Saturday, September 6, 2014

What is in a name?

I don't know how many of you went through the childhood phase of hating your name. I hated mine with such an intensity that everyday evening, I will harass my mother with tears of temper and frustration. "Why did you give me such a boring name? Why didn't you think of something interesting...Kavya! Maya! Mahathi...at least Sandhya." I will breathlessly rant the names of all my 4th standard classmates. I felt their names were more posh and glamorous than my oh so boring Sharadha.
 
But my mom took all my tantrums placidly. After all, her name was Meenakshi, and I thought she would have enacted similar scenes with her mother. I even once wailed "How did you think of such a boring name? Didn't you learn from Grandma's mistake?" This made her laugh till tears streamed down her cheeks. "Sharadhe, I love my name. You too will understand how special your name is." With this standard reply, she will pinch my cheeks and carry on with her work.
 
Things continued to proceed in pretty much the same manner for another 3 years. Life went on and I remained to be known as Sharadha for the world and the more irritating version of Sharadhe to my mom. My dad, the wise man that he is, called me Charu and I somehow liked that unrelated mangled version of my name better than Sharadha. By the way, when I first started pouting about my name, my dad disclosed that I was named by my mom and made it very clear that he had no role, whatsoever, in choosing that name. Didn't I tell you that he is a wise man.
 
During my 8th standard summer holidays, we all -me, my mom and my dad, went for a holiday in Karnataka. We travelled through the winding roads of Kudhremukh and saw a poignant sunset at Agumbe. But nothing prepared me for the serenity of Sringeri. The calm and gentle Tunga River, the lovely gardens at its banks, the majestic and enigmatic Vidhyasagar temple. But even the golden beauty of the main deity "Sharadamba" couldn't pacify the dull ache that I carried in me on account of my name.
 
"Did you name me after this Goddess mom?" I confronted my mom with whatever little sarcasm I could muster at that time. "Of course not. You are a pretty child, but not as beautiful as the Goddess." came her reply and she happily went on feeding the fat fishes that were wriggling on the banks of Tunga. "Then why did you give me this name? What made you regress back a 100 years and come up with such an OLD NAME?????" I wailed miserably. Yes, I was like a dog with the bone as far as my name was concerned. I did not grow up to like my name as my mom would have secretly hoped. I was expecting her standard reply of "I like that name, I named you that. Change your name if you want when you become and adult" from her. But this time, she surprised me.
 
"Do you want to know why I named you Sharadha? Well. As you rightly said, it is a name that was given to a girl a 100 years back. You are named after your great grandmother...my motherr's mother. Her name was Sharadha."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. "You could have at least given me a different official name and continued to call me "Sharadeeee" at home. What was so special about her that you wanted name your ONLY daughter after her?"

"I am not going to tell that now. There will come a time when you can really appreciate her and her life. At that time, I will tell you. Now come and feed the fishes."

Sigh...no one can beat my mom when it comes to killing conversations. I resignedly threw the puffed rice to those ugly fat fishes and continued to shoot baleful looks at her, which sadly made no difference to her state of mind.

As I grew up, I started feeling that the name was not as bad as it sounded. It was even quite unique -Sharadha Srinivasan threw up only 6 search results in Facebook! How cool is that? If anybody asked me if I was on Facebook, I would shrug coolly and reply, "Yes. You will not find many Sharadha Srinivasans." Slowly other things started becoming a priority in my life -studies, friends, boys, job and not necessarily in that order. I had also come to a sort of truce with my name. But I was not beyond using it to throw some guilt on my mom's way when I wanted to evade curfews or shop for a couple of thousands more. "Yu can't have everything you want Mom!! I am still carrying that boring name that you are so fond of. Sometimes, I want things to happen my way. It is MY life afterall." I would huff. But moms being moms, she fell for the ploy only when it suited her. Ah well...no one can say I didn't put up a fight.

I fell in love with Ajay and married him. Me, being me, didn't change my name to Sharadha Ajay because it didn't have the same majestic ring as Sharadha Srinivasan...or so I deluded myself. On the second year of marriage, I conceived and my mom bullied us all to visit the family temple. So off we all went -Mom, dad, mil, fil, Ajay and a 3 month pregnant me- to a small village near Trichy to visit our family deity, a fiery goddess ensconced in a serene temple. We make it a point to visit this temple atleast once in 2 years and definitely to seek blessings for any big happenings in the family.

"When you stand here, think of all our ancestors Sharade. Our problems are not so different than what theirs were. Hopes, dreams, fears and ultimately, prayers remain the same across the millennium and across generations. So whatever be our troubles, remember that it has already been faced and that the solution for it already exists." Mom said. She is not a very philosophical person -atleast not with me. I was staring at the wisdom in her words with an open mouth. She just smiled and continued, "That is why I named you after my grandmother." I didn't expect her to finally open up about the long standing name war. I didn't want to open my mouth and interrupt her flow. so I let her continue.

" Your grandmother was one of the strongest woman I ever knew." Said the strongest woman I ever knew. Seriously. My mom can be scarily strong. A tough no nonsense woman who has never cracked even when our family went through some of the most testing times- my dad's near fatal accident in my 7th standard, the financial losses that we suffered due to a bad business phase in my UG days, the troubles we had convincing our relatives for my inter caste marriage -my mom was truly the super woman who handled all these situations with amazing faith and resilience. I was surprised when she said thus about my great grand mother.

"Sharade was no ordinary woman. Do you know how conservative the society was in 1920s? Even now, in this modern society, it is considered a taboo to separate from your husband. But Sharade did that when she was 15 years old...with a one year old daughter in tow. My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic and Sharadhe was carrying her second child. In his drunken meanness, she beat her black and blue -a regular happening -but that night she lost her child.

"That loss must have stirred something in her...I don't know. She never liked to talk about those days...but the next day, she stepped out of her house and went back to her father's place. She was greeted with insults there. A daughter who has brought shame to the house by running away from her husband. Sharadhe just didn't care. I don't know how she could have managed to live there and eat their food. But she did. Barely literate, she started making pickles and appalams and started selling them for a meagre living. Once her father died, her brothers didn't want to support her and her growing daughter. Who will take up the marriage expenses? That was their worry.

"Thrown out of the house soon after her father's cremation, Sharadhe eked out a living selling home made pickles and appalams and cooking for other people. She ensured that her daughter received good education and was stubborn that she went to work. Sharadhe strongly believed in financial independence you know...she also managed to marry her daughter off to a good family, who were open to welcome a daughter in law who went to work.

"Sharadhe was alive when I was born and she named me Meenakshi after her favourite Goddess. She used to say that I should live like the princess that Meenakshi was..." My mom paused with tears choking her throat. She blinked them back and continued, "I was her pet. Paati doted upon me. Looking at her, you will never guess that she had such a past. She never liked to talk about it. Hard worker...till her death, she washed her own clothes and mine too...can you believe it? She was 78 when she passed away. Always full of good cheer. Nothing used to faze her.

"Whenever I had to face any tough situations in life, I just used to think about my paati...My problems are nothing compared to what she faced. I have her blood in me and I wanted to name my blood after her."

I was speechless. I never knew that the cute grandmother smiling out of the picture frame in our living room was such an iron lady. For a moment, I felt so proud to be her descendant -conveniently forgetting about my alcoholic abusive great grandfather roots. I don't know why my mother waited so long to tell me this story. Why not earlier...or why not later? But her timing was impeccable.

Soon after that temple trip, my mother fell sick. She was diagnosed with stage 4 blood cancer. The pregnancy passed in a haze of hospitals and tests and chemo and caring for my emotionally broken father. Even during all the mayhem, my mom was adamant that I didn't quit my job due to all these, insisting that I continue to work. "This too shall pass", she kept on saying. She passed away with my name on her lips, after braving 3 rounds of chemo.  I hardly had time to mourn for my mother's death when the labour pain sneaked up on me and squeezed out my baby -my beautiful little girl.

Karma is a bitch, and I now have to listen to my daughter cry everyday about her name. Yes, I named her Meenakshi, being fully aware of the consequences. But one day, I will tell her the story behind her name and I hope she will make her peace. Ultimately, nothing but these names tie us to our roots and keep the memories alive.

8 comments:

Marlin Jar said...

Great story. I found many shades of my mom's grandma in Sharadhe. Shyamala's grandma as well. Were women of those times generally stronger than our tantrum generation?

abi said...

wonderful story.well written.I use to hear more or less same story from my mum about her mum.

L Ganesh said...

The story is wonderfully short, each line adding to the creation of this world in which the daughter passes down the tradition of naming her daughter the same way she wsas named after her grandmother. It is in these hopes and dreams, that all the 'you-can-relate-to languages' that the writer finds something that defines what hardships are in real life.
What sustains throughout the story is the skill with which the very best short fiction writers are endowed; the ability to sustain the attention of the reader. The story ends very interestingly with the same spot as "Sharadha" or should I say "Sharade" felt the way with her name and makes us believe that her own daughter will feel the same way when she also becomes a teenager...nice one Aruna.

We are proud of you...keep going. You have a fan in me...waiting for your next creation.

One thought: This can be a good story for a good family drama....probably this could be short into to a SHORT FILM or with good writer, could be made into a GOOD FEATURE FILM...just a thought. Why don't you try with your available contacts or check up with your bro-in-law Jayaram.

Mumbaimaniac said...

Awesome.. Touched a nerve there!

Rasuanam said...

Thanks, Aruna for finally linking me to your true passion in life -- writing. For people like you, reading good books and writing a journal/articles/short stories, etc., are what lends meaning to your otherwise-busy life. Continue sharing your work and I will be happy to a reader! Feminism, in my opinion, is overly ridden with male bashing, with true stories and anectodes to support! Is there a different genre of feminisim where a strong negative need not be the force behind the rise of a strong positive factor? I wonder........

nithya sampath said...

Very nicely written. I just love the way it was narrated. Keep up the great work!!

sree said...

wow!! i liked de story.. reminds me of abi's grandma.. had goose bumps :) well done aruna

P3 said...

Yu rocked it as always.. my support always to write more.. waiting