What’s in a name, what's in a word

Reputations, oral and written history — all come flashing out with a surname.

 |  4-minute read |   16-11-2019
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Chauvinism begins at birth. Our birth certificates are written, and by one printing of a document, our name, our life’s course, a map-ping of our identity, what choices we make as we come of age, what influences we give weight to, and how we think and envision the world — are all given structure and form. 

My place in the planetary charts was assigned by the time and date of my arrival into this world. Born on November 29, 1972, I was a baby born to temperate climes. The youngest in my family, I was lucky to have parents who had already come of age in parenting, having raised two other children. Developing my identity as a person was easiest for me amongst these siblings. There were almost no hard and fast rules I had to adhere to. No curfews or timeouts. No questions about my whereabouts. My parents had lived and learned, become sage adults, able parents, and smart humans by the time they had to deal with - and post-pubescent dramas. 

With endless gratitude, I thank my stars daily for the birth that brought me into this world. All four of the families that define my parents, the extended group of families and friends associated with each, my own friends and my school teachers and our caregivers and shop-keepers and the rich history of travels my family blessed me with — all of this helped flesh out Suvir. 

When I arrived in the US at age 20, I found myself proudly introducing myself. No last name shared. This was how I always introduced myself in India. It was the rhythm that I was used to. It sounded natural to my ear. Most people when introducing themselves to me shared their full name. Expectant to hear mine. Left wanting for that answer. Most bewildered by my omittance. Some curious even more now about my story. Some tickled silly by my self-confidence. 

main_suvir_saran_111619020011.jpgSunita Saran (my mother) with my sister Seema Sagar on the extreme left, me in the middle and my brother Samir Saran on the right side. (Courtesy: Author)

Reputations, records in public domain, oral and written history, grace and disgrace, appearances and reality, authority and lack thereof, perceptions and misconceptions, occupations and legend, memory and A surname can references, families and clans, religion and wars — all come flashing out with the simple utterance of a surname. A surname that at once reveals so much, and at the same time reveals nothing. It can help as much as it can hurt. It can empower as much as impoverish a mind. A family name can make one feel landed, and yet cripple one from being oneself for the entirety of one’s life, even if the bearer has nothing in common with his family beyond DNA. 

At a book appearance I did in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the attendees asked me as he was getting his book inscribed, if I really didn’t have a middle name. Perhaps my Madonna-esque signature with just my first name made him assume this. I jokingly said that my family back in India was too poor and couldn’t afford to buy me a middle name at the hospital. The innocent, gullible man thought I was serious and said, “Bless their heart, they tried.” 

I know my family, and I know a lot about my big-fat-Indian-family. I am grateful to them for being there for me through the good and bad times. Unquestioned love is what they have given me. For that I am eternally grateful. 

What makes me wake up, what makes me work with passion, what makes me see hope in my future, what makes me strive to be a better person daily, is doing justice to the man I am. I live to make Suvir a better human, a kinder person, a more self-aware individual, and a productive and responsible member of civil society. When Suvir is mindful, the world around him is richer. When Suvir is lost, the world has another dissonant being. I cannot account for all that the Sarans have done or are doing, but I can strive to make Suvir a more wholesome and decent human. A name is everything and nothing. To make it count, we need to count first.

Words matter, education matters

Mrs Dasgupta, a junior school teacher of mine at Modern School, Vasant Vihar, inscribed my graduation book with the words, “If you your lips could keep from slips, five words describe with care, to whom you speak, of whom you speak, how, when and where”. With that she had indelibly imprinted my mind with the gravitas that was attached to wordsmithing. Mrs George, another teacher, wrote “fame is vapour, popularity an accident, riches take wings, only one thing endures forever, CHARACTER!”.

With these few words she gave me a deep lesson about life and living. I was far from the smartest kid in my class.

Naughty and playful, I was the one getting into trouble. My teachers were patient and kind, intuitively able, and saintly in their handling of us kids. While they goaded us to work harder and get better grades, they also found value in the extra-curricular activities that we kids found inspiration in and that kept us amused and engaged.

The first boy in my school to take meal-planning classes, I would end up with grades that were the envy of others. My cooking, menus, and table settings were teachers’ and students’ fancy. As they saw me crochet and knit, embroider and stitch, they saw in me a teacher that could instruct the class in Macrame when our craft teacher had to leave suddenly. With three other classmates, I was part of a team that ran a kitchen for lunch. Foods prepared the night before and early morning sold at a reasonable price, with monies going to charity. In 11th and 12th grades, I was the only student in my peer group who took two additional subjects above the five I needed to take for graduating with science. Music and art were my passion. I could be found singing or silkscreen printing during chemistry and math classes. The teachers teased me about this, but never marginalised or punished me for this behaviour.

Smart education, caring teachers, involved parents, and a holistic approach to schooling bring forth an understanding of the importance of words, of education, and of mindfulness. In this transient world, where things change just as soon as they materialise, what remains is the education we invest in. Education teaches us the value of words, and words support us in making choices that stand us in good stead. Words and tutelage make for an investment in self that keeps us strong and proud for a lifetime.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Lots in a name: The real significance of renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj

Writer

Suvir Saran Suvir Saran @suvirsaran

Suvir Saran is a highly acclaimed and award winning chef, author, and public speaker

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