Rolled Monk

What’s In a name?

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm

The road to your greatness is strewn with stories.

I found this written on a park bench in Ooty when I was holidaying there some 15 years ago. The stories they probably meant were tales of courage, valor and hard work. Stories of failures and the lessons they teach; of fighting against insurmountable odds; of never giving up and never losing hope; basically all difficult things. I however was a lazy asshole even back then. So I took the easiest interpretation possible: writing stories and becoming great.

What 11-year-old me did not understand and, 21-year-old me knew but did not care about, and present me has tried to kill with fire and failed were two things:

  1. Writing stories aren’t easy. I mean, they are easy; but writing good stories, good enough that one could become great: that wasn’t easy. In fact I think I’d have rather fought a dragon, received a scar on my face from its claw, retired claiming a disability pension and picked up girls in bars with a “Baby do you want to listen to these scars growl?”
  2. I suck at writing. Let’s face it and move on. Let it also be mentioned just for the sake of it that there are people who suck at it more than me, you know, so that I feel good.

Despite being armed with these two facts I trudged on regardless with blind faith and self-consolatory advice along the lines of no one likes what they create… they just grow into it. Like an arranged marriage or like a kid born out of rape. Human beings’ ability to put up with shit is unparalleled and it is to this ability I decided to devote my life to. Hoping, waiting and writing till that one life-changing opportunity presented itself to me to be squandered so that I can then wallow in even more self-pity.

This is a tale of one such squandered opportunity and a girl. Well this is a tale of more girls than one and in a way isn’t every girl a squandered opportunity?

“______! Have I got news for you,” she told me in terms unconcealed of glee.

“What?”

“There’s a story telling competition that is coming up! I think I’d like it if you took part.”

I am one of those people who talk about how I want to become this great writer to everyone I know. The greatest peril of such expatiation is that you unofficially become the guy everyone goes to when they want to write an official eMail. Next on the list of Why-every-aspiring-writer-should-contemplate-suicide: Competitions.

I have dismissed such invitations in the past by disdainfully remarking upon the meaninglessness of “competition” in an art form. Every story is a perspective of its author – I had further elaborated when none was needed – as are the opinions of those who read it or listen to it. A competition would only mean that some opinions are better than others and as an artist in the true sense of the word, I cannot subject myself and my works to those conceited thoughts.

What a load of bullshit! I was scared shitless of being jeered at was the truth. Raked by doubts of what if my story sucked I had refrained from participating in any of these events. I’d nevertheless had wet dreams where I took part in one of these, won it, expanded upon the theme of the short story and wrote a novel that went on to win the Booker, Nobel, Pulitzer, Sahitya Academy and every other possible award, got a movie deal, went on a book-signing tour, slept with the lead actresses in the movie adaptation of my novel, slept with random girls as I crooned the virtues of Nihilism into their ears as we climaxed simultaneously and then of course woke up guiltily from my sleep.

This time, like every other time, I told myself it was different. I liked the girl who wanted me to participate in this competition and she was making puppy dog eyes at me. Fuck it!

“Wow!! That sounds great… when is it? Is there like a theme? What are the rules?” I asked her in my most fake cheerful voice.

“It’s in a couple of weeks… The theme is something about Names… What’s in a name or something. I am not exactly sure. I’ll find out and SMS you later ok!”

“Sure… sure… 2 weeks is a lot of time. I’m sure I will come up with a story.”

She smiled a radiant and happy smile. I tried to smile and froze midway whooshed away on a tangent of what the fuck am I going to write about Names? I probably looked like a pervert who was hidden in a cupboard and peeping at a girl in some state of undress. Then later that day she sent me the details. The theme was What’s in a name and they wanted a story of some “personal experience” on the theme.

Two weeks really was a lot of time. Normally, a lot of time was a good thing. But for writing it wasn’t; at least for me. Any idea I got, I had to immediately write it down, finish it and forget about it.  The more I let it simmer in my head, the more unhappy I became with it. Sometimes the idea is really good and the execution so poor that I cursed myself for having that idea in the first place; at other times there is no idea at all and I am crying in a bathroom with the tap on (If you said Get Idea, may you die of AIDS).

This was one of those no idea instances. I did have a few personal experiences with my name but they were so lame that the mere thought of recounting them as a story in front of strangers gave me a fever. Also the full gravity of a story-telling competition had taken hold of me only then.

Like really TELL a story? In front of a group of REAL people? I looked at my face in the mirror and a huge NO resounded in my head. The last time I had participated in a story-telling competition was in class 2! But the good thing about that was it wasn’t my own story I was narrating: some twist on the monkey and hat-seller story which involved 2nd generation monkeys and hatsellers and these monkeys not throwing away the hats because FUCK YOU! (Still a better story than anything I’d written)

Everyone who took part in that competition won of course. The sad part about that incident was I still have a certificate for it which they did not allow me to use in my CV for my placements at college. “Recognitions received only from class 10 and after please!” WHAT ABOUT THE FIRST 14 YEARS OF MY LIFE ASSHOLE? What about that time in class 3 when I got a certificate for 100% attendance? That time in class 7 when I won an inter-section running race? That time when I was in class 4 and I won 2nd place in a Word Power competition? Compared to these, I didn’t have shit after class 10. Merit certificate for 99 in social studies? What a fucking joke. I do not know where Kerala is on a map!

This fever however helped me blissfully waste four days out of those two weeks. With ten days to go and not a cool idea in sight, I did what I always do when I have not a coherent thought in my head: call upon the internet. As always the internet threw up something about Shakespeare:

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Of course Juliet! We all agree! Super, fantastic, excellent, marvelous! What she means is that irrespective of what stereotype – caste, religion, country, race, gender etc., – a person comes from, a good human being will be a good human being. Or in her case, my love for you would be the same because you would still be the same person. But of course we have taken this and spun it around by 180 degrees. We look at a name and we associate all the negative stereotypes we can to it.

My name is Khan, I’m a terrorist.

Hi I am Parthasarthy. Bully me and I will write to the Hindu because I am a coward!

I am from Delhi. It is not safe for you to drink with me at night babe!

I am from Assam and I will blow you for money. *wink wink*

So yes! I decided. This was what I will base my story upon. Thank you William, we owe you one. But it wasn’t to be. As much as I tried, I couldn’t find a personal experience to weave into this. Sure I have been stereotyped against but it just didn’t materialize into anything I was really comfortable telling to a room full of strangers. There was also that you really cannot pull off a socially conscious theme dickface thought that was nagging me throughout at the back of my head. So after another week of not giving up on this non-existent story – all my stories are like Schrödinger’s cats, they’re there and they aren’t and as soon as I begin observing them, they shrivel up and die – I gave up.

Three more days! Come on Internet… At least now I didn’t have enough time to over think things and mess it up.

Then there was another “The importance of being Earnest” which I had remembered reading ages ago. But by then it became such a boring story and the impossibility of adapting it to my life so obvious that I moved on to Facebook, Twitter, 9GaG, Reddit and Tumblr. I hadn’t come up with a single decent tale and it was now only one night between me and the competition.

It was around 11p.m that night and I was furiously backspacing shit when my mother enters my room and announces:

“_________, we have received a mail from this girl’s parents telling your horoscopes match! See her picture and tell me what you think!”

This was my God-given Tinder app (nature-given to soothe you atheistic tits). And I really was excited to see the photo of this girl. Swipe right of course motherfucker! As if I really had to think about it. But I had to play it cool. It is not a very wise thing to let your parents know you’re desperate for marriage.

“Not again ma! Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“It won’t take a minute da. Just have a look…”

“How many times do I have to tell you? I am not really interested in marriage. Give me at least 2 more years no… Let me stabilize at my job… Settle down a bit…”

“If we start now only in another 2 years’ time we can finish! Already you are getting girls one or two years only younger than you. The older you are, the older they will be!”

That, by the way, is Fucked Up Explanation #17 in Why you should get married as soon as possible – An incomplete list of Reasons for Parents to coerce their kids into marriage, and those words have been spoken to every male child in an Indian household at some point in their lives. There are more than 100 Fucked Up Explanations and those FuEs deserve a story of their own. However for now let me just leave you with FuE #1, which is, “We need grandkids!” It is like parents take all the pent-up hate they had for us when we were babies, and use some mathematical formula on it to convert it into love for our babies. Anyway I digress. I pretended to sulk and took the phone from my mother.

HOLY SHIT SHE WAS PRETTY!!

Ok calm down! Deep breaths man… deep breaths. I continued looking at the picture for a couple of minutes and then when I was sure I had a neutral expression on my face, I turned to my mother and said: “Anyway you’re not going to give up! Do whatever you want.”

Now mothers are too clever to ruin a victory by letting you know that they know that they’ve won. So she just wordlessly took that phone away from me and left me to my fantasies. The story lay forgotten and I practiced my competitions are for losers and wannabes speech. That was that and by this point, if I were you, reader, I’d be wondering too what the fuck was the point of all this. A little more patience and you shall get there.

So a couple of days later, after the competition was over, and I had successfully not participated in it, I get a phone call from my sister.

“So! Amma was telling me you’ve said ok for marriage?” I could hear an evil laugh in her tone as she was probably preparing for her cruel sister-in-law role. Do they give classes or something for those?

“I never said yes di! I just said let’s see. Your amma is too quick to assume stuff!!”

“Ok ok! I saw the picture of the girl. She is nice… So what are we going to call her?”

“What the fuck! We will call her __________ only! That’s only her name isn’t it??”

“But that’s also chiththi’s name no?” (Chiththi is how we call our mother’s younger sister)

“So?” I ask my sister.

“Dai are you just playing dumb or you don’t realize?” she shoots back and then I realized it.

Holy Jocasta I cried to myself. There was my name story. Right in my family. Staring me at the face all along and I had to look for it everywhere else. Fuck you Freud! Fuck you!

6-year-old me one day asked my dad:

“Appa, you call aththai _____________, while her husband calls her ____________! What is her real name?” (Aththai being our word for dad’s sisters. Bear with me.)

“Her real name is what I call her only,” my dad said, “but since her husband’s sister’s name is also __________, they gave her a new name. For her in-laws house.To avoid confusion.”

What 6-year-old me didn’t realize and 13/14-year-old me did was you can’t get confused between people if their names were the same. I had friends who had the same name. I didn’t get confused by them. There was something more mysterious afoot. So this time I decided to ask my mother. Who, as was her birth right, told me to go and ask my father, who as was his birth right, asked me to focus on my studies and stop asking stupid questions.

Over time of course, I realized why this name change had happened and to a certain extent, why it made sense too. But this was not a realization that was accompanied by some mind changing incident so it just stayed dormant in the depths of my mind. What suddenly made this volcano explode in my head was two things:

  1. Something like this was almost happening to me
  2. The competition what’s in a name?

Since I was continuously thinking about names back then, I had quickly found a more important flaw in this story. The reasons for the name change, which I had thought were acceptable the last time I had thought of them, whenever that was, now just reek of hypocrisy. And patriarchy

My aththai’s husband’s name was ______________! This was also the name of my Aththai’s father.

If I had been telling this story to a live audience, this is where I’d have dropped the mike on the floor and dived off into the crowd from the stage!

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