I was Bengali. I heard him talk on the phone to his colleague telling him “Oh, she is a Bengali married to a South Indian!!” I guess my fluency in Bangla had as much to do with it as the name but all the same I was quite tickled! But I have noticed that Bengalis spell my name with a “I”and not the “double E”. Even my favourite author Amitav Ghosh while signing an autograph for me has spelt my name as “Mira”.
MEERA is an easy name to have if you are in an inter religious marriage like me. My Syrian Christian in laws are as comfortable with it as my Tam Brahm family. I am sometimes immensely thankful to my parents for not burdening me with a name that may have raised unrealistic expectations. Names like Mriganayani, Meenakshi, Rukhsana, Kayalvizhi are some examples. One expects the person to live up to such names! At the same time I am glad I was not called something as insipid as Sheila where I would have been tempted to constantly do something to draw attention to myself. A name like “Mamta” would have also been a burden conjouring up as it does, images of someone matronly. I may have then felt compelled to do something really drastic to change that impression.
The rose folks, therefore requires a name that gives it that distinct identify. So, here I am yours truly- MEERA of the Unknown Indian fame. Thankfully a sensible name with a hint of history to it but something that sits easily across cultures, generations and tongues.