Monday, July 25, 2011

“THE NAME OF THE ROSE”

 
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.

20 comments:

Cloud Nine said...

Thats a really cute post, Meera! You stand out distinct not by your name, by your words here. The straight forward frankness and the i just don't care attitude...I just love you for those. Kudos! Keep blogging and spread your fragrance:)

Basil said...

An in-depth post bringing a lot of memories eh ? Well-researched n put forth to the reader must say. I once asked my mom why I was named Basil too :) There is name dictionary which says Basil means kingly, but am no aristocrat ... far from it in fact. Perhaps could use this idea as a blog post too, if you may allow :) It would be nice for people to know more about my name, rather than the mystery for some behind Basil Da Bullet :)

KParthasarathi said...

That is an excellent piece that you have contrived out of thin air, a mere name Meera.You dealt with many things like the nuances in the name amongst various states,the personality of legendary Meera and her motivations to sing her shringar bhajans.But your paternal grandfather's view that only cows are named after Lakshmi and Kalyani brought smile to my face.A delectable post indeed in your inimitable rivetting style.

Christopher said...

Your posts are getting better and this is arguably the best.

The name can also have connotations based on one's experience with someone and they can change over time. While I was in school, the word Meera could jolt me out of sleep because I struggled with Meerabhai's poetry which was rammed down our throats by a hindi teacher whom I particularly diskliked. Today, Meera is you - a lively, thoughtful, serious AND fun loving friend, colleague and so on...

Does the name suit you? From the recent connotations it has gained, I think you suit the name.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks folks for your kind comments. Basil, please go ahead and write about your name. (BTW I did not know it meant Kingly. I thought it was a herb) Christopher, Meerabai's poetry needs to be read and understood in adulthood. In childhood these emotions are too adult and her language style too different for kids to understand and answer questions on. @ Cloud Nine and KP thanks for all the compliments.

anindita said...

Ah..loved reading the post. And I like your name even more now. So much of interest and drafting goes before naming a child! I was named Anindita by our Guru and my parents in consensus. Pakhi was almost named Mahak. And then landed up with two names...

Share with us how did the origin of ‘Shristi’ take place.. (the name, I meant..)

IRFANUDDIN said...

wow....how beautifully you have narrated the whole thing....

so its really wrong when people say, "NAAM MEIN KYA RAKHAA HAI??"...
in fact its the name which describes the whole of personality and in olden days people use to do lot of study before giving any particular name to their kids, and pronunciation perhaps is the most important aspect for any name because that can change the whole meaning of it, as you pointed out here....

btw congrtas for your 50th post...keep writing same way....

Best wishes,
irfan

Ibhade said...

Thanks for sharing...now understand...better.. i do like history behind a name & not a random kind just as some hollywood families...i really can't understand how some one's name would be TABLE! SAND! TREE!...like really????..hahahaha...my native names are IBHADE AMENAWON, meaning I DIDN'T FALL FROM PEOPLE'S MOUTH & WATER THAT BELONGS TO ME, SHALL NEVER PASS ME BY....it so happened that my parents were going through a trial period when i was had..so i brought happiness to them :D

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Ibhade your name is so profound! I am also amazed at some of these Hollywood names- I came across a name called "Apple" ( I think it was Gweneth Pastrlow's daugther who is called that). You are a lot like your name- standing up for your rights -so water that is yours will never pass you by ( Inshallah!)

@ Irfan people still do a lot of study before naming their children. There is astrology and numerology. I dont want to get into that because who knows some astrologer may ask me to write my name as "Meira" for more luck!!! and thanks for the good wishes.

RN said...

Superb Meera ! Keep writing

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ RN thanks. Honored!

Deepa said...

Good one! I particularly like the penultimate para. Shows the might of the pen eh?!! :)) Congrats on the half centure. May there be many more.

Tomz said...

Yes. and so this is your fiftieth post. heartfelt congratulations fr that. I laughed when you narrated your college experiences with names, when you were teased by your mates for your name. But Meera is a beautiful name. You have Syrian christian in laws? (from kerala?), that's a joyous information, because, I also hail from a place where people of this community live in flocks.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Deepa and Tomz thanks for the wishes. I feel like Sachin :-). Yes, Deepa since I cannot wield a sword I just have to make do with the pen ( or keyboard). Tomz my husband is a Syriani from Chennai as were my parents in law. But the rest of the family is in Kerala..!

Gayu said...

What a narration and I like ur name a LOT......
Syrian christian in laws...how come u manage to adjust...some tips please:)

Where do u stay????

rama said...

A really interesting post. Congrats for the 50th post. And do tell us about how you manage with Syrian Christian in laws. I am interested just like your friend Gayu.

Meera Sundararajan said...

LOL! Gayu and Rama -Syrian Christians are not that bad that one has to learn to "manage" them! Like in all marriages it requires effort from both sides and that is how it works. Both my husband and myself keep religion out of our marriage ( though individually we do go to our respective places of worship and in some case to each other's too). I think I will have to write a post on this sometime!!

Emmy said...

The name Meera is very pretty! I liked knowing this history about it congrats on your 50th posts, always enjoy your posts so please keep writing.

Yamini said...

You know how people decide names for their kids, even before they are born! For me Mira (spelt with an 'i') is a name for my baby girl! The resolve became stronger after reading this post!
Thanks! :)

R.Ramakrishnan said...

Hi Meera
Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comments. Excellent post on your name. My daughter Bhavana(a Tambram like you) married Rohit a Christian and have settled down in USA. Mira was born there hence she is an American citizen. They toyed around with several names but ultimately settled for Mira - main reason is that it is simple, few letters, easy on the tongue and more importantly difficult to mispronounce.
Shall share this post with my daughter. Thanks for sharing this delightful post.

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