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Finding names for your new-born or as yet-unborn child is an activity that gives immense joy and satisfaction to new or about-to-be parents.  Of course tradition, culture and that much touted respect for elders, whose every whim and fancy you are supposed to meekly indulge, all play spoilsport to this innocent pleasure. But then trying to snuff innocent pleasures and transform the young to jaded elders as early as possible is the aim of society as far as I have observed.

It is believed by many that being born under such-and-such asterism means the baby’s name has to start with a certain alphabet. Belonging to a particular religion/caste /whatever automatically puts some names out of bounds for you. Then there is numerology to confound things even further. If you are a believer or are forced to comply, you will end up tying yourself in knots trying to find a name that appeals and also generates the right number for all that luck waiting to be gathered into your baby’s folds (or is it yours?).

We, the L & M and I, had no such criterions to consider. So, even before we had decided when we wanted our baby to arrive, we were blithely discussing what we could possibly name the one who would make that eventual appearance.  The L & M had a few suggestions. I had only one. I don’t know (to this day, because I never asked) on what he had based his selection of names. As for me, I wanted my children (oh yes, I had decided I wanted two of them) named after ‘qualities’ rather than any Gods. Yeah, I know many of the qualities are attributes of the same Gods whose names I wanted to avoid. That was okay. Didn’t those qualities describe humans too?  NOT for me any of those popular and ‘so obviously associated with Gods’ kind of names.

So there we were with a few names from the L & M and only one name from me for a male child and a few more from both of us for a female child. It so happened that the L & M too liked the one and only name that I had put forward for a boy child. Pretty soon we were agreed and settled on the name for a girl child as well. No prizes for guessing what that ‘only’ choice of name had been for the yet to be born conceived senior son.  You can read about my cosmic connection to the name Vivek, here.

I had assumed at the time that the nickname would be a derivative of the actual name.  But the L & M had other plans.  He chose Ruby as pet name for the first born.

Errr… Ruby?  (To myself I thought, ‘Why Ruby? Did he have a girlfriend by that name who he wants to remember forever?’)

Yeah Ruby, very firmly replied the L & M.

But… isn’t that a girl’s name?

Of course not!

I detected a slight belligerence in the tone. So in the typical bhartiya nari style, I backed off and said not another word. After all, my other choice had been accepted. I couldn’t possibly clear this point with him (Why Ruby? Why? Why?) after he so very nicely agreed to my choice. One should be grateful for the offerings, right? Yup, that had been bhartiya nari inculcation at work again behind that thought. So I gave in gracefully.

Soon the inevitable happened. It was during my last trimester that the Mother in law out of the blue dropped a bomb-shell. Our first-born had to be named after his paternal grandfather.  Ahh, do I see a ‘what’s wrong with that?’ stance on the part of many out there reading this? Yes, I will tell you what is wrong.  She already had three grandsons to her credit, courtesy her other sons, by the time I stepped into her house. Her very first one already carried his paternal grandfather’s name. Her next wish had been for a grand-daughter and to name her Lakshmi.  I decided not to mind and to make the adjustment if at all a daughter was born to me. But just a few months into my pregnancy, her eldest daughter-in-law made her wish come true. My niece was named Lakshmi. In fact the brother-in-;law also added his mother’s name to it, an added bonus. MIL was happy and contented, or so it seemed.  Why the sudden order masquerading as a request, out of the blue? (That’s a longer story, not to be told here)

I expected the L  & M to inform his mother that we had made our decisions. But of course I was being quite naive. Not many Indian men do anything of the sort. Mother says, sons obey. Society does not think that as odd, instead the sons are praised. I have never understood how that is any different from listening to your wife. But mothers think so, sons think so and Society too thinks listening to the wife is the nadir as far as a man is concerned.  I realised I was expected to accommodate the MIL’s wish. But I was damned if I would.

The strange thing about Indian in-laws is that they isolate the daughter-in-law soon after she is accepted into the house with so much pomp and fanfare, but in spite expect her to fall all over the in-laws and worship, love and cherish them.  How foolish.  When they have it in their power to wind the daughter-in-law around their little fingers and make her dance to their tunes, the in-laws prefer to behave like out-laws and still expect to be treated like Gods, with utter devotion. Crap. Of course at that point of time I had not yet graduated to viewing such behaviour as crap. I was still at the stage when you believe all your obedience and ji haanjis will get you some goodwill and succeed in eventually opening some closed eyes and hearts to your true worth.  Did I say crap already? Okay here it is, once more. Double crap.

So there I was being treated as any daughter-in-law commonly is anywhere, like an outsider within the walls of home. (Oh puhleeease, spare me the exceptions, I know they exist. Remember I am at the age where I aspire to be an MIL soon.)  But I was still expected to accept with gratitude, a name thrust on me for my own child for no reason other than to show where power actually lay. Control, was the issue.  Inside me was conflict, the need to remain the true to form, the ever obedient daughter-in-law whose worth would be accepted some day in true filmi style and contrasting it, the need to speak up for my desires.

I very gently pointed out to the L  & M. Though my parents hadn’t put forward any conditions for naming the child (like hell I would entertain them if they had), but, what if they had? Am I not the eldest in my own home? They probably have their wishes about their first grandchild. Would he have agreed? To those of you who are horrified on hearing this, we belong to a matrilineal community. Our husband’s family actually has no role to play in our lives. But all your Bollywood movies, the K-serials etc are fast catching up and the MILs in our community are trying to cash in on the fad.

The logic in my argument was self-evident. But some mothers have arsenal with them which they don’t hesitate using to their advantage. All they have to do is talk of how much they have done (the oh-so great sacrifices) for them and the sons, all guilt-ridden, become putty in their hands.

Anyways that’s how things stood, a guilt-ridden husband and a conflict-ridden wife of his. Am I doing the right thing? Should I just give in? Of course not, why should I? What good did giving in get me so far? Who cares anyways. Let them name him. In whatever name he is still my son. But I I do care. I wish to name my child. Why must I buckle under the pressure?  It went on and on inside my head.

The L & M in the meantime was trying to get me interested in combo names, names with a part of the departed father-in-law’s name added to them. I was not buying.  Silence was my only answer.  The day of naming the baby dawned bright and clear. I was in poor health after my delivery, so was not part of the arrangements. I got ready and when it was time they told me to sit on the low wooden seat. The baby son, twenty-eight days old, was put in my lap. I don’t remember very much of what happened that day. There was tying of thread around the baby’s waist, putting glass bangles and other things like that. Finally someone told me, ‘now lift him up and whisper his name into his ears’. I looked around, my eyes searching for the L & M.  My eyes could seek his permission, if it was okay to call the name we had chosen, together. He was busy and here people were hurrying me. I lifted my baby son close to me and whispered in his ear,

“Vivek, Vivek, Vivek”  Thrice, as instructed.

The rest of the ceremony went on. Surprisingly in the hurry-burry, no one asked me what the name was until a little while later. I was about to get up, the ceremony having gotten over, when my cousin smote her forehead with her hand and said,

Ayyo… forgot to ask you. What IS his name?”

“Vivek” I answered.

When she heard my answer, the sun literally set on my MIL’s face.

If you think that is the end of the story, you are wrong.  She waited almost six years to pull strings to name the second born.  Life became hell for me over the issue, that I gave up. I was given two names to choose from. I kept clear of one of them, the name of a Hindu God and chose the other. I don’t know what Vishakh exactly means. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me. I have tried infusing it with meanings of my own. But anyways, the second-born seems happy enough with it and shudders at the name I had in store for him, Vinay (a quality again, meaning ‘humble’).  So perhaps it was all for the best. Oh, by the way, the second-born’s pet name was also chosen by the L & M and does not derive from his actual name. But I am not at liberty to reveal it. So shh…..

I hear of so many couples who long to name their children, but are ruthlessly brushed aside by autocratic elders. Some couples do get out of it by naming the children according to the elder’s wish at the naming ceremony and using their own choice in the certificates.  But I ask you, where is the need for all this? Why can’t you just let the parents name their child? What happiness do the elders get by being autocratic?

Let me wind up with a funny story. This happened while the L  & M was posted at Sevoke Road. One evening, I went to visit Mrs A. K. Singh, wife of the L & M’s colleague. I was knitting a sweater for the L & M under her tutelage. Since I intended to continue my lessons for some more time, I requested that she send the sahayak (helper) to inform the L & M that I would be late returning home.

The man reached our house (which was at the other end of the lane) and told the L & M that memsahib would be late returning. Then L & M suddenly remembered something and called after the departing man,

“Ruby udhar hai?” (Is Ruby there)

Hai Saab. Baandhke rakha hai,” (Yes sir. Tied up) replied the man.

When the sahayak was back at Maj A.k. Singh’s home, he said to Mrs A. K. Singh,

Saab ne Ruby ke bare mein poocha.” (Sir asked about Ruby)

My ears perked up at the mention of Ruby and I lifted my head questioningly.

Aur tumne kya kaha?” (What did you say) asked Mrs A.K. Singh.

Maine kaha, koi fikar nahi Saab, baandhke rakha hai.” (I told him not to worry. She is tied up)

I burst out laughing. So did Mrs. A.K. Singh.

We explained to the puzzled man that Saab had only wanted to know if his son Ruby was here.  The man had been under the impression that the Saab, worried about the memsahib’s safety was making sure that the Major’s huge German Shepherd, Ruby by name, was tied up.