My name is Shubha Tiwari. I like my name. My parents took this name from a Bengali family who were neighbours of my maternal grandmother at Charbagh, Lucknow. Shubha is a derivation of Shubh, the pious Sanskrit word which means auspicious. The one who is auspicious is Shubha and that is me. It is used as a salutation to the Goddess who is hailed as several things like mighty, powerful, beautiful, kind and also auspicious. In this sense, Shubha is a name of the Goddess. It is a pleasant name, smooth and soulful. One has to feel its beauty before pronouncing it.
My second name Tiwari is a direct gift of patriarchy which I have consciously accepted. Being a feminist, I knew that I was taking my husband’s surname. The reasons were many, the primary one being the immediate society in which we lived. Not accepting the husband’s name would almost sound as discord and disrespect to him. The gesture entailed acceptance and even reverence. I do not know how not taking the husband’s name is disrespect to him but that is how societies in this world behave. Be it a Clinton, Obama, Clooney or Jonas, ladies do accept the surname of husbands. I totally respect and accept the choice of those ladies who continue with their maiden surname. The other reason for accepting my husband’s name was his love. He is my first love. I liked everything about him including his surname. He was determined to get it done. After marriage, the notary prepared the affidavit, I signed and my university issued the notification that because of her marriage to Rajesh Tiwari, Shubha Misra would be known, read and written as Shubha Tiwari. It became a defining document. Here I am, Shubha Tiwari.
Now, let us move to other parts of the maya of the name. Like most people, my name is also misspelt and mispronounced. On and on, I am Shobha, Subha, Sudha, Shubhra, Shuba and the variations continue. People do not take enough care while speaking and writing someone’s name. They should. When reminded, most of them easily take the correct name and do not mind being corrected. I take extra effort not to misspell or mispronounce anyone’s name. If I am wrong, I correct myself willingly. I believe that it is the sole right of the individual how her/his name should be written and pronounced.
Tiwari is also Tewari, Tiwary and on and on. There are some people who use the maiden name on purpose sometimes to show how long they have known me and sometimes just to disregard the Tiwari in my life. I do not get perturbed by all this. I take it all in my stride. Yes, you have known me long enough and so you are calling Misra and now get corrected because three decades have gone by since I have become Tiwari. I do correct people when it comes to my name. Those who wish to overlook The Tiwari in my life are, what to say, pitiable or pathetic. They are also corrected. Mutual respect is not everyone’s cup of tea. I move on.
I am making Shubha a known and worthy name to the best of my capacity. It continues to be an exclusive and elusive name. It has not become as common as Usha, Preeti, Jyoti etc. All these names are beautiful and can be elaborated upon. I leave it to the bearers of these names to sing their maya. I am focussing on mine. Shubha Singh, the columnist, Shubha Sharma, the IAS and Shubha Mudgal, the singer are three other Shubhas I have noticed. One of my students was Shubha Awasthi. She even married a Tiwari later and became Shubha Tiwari. She then registered for Ph.D. in order to become Dr. Shubha Tiwari and later Prof. Shubha Tiwari like me. And then she vanished. She did not show any interest in academics. Otherwise I could have produced another Prof. Shubha Tiwari. Alas!
I usually do not like people calling me by twisted, tilted names or nicknames or acronyms or adjectives. For example, if someone calls me, ‘Hello Beautiful’, I doubt sarcasm there. I mean, I do not have short, flaunting hair, I do not use makeup, my dress sense is ancient, and I use spectacles. So, I look at my sides and feel that someone else is being called. You say, ‘Beautiful’ and I say, Madhubala, Rekha, Madhuri Dixit... You say, ‘Pretty’ and I say, Anushka Sharma. Now, if you say, misfit, khadoos and I say, yes, Me there. It is about self perception. On the positive side, if you say, serene, peaceful and even scholarly, I might align. But we cannot imagine a woman being called, ‘Hi Brainy’ or a man being called ‘Hello Delicate”! Such are ingrained cultural tyrannies of the world. So a man is always, ‘Hi Handsome’ and a woman is always ‘Hi Gorgeous’. We are all puppets, after all.
If I am called, ‘Shubha’, the speaker immediately has my attention, may be because a part of me is still a student. ‘Shubha’, and the response is, ‘yes, present’. The speaker is naturally my age or elder to me in age and that also is a comfortable feeling. The speaker finds me close enough to take my name. I am ‘Madam’ to thousands of students and staff. They also call me Shubha Madam and I have no problem with that. Being Shubha to some is pleasant. I do not want my close friends to call me Madam or Prof. Tiwari. For a special category of people, I want to be Shubha. Just that. This is just wishing. I cannot tell them what to call me. I have accepted helplessness as a necessary human state in many affairs. I choose my battles wisely and ‘name’ is not one of those areas. It just needs correction in official circumstances. In all others, it needs to be ignored. That is all.
There are times I cannot help being called by all sorts of names. Apart from Janu, my husband has this habit of calling me Shubhulli. I have protested all my life. I cannot help it. I have given up. He is one person who can call me by whatever name and I still love him. I have shown him Manyavar advertisement of Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli where as prior promises to marriage, Anushka tells Virat that he would not call her Nickky, Cutie, Shona etc. My husband watches it. He promises to call me by my proper name. Then he forgets it and commands, ‘Shubhulli, make tea.’ And I make tea.
Thank God, in India kids do not call parents by first names and for them I am happily Mamma. The husband also intervenes there and calls me Mamma Saheb, a feudal style of calling the mother in our region of Baghelkhand. Within family, I do not mind being addressed by any name.
There is a separate category of people who add ‘ji’ to the first name. I do not have venom within me but if I had I would splash it all on these people. We find them in academics in the form of mundane, third class Hindi poets, roadside ‘rasiks’ full of lusty enjoyment in their eyes saying, ‘Shubhaji, aapki vaani mein Saraswati virajman hai.’ I feel like killing them. Obviously I do not or I might land in trouble. But if I could, I would kill them. There is one more reason why I do not like ‘ji’ with my name. My name ends with ‘bha’ and combined with ‘ji’, it becomes ‘Bhaji’, the leafy vegetables. As soon as I hear Shubhaji, all vegetable vendors start ringing in my head, ‘bathua ki bhaji, palak ki bhaji, methi ki bhaji’. You are not allowed to laugh, dear reader. It is a question of my name.
I like meaningful names. I find it crazy that parents have started giving meaningless names to their children in order to sound new and fashionable. Aaira, Atara, Amook, Aroosh – I find this blind race for names starting with the letter A also ridiculous. I have met so many parents who say that they want to name their child with the letter A so that her/his name comes earlier in class roll call. They believe that A names give better output. I do not subscribe to such views and find these trends foolish.
There is one more name in my life which I can dissect, chew, admire, reframe and discuss with as much ownership as Shubha. It is the name of my husband, Rajesh aka Chhunna. Ours has been an arranged and traditional Indian marriage. My father approached some families when I was around twenty or twenty-one years of age. Some found faults with us and we also found some to be unsuitable. I did not have much of say. My father had to decide. This gentleman, Rajesh Tiwari approached my mother through a neighbour saying that her had seen my around Prakash Chowk and he wanted to marry me, come what might. He said that he had no expectations of dowry and that he would take my career positively all along. He just wanted to get married to me. When I heard the name for the first time, I thought that it was a common name. I did not know how important it was to become in my life. All said and done, when we finally got together in our government flat G10, I got to know the name. His parents had named him Dheeraj. He said that he did not like that name and around class second or third, he got his name changed to Rajesh. Now I know why he has no patience (Dheeraj). He likes the name Rajesh profusely. He is self-named. Rajesh means, king of gods. It has a regal touch to it. It is also used for the rain god, Indra. But I got the surprise of my life when he told me to call him ‘Chhunna’. I remember clearly as to what he said. He said that he had been living alone for some years. He felt that his nick name by which his mother used to call him would be lost forever. His real name would go. ‘So, call me ‘Chhunna’ and do not add ‘ji’ to it. Do not address me as ‘Aap’. Call me ‘Tum.’ ’ I think that it was his first act of surrender in love. He gave an elevated place by allowing me to take his casual name. This gesture also told me that my husband could never be bossy. He had no plans to dominate me. Rather, he would depend on me. ‘Chhunna’, he says, comes from ‘Shona’ which means lovable and I agree with him there.
These two names are my property. Now that children have grown up, I do not dare to analyze their names threadbare. I can tell you one thing. If I get the loving ownership of a name, I can do wonders with it. I have the inner resources to make a name, a name.
The obvious title for this piece would have been the immortal lines of the bard, ‘What’s in a name?’ But, I tell my students that the bard was talking about roses when he wrote those lines. A rose would smell as sweet with any other name. It is my belief that the human flower smells differently with each name. The name and the individual’s association with that name is important. It changes everything. That is why I decided to call my piece, The Maya of Names, giving it a mystical Indian touch. The world of names has its own maya; its own tapestry, illusion and connotation. Dear reader, now it is your turn to discuss your name.