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Our health minister – and by that I mean the health minister of the state of Kerala – is well known. You can google her. Her name is K.K.Shailaja. With her at the helm, the health department did an admirable job of containing the Nipah outbreak in the northern part of our state in 2018. But her international recognition came following her role in dealing with the present pandemic.

She was in the news a lot last month when the new ministry was sworn in after the assembly elections. That she was dropped from the list of those who took office came as a surprise, nay shock, to many. The party’s stand was that they were going for an all-new team this time. No second-timers. The new health minister is an equally capable lady, they assured us. But I guess in these depressing times, the majority of people felt a true sense of loss at a known face being excluded. Anyway, quite predictably, social media was flooded with offensive and defensive updates, not to mention fights which erupted between the two camps in the comments section.

None of this though concerns my post today. I was only preparing the ground for what I wanted to say. In the social media updates, whether they supported the decision to drop her or not, and also in the comments section everywhere, many spelled her name as Shylaja. Nobody seemed to care enough – even those who purportedly supported her – to get her name right. As someone who sails in the same boat this disregard and disrespect annoyed me greatly. Yes, the outgoing minister is my name sake and my name gets mangled just like hers, all the time. Sailaja, Shilaja, Shaelja, Shylaja, anything but the real deal.

With so many ‘creative’ people around who probably believe variety in someone else’s name is the spice of their own life, it is no wonder that we find the similar types inhabiting various offices issuing identification papers, licenses, passports and such. You find they are not diligent in sticking to the spelling you have helpfully provided them, instead make up their own version of your name. Leave out an alphabet here, add another there, glue two names together to make it one long one, or cut away part of yet another and shorten, you name it, we have all kinds. Till a document is in your hands, the tension is enormous. If there are mistakes, then the nightmare starts of getting it corrected.

I once was issued a driving license with my name spelt as Shilaja. Both father and an elderly relative dismissed it as of no consequence. I was adamant that I wanted it corrected. When I went to the concerned office, the officer in charge said, you guess it, it did not matter. What the heck! When I insisted, he grudgingly and in a foul mood, issued me a new card. I was luckier than most to get such a prompt response because I knew someone who called up the man and asked him to help me out. Then there was the time a bank got my name wrong. I almost walked out with my new passbook and everything when I realized the error in my name and went back in to have them correct it. Did they? They did one better. They skillfully erased my name from my original application (which is why they had kept me waiting so long) and replaced it with their spelling to prove to me that ‘I’ had got my own name wrong!

The horror stories regarding names are endless. The Second Born now faces similar problems making me wish I had chosen a different name for him. People replace the ‘ai’ in his name with a ‘y’ at their will. They leave out either one ‘h’ (or sometimes both) as if extraneous. But what else can you expect when the majority don’t pay attention to this little detail in everyday life? In life, there are many things that show respect and care towards others. One of them certainly is making sure you get their name right.

© Shail Mohan 2021