And taking it a step further, we have not one but two names for our offspring. A bhaalo naam and a daak naam. Bhaalo naam, the formal name to be used outside our friend and family circle will always have literary connotations – Porineeta, Madhumita, Charulata, Shashwati, Mridha – names intended to send an unsuspecting tongue into paroxysms. And the daak naam – the pet name will be as silly as silly can get – Ghochoo, Potol, Buri, Luchi, Natoo – just to prove to the rest of the world, when it comes to humour, no one can beat us.
When my baby girl was born, it was a historic moment for the Rays (the in laws) and the Bhattacharyas (the outlaws...the parents). And why not? She was the first born of their first-borns and also the first to arrive from the next gen. To put it simply, she was their first and for a very long time their only grandchild. Our younger siblings were just not interested in the business of procreation.
Now couple it with our literary leanings and the legendary Bong eccentricity and you have the makings of a disaster. A name can’t be just a name, it has to be like a whiff of fresh air, has to convey a thousand emotions, it has to be meaningful. Damnation awaits those who were naive enough to name their kid a frivolous Tanya, Pony, Goldie.... I remember a family friend who had a strange fascination for all things Russian and had named his son Pushkin. Pushkin was sent to Moscow for his degree in medicine but became a gangster instead (so much for fulfilling his dad’s Russian aspirations). A gent with French leanings named his daughter Monami. My Maa wanted a mouthful of a name for our German Spitz (we always accused her of favouring him over us) and wanted to call him....guess what? Buta Singh. It took a major tantrum from us to make her change her mind.
And so began the quest to name Baby Ray. Books were fished out, memories strained and long lists were made. Me, I had a very simple criterion for name selection. Growing up in Delhi I have seen many a Bangla name getting distorted beyond recognition. Shutopaa becomes a harsh Sutaapa, Shoibal becomes Cybal almost sounding like an erstwhile computer chip, Kollol becomes Kallol....Basically I wanted to protect my child from a lifetime of distress of having to explain the finer nuances of her name. I wanted a simple name which would easily roll of a toddler’s tongue and not intimidate a non-Bong sensibility.
The out-laws and in-laws refused to understand my point of view and insisted on names like Enakshi, Oindrila, Mrinmoyi. When I suggested simple names like Dwiti, Ishita, Rya, a thesis was presented on the unsuitability of it. Even the daak naam kept changing every few weeks. At eight months my baby had yet to get a name and I was maha pissed off. And then one fine morning while watching MTV, I hear Trisha Yearwood singing and wham I knew exactly what I wanted. Called the parents, informed them of the choice with an air of finality and no arguments will be entertained clause. There is one more Trisha in our family... Does it even have a meaning?...It doesn’t even sound Bengali.... were countered with the same logic I had been hearing for years “ I am the Mom, I know best”. Ha...for once I left them speechless.
Sixteen years later I see history repeating itself. My niece turned one last month and we had yet to settle on a formal name for her. This, despite my long printout of the most unusual names on Earth and my mum’s even longer list of unpronounceable names. Sadly they were all imperiously thumbed down by her parents and they stubbornly stuck to Gia. (I personally liked the name). Gia!!! Is that even a name! What if her friends change it to Ghia?? The family spent many an evening arguing, trying to shout each other out but to no avail. Last week while freezing in picturesque Ramgarh, my Mum informed me that the family had finally settled on a name that everyone likes Rayena - loosely inspired by Shaw’s Arms and the Man. You can’t just keep out a Bong’s literary proclivity out of a name. My relieved ‘thank God’ echoed for miles in the valley.