It was my first day at Jadavpur University. I had queued up to register my name at the Arts Faculty building with little idea what fate had in store for me. I was about to put down my name when I casually scanned the names listed above. There it was; with growing dismay I noted there was another Anindita in my class. Well, I squirmed at the loopy handwriting in which she had scrawled ‘Anindita Basu’ and took comfort from the fact at least our last names were not the same. In fact, all my school life and even in dance or art classes, whatever was my pursuit, there was always another Anindita around. There is even a bus stop called ‘Anindita’ in Salt Lake. Imagine my consternation when conductors of private buses start bellowing “Anindita, Anindita…” as soon as the bus approaches the designated stop. But there was more to come. As I passed on the pen to the next person, I realised she too had scribbled ‘Anindita’, this time followed by ‘Banerjee’ and co-incidentally the next one too signed up as Anindita Pal. Three namesakes in the class and amidst all the giggling at the silly coincidence at our expense, I thought I could strangle my dead grandmother for choosing this name. I wonder along with some thousands of Aninditas who populate this planet why was this name so popular among Bengali parents who chose it for their daughters, majority of whom were born during the seventies.
Well, according to my mother, I was destined (or doomed) to be named Anindita. Apparently, my paternal grandmother had watched a film starring Shubendu Chatterjee and Mousumi Chatterjee called ‘Anindita’ and liked it enough to name me after the heroine. She had named her earlier granddaughter (only a year older to me) ‘Nandita’ and thought Anindita would be perfect for the next one. It did not matter that we already had another Anindita in the family, on my mother’s side. Ours was a typical matriarchal family and despite the presence of my soft-spoken, freedom fighter grandfather everyone knew who wore the pants in the family. My mother had worked up her courage and approached the matriarch with the suggestion for a change of name since her elder sister’s granddaughter too had been named Anindita, some months ago. “Ask your sister to change her granddaughter’s name. I would never change mine,” she had thundered (almost in Lalita Pawar style) and my mother promptly lost all her courage and the chance to rename her daughter. Apart from that distant niece, two of my sisters-in-law (married to cousins) are Aninditas and there are scores of Aninditas, counted among friends, neighbours, casual acquaintances and so on.
So I was stuck with Anindita just because of the silly film and I wondered if it was the same with all those who shared my name. And it was not even a masterpiece (what would I have given to be named ‘Subarnarekha’ or ‘Komalgandhar’ after Ritwik Ghatak’s iconic films) but a typical tear-jerker, pot boiler where the heroine refuses to leave her ill husband for her handsome lover boy. The movie is available on YouTube but I simply could not gather enough interest to sit through it.
Anyway, having four Aninditas around did not prove to be much of a trouble, thanks to our jugaad-wired brains. After a few days of confusion everything simply fell in place. Anindita Basu who had been around for a longer time retained her name. While Anindita Banerjee, quite a tomboyish character, promptly started responding to the bureaucratic sounding sobriquet of ‘Banerjee’ without any qualms, Anindita Pal had already been rechristened as ‘lappie’ (lap being the anagram of Pal) by her school friends and we simply continued to call her so. I acquired a pet name ‘Annie’ and the best part was that Banerjee, Lappie and I turned out to be great friends during our university days. Since attendance register or roll call was a non-existent custom in JU, we were saved from the mortification of having a long list of Aninditas called out in every class and consequently almost forgave my grandmother for her Himalayan blunder.
I had always resented my name, frankly because it sounded plebeian. My misfortune appeared to be far more aggravated than it really was because my close friend, Pushya had such an uncommon, even exotic name chosen by a thoughtful father with a creative bent of mind. He named his daughter after the star of the month of Poush, in which she was born. However, in school or college, a new teacher would invariably stumble upon her name during roll call. Then either he or she would tentatively pronounce one syllable at a time, as “Pu-sshh– yaaa” or brazenly decide it to be a spelling mistake and call out “Pushpa”. Then Pushya would raise her hand, get on her feet and painstakingly correct her, a task she genuinely hated, every single time. At that age we were more eager to blend in the crowd than stand out, especially when you had just got into the habit of bunking classes.
Calcutta University in its customary arrogance often changed the spellings of names to what they deemed to be the right one, not sparing any feelings for the poor examinee who thought, he, at least, knew how to spell his own name in the admit card and answer sheets even if the university was really grouchy and miserly when it came to doling out marks. And when Pushya’s marksheet came we found some smart clerk had decided that she had misspelt her name and rectified it to ‘Pushpa’. It was easier to file an affidavit in court and change her name to Pushpa than run from pillar to post and get her name corrected in the records of a 150-year-old university. And despite their mistake, the university did not give her a typed marksheet like the rest of us and she had to remain content with a handwritten one. No wonder, when the time came to name her new-born son, Pushya chose an utterly common and even plain ‘Pratik’ to avoid any future mistake by the smart, know-it-all clerk who seems to hover in every institution.
Deciding upon a name is a serious job and I cannot but recall an incident involving a past chief minister who had the honour of naming a new-born calf born through artificial insemination. There were titters all around when the veteran who prided himself to be a cerebral, well-read, cultured man chose the name ‘Dhabali’ borrowing from texts of Tagore, a clear misnomer as the calf turned out to be chestnut brown!
I have come across all kinds of parents, mostly fathers, confronted with the task of naming their children; some were indifferent like mine, happy that someone else had done the needful, or thoughtful and creative ones like Pushya’s father though it had boomeranged to an extent, or forgetful ones like an uncle who forgot the child’s name when he took her to school for admission and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, but it is the quirky ones who can really cause lifelong misery for their children. When my brother-in-law was born (he is nine years younger to my husband, Indranil) everybody declared that his name should rhyme with the first born. My mother-in-law, a sane post-graduate in Sanskrit had thought of Kaustav (both are gemstones, forgive the maternal pride) but her more flamboyant husband decided to amalgamate the ‘Nil’ from Indranil with Mac of John McEnroe, his favourite tennis player and named him ‘Macneil’. “Is he a foreigner? Is he a Christian?” people ask with unabated curiosity, right from teachers, conservative parents of friends, colleagues to even his in-laws. Such queries are a lifelong cause for embarrassment though he has become quite sporting about it after long years of practice.
So, when one asks what’s in a name I think there’s a lot more than what Mr Shakespeare had given credit to, courtesy his immortal words that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I, for one, can vouch that it does matter since I share my name with every fifth girl born during the seventies or to the millions of Subrata, Debashis and Kaushik who walk on this terra firma and bear the same cross as I do.
Illustration by Aditi Chakaraborty