Friday, November 13, 2009

Bengali Names and Colonial Hangovers

What lies in a name? A hidden agenda or a colonial hangover? It is my luck to have a surname that differs from that of my parents even though both surnames are effectively the same.

Bengal bore the brunt of British,French,Portugese and Dutch colonists.It is also one of the last states to rise,sleepy eyed,from an extended colonial hangover.The signs of this are very obvious.There is the restaurant in Kolkata named 'Moulin Rouge',the Victoria Memorial-the house of colonial relics;then there are sprawling colonial mansions lining the banks of the Hoogly river on Kolkata's outskirts and of course shortened surnames.

My surname is Banerjee,short for Bandyopadhyay.I am quite accustomed to arched eyebrows and eyes brimming with questions every time I submit a form. My surname reads Banerjee and my father's reads Bandyopadhyay.Individuals with a tendency to be curious ask,sometimes politely and at other times pointedly,about the apparent discrepancy.My answer,that the British shortened Bandopadhyay and made it Banerjee because the latter was difficult to pronounce,is met with guffaws and sighs of relief.

Interestingly,my grandfather's surname was also Banerjee and at one point of time so was my father's.The education board in it's zeal to make a patriotic statement changed his surname to Bandyopadhyay when he was awarded his high school certificate.He lived with the name for the rest of his life and my mother acquired it by virtue of marriage.My parents decided to spare me the agony of having a last name that non-Bengalis find difficult to pronounce(that hasn't spared me the agony of having Bengali first name which is pronounced differently in all other languages).

When my friends ask me why I don't consider using the original Bengali name as my surname I have only one thing to say.Bureaucracy,a part of the colonial hangover.

2 comments:

divya said...

Hi anu..
DP Here..Its the first time m reading ur blog.. Must say u write very well..
Good job Anu!!

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