Hari Shanker R

Hari Shanker R

A Happiness Engineer at Automattic.

What’s in a name?

A name’s the most primary identification mark of any person. It’s one of the only entities about us that’s both intensely personal and unabashedly public. It’s something you take pride in (not always, but in general) and hold closest to your heart – and it’s also that piece of info about yourself that you’d willingly share with almost every other person you acquaint with. Your name says a lot about you; it signifies your caste, your religion and even your persona: Often “You are what your name means!” πŸ˜› (Okay, that’s an inaccurate hypothesis and I’ll elaborate why).

what-is-in-a-name

Now, all of us aren’t exactly in love with our names, are we? Many change names in the course of their lives. The reasons being social (change of religion, marriage), astrological (Think Numerlogy and astrology), or even personal (sheer hatred of your weird name). But our names have been lovingly bestowed upon us by our parents, and changing your name would mean, changing our identity altogether, won’t it? And in these days of inane red-tape, a name-change would mean countless forms, corrections, modifications and what not! Changing what you’re called, just once, can be such a pain in the ass, right?

How would you feel if you you had a new name each day? πŸ˜›

Here’s an anecdote.Β Rewind 54 years.

1956. Picture a village in Rural Kerala.Β A kid is born into a fading aristocratic Nair family. Now, the once-prosperous Tharavaadu is in the throes of total destruction, thanks to economic mismanagement and a profusion of Legal Troubles. This kid is born as the youngest in a family of 8. Now, this family has a huge disparity in terms of ages, best explained by the fact that the kid’s oldest brother got married when the kid was one year old! 😐 Way back in the ’50s, being the youngest kid wasn’t as cool as it is right now. The kid’s parents were too busy managing his seven siblings and their own troubles, Β to give him a second look. His mother didn’t have enough time to even breastfeed the kid. What’s worse, the kid did not have a name, even when he was two years old! 😐 😐 He was too small an entity to be considered, when the landlord father of his was losing acres of land and his imported Ford to a slew of court-cases!! Heights of bad parenting, if you ask me.

By the time the kid was three years old, the family was impoverished, more or less. Most of the property was in dispute – the sole lifeline of the family was a ten acre rice-field, and some cattle. The kid-who-had-no-name wasn’t even encouraged to eat three meals a day, let alone go to school. He had no issues with the lackadaisical attitude of his parents, however. Too mature for his age, he learned to mingle with neighbourhood kids and enjoyed his life, blissfully unaware of the troubles around him.

One day, a group of middle-aged men and women marched into the Tharavaadu. They were greeted by the kid’s mom with trembling arms. Were they officials from the court, all set to attach the only property they had? They coterie of well dressed people turned out to be teachers from the local Government school. Apparently, the school was about to be closed down due to lack of attendance, and there was an DEO (District Education Officer)-inspection due. The teachers were hunting for kids to substitute Β ‘real’ children so that the school wouldn’t get decommissioned; their jobs were at stake. While the teachers wereΒ explainingΒ their predicament to a now-relieved mom, our kid marched into the courtyard, clad in a loincloth-style knicker, happily playing with a discarded cycle tyre – his only toy. As soon as he entered, this lady teacher pounced upon him immediately, the way a lioness would perch upon a zebra, and bribed him with a bunch of toffees. That was the first time the kid tasted a toffee, and boy, he loved it! πŸ˜› Within a few minutes, a deal was fixed. The kid would attend school whenever an inspector came to school, and he’d get free meals as a gift. The kid was too satiated to relent – milk, countless toffees and nourished WHO-sponsored meals were a welcome relief from his daily-porridge.

The very next day, he set off to school donning the new ‘uniform’ the guests had bestowed him with. Walking four kilometers, criss-crossing rivers and jumping fences, the kid finally reached his destination. Tired he was, but sweet promises of delicious milk and meals kept him going. No sooner had the kid reached school, he was ushered in by a peon, and was rushed to the lady teacher from yesterday. She had a bunch of kids of various shapes and sizes beside her. The teacher smiled at him, and examined a list. Then she gently told him:

“Monte peru innu Mohandas ennu aanu ketto? Aa inspector attendance edukkumbo ‘Mohandas’ ennu vilikkum. Appo kai pokkanam ketto. Ennittu namukku kazhikkaame?”

(Your name today, is Mohandas. That inspector will take attendance and he’ll call ‘Mohandas’. Raise your hands then. After he leaves, you can have your lunch. “)

The kid happily nodded. πŸ™‚

Soon the inspector was in class, and called out the names. He must have been astonished as to how tiny a kid Mohandas was – he did frown at seeing a seven year old who was more of a three year old, but he let it pass and moved on to the next person. ‘Mohandas’ rushed after class to have a satiating meal. He loved his school!

Then on, the kid was a sure-pick whenever inspectors attended class. Each time, he’d be attending a new class, sporting a new name. “Vijaya Kumar”, “Raghavan”, “Krishna Kumar”, “Rajeev Pillai”, “Shekhar Nair”, “Peter Simon”, “Adel Aziz” – he’d gotten used to being referred to with new names. As the kid was six years old, he’d attended all classes and division from the first grade to the fourth grade – and he enjoyed it! Soon, he’d deliberately attend classes, seating himself in different classes each day, choosing a new name for himself; the school was perennially-underpopulated, so no one really cared. The teachers loved him, he’d saved their asses plenty of times, and the kid was too good a student for his age. He was doted upon, and got to drink plenty of WHO-certified milk, subsidized by the U.N. The kid was fat and healthy as he turned 11 – a far cry from the impoverished, knicker-clad three year old. With time, the kid developed a strong penchant for studies. He loved science and math – and he excelled in the latter, thanks to a Mathematics exponentΒ of a brother who enjoyed passing on lessons to his sibling.

Years passed, and the kid had reached tenth grade (fifth form, as it was called, back then). He still had no definite name, but his ‘names’ were narrowed down to five or six, maybe. The date came to register for the SSLC Board Exams. The kid went to the teacher in charge of examinations – who was new to the school. When he approached the teacher, she asked the kid for his name. Now, that question was quite a googly for our buddy, no one had asked him what his name was, till then (apart from the occasional visiting government inspector, of course)! 😐 He was referred to by his classmates by whatever nickname they chose for him, and he never really bothered about it till date. The realization stuck him hard! He did not have a name to himself! For the first time, the school’s most brilliant student could not blurt out an answer to a question posed by a teacher.

Noticing his silence, the teacher looked up from her register and quipped:


“Oh, I know you! You’re Ramesh Babu! πŸ™‚ I taught you the other day at class. Sorry, I forgot you.”

That was the name he’d assumed during the previous inspection; this teacher was taking the class whilst the inspector came over. She did seem to have a good memory.

Before the kid could answer, the teacher wrote down ‘Ramesh Babu’, onto the register. The kid finally got himself a name.

The kid’s mom was about to return his hall-ticket back to the post man citing theΒ absenceΒ of a ‘Ramesh babu’ in the family, when the kid rushed and grabbed it from the postman. He wrote the SSLC exams and passed them with flying colours. He did well for his Pre-Degree and went on to be an Electrical Engineer at a reputed Engineering College. After working in different companies all across the country, Ramesh joined Kerala State Electricity Board as an Assistant Engineer. His quest for knowledge spurred him to take an MBA while he was working. Now he’s a Chief Engineer at KSEB – widely respected and honoured, even by the Hon. Minister of Electricity, in Kerala.

The kid who had no name happens to be my father. πŸ™‚

Bottom Line:

“Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony”.

– Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), The Matrix Reloaded.

15 Comments

  1. Sankar.S.Kumar

    Really inspiring & touching… At the beginning itself i was sure that it is abt a real life person…!!! Good piece of writing…:)

  2. Akhila NAir

    i frankly din expect the climax :)… nly wen u mentioned KSEB did i do a double take…n scrolled dwn to chk whtr its ur dad…splendid real life piece written splendidly..:)

    1. hari

      Haha. Some say the climax was predictable though. Thanks for the kind words, Akhila. πŸ˜€

      And, you're officially 'welcomed' to I chose the red pill. πŸ˜€

  3. sreejith

    That was really good a narration, Hari. Who had told you this story by the way? Your father himself? or aunt or granny? Anyways, you have added your creative part to it. Good Work. You have a way with words. God Bless.

    1. hari

      The story was narrated to me by my father himself. Anyways, I did a confirmation – turns out that it's pretty-true. πŸ™‚

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