Sunday, March 01, 2009

All in a Name

What lies in a name? A lot if you're human. Reading 'The Namesake' brought back memories of the many issues I had with my own name.I could see a bit of myself in the protagonist Gogol who has to struggle to come to terms with being a second generation immigrant with a peculiar sounding name.While I am not a second generation immigrant,I come close to being one in the Bengali sense.I am what Bengalis refer to as 'probashi', or a Bengali who lives in India but outside Bengal(the generic term N.R.I. is used for Bengalis living outside India).'Probashis', like immigrants,can never feel a sense of kinship towards their resident counterparts. They rarely fit snugly into the grind of their adopted homes and they end up creating an impenetrable microcosm that rarely offers escape routes to those already entrapped.'Probashis' are sometimes afflicted by the burden of bearing a Bengali name.

Bengali words are pronounced with rounded tones.There is a delicate line that distinguishes Bengali from Sanskrit and other Indian languages that are derived from Sanskrit.This disparity is as conspicuous to someone who doesn't know Bengali as it is negligible to someone who does.A Bengali name thus sounds quite different from its counterpart in almost any other Indian language.For instance my name is Anusree(often misspelled as Anushree). In Bengali it is pronounced 'o-nus-ree' which explains the absence of the 'h' in its English spelling.In other parts of India the name is spelled with the 'h' following the 's' and it is pronounced 'uh-nush-ree'.It thus follows that linguistic minorities are unintentionally subject to the erroneous rendition of their names,either in spelling or pronunciation.

Growing up I had to watch my teachers cringe every time they arrived at my name during roll call.I didn't bother to correct fellow Bangaloreans who happily called me 'uh-nush-ree' and spelled my name as 'Anushree'.I remember being unsure if my name was being called when my kindergarten teacher called my 'uh-nush-ree' on my first day at school.I felt embarrassed when people called me 'uh-nus-ree' in an effort to sound phonetic.There are numerous occasions on which I have been called 'Anusha','Anushka' and 'Anuri'; while close friends and other diplomatic folks call me 'Anu'. In a country where one can almost never get any work done at a government office, a name like 'Anusree' is a clear disadvantage.It isn't enough to spell my name twice in most cases.

I have given my mother endless grief over my dissatisfaction in this regard.She usually lists the alternatives and the rationale behind each one so as to drive home the fact that 'Anusree' was indeed the best option.Unlike Gogol, I don't intend to change my name (maturity aside,it is a bureaucratic nightmare). Over the years I have encountered names that are more than a mouthful and I am now content that my name pales in complication when compared to some of them.

p.s. - I was really flattered to find that 'Anushree' is listed in Namespedia

No comments: