Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's in a name?

My grandfather gave me my name (Isn’t that a good enough reason- why it sounds so antique?) and I inherited the surname (Parvatam) by default. So I was branded ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’.

I suspected my grandfather’s religious (in)sensibilities for this misdeed, but there is this logical explanation that my mother subscribes to whenever any discussion about my name takes place, which I think it is just a cover up for my grand father’s sin. Nonetheless, I should tell you what she says- “You were born after so many complications. The doctors actually said that the chances of your survival were very bleak. We prayed a lot and it was only by God’s grace that you were born normal. You were a God’s gift, so we named you the same- Gurudev (God) Prasad (His gift/blessing).”

There are couple of things which are fundamentally wrong with my name. It is lengthy, pompous (Proclaiming yourself to be God’s gift to the mankind), then the surname Parvatam- is a mountain in literal sense- which again is a complete misnomer if you take into consideration the average body size of my family. To some extent my name is even confusing (For most of it- it sounds north Indian, but there are traces of south-Indianness too- yes, the Parvatam bit again).

Adding to the problem was the fact that I grew up in places like Agra and Aligarh, which were quite difficult for people with such nomenclature abnormalities- in the sense, they predominantly have kids with simple names (Like Saurabh, Rahul, etc) and even simpler surnames (Like Sharma, Verma, etc).

To shorten it and avoid the north-south confusion, as a child, I insisted that I should be addressed as ‘P. Gurudev Prasad’. Just when I thought that this would make things simpler, the story took a strange turn. For my classmates, I became a guy with a mysterious ‘P’. And curse my bad luck, that this is the only alphabet that has funny implications in both English (Pee Gurudev Prasad) and Hindi (Drink Gurudev Prasad).

In school, I would always fear new teachers taking our attendance call. They needed some time to acclimatise to a strange name like mine. The first roll call was always a concern. The teacher would sink her head in the register and indifferently read out names, without even bothering to look at their respective owners. But as soon as my turn came, it was almost like a speed breaker to this mechanical process. Often they would mispronounce it (I don’t remember any teacher who got it right the first time) and would wonder if they have stumbled upon something alien. Invariably I was asked to stand up, so that they could look at me with a sense of amusement combined with a stroke of sympathy and order me to announce my name aloud.

This whole process was extremely embarrassing for me and somehow made me feel like an odd man out.

In between, I would automatically take liking to someone who took attendance by the roll numbers and not by names. I was thankful to the person who invented roll numbers and seriously thought that their purpose was to avoid such embarrassments.

My name even had some functional issues- to start with it took me a while before I could learn how to write my full name, also I remember it took me ages to fill in my name in the OMR sheet for the Common Admission Test (CAT). Similarly some application forms would run out of space in accommodating my full name, particularly the ones that have limited blocks assigned for each personal detail- which have to be filled in capital letters.

I think India is one of the lucky countries where kids have pet names and I can be only grateful for that. As I was born early morning (To be precise I came in with the sunrise) my aunt wanted to christen me as ‘Udai’, but, as she didn’t have the authority to endorse this as my official name, she settled for ‘Udai’ as my pet name.

So people who didn’t share any organizational (School, college or office) relationship with me- just know me as ‘Udai’. But this led to certain dichotomy which was revealed only last month. When I sent my wedding card (It had my ‘original’ name printed on it) to a childhood friend who used to be my neighbour, he anxiously called me to check the reason for my name change.

Different names evoke different emotions and associations. For example, a Radha would evoke a totally different set of images from a Rosa (Naughty You!). Similarly, I am sure that, for a stranger, ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’ would bring to mind certain personality connotations. But, I am also sure that these preliminary associations would be in total contrast to the real ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’. It is up to you to decide- which is a greater disappointment- the initial associations or the actual ‘me’.

But things changed after I joined college. I had this faculty who taught us Branding. One day when I went to submit my assignment to his cabin, he looked at the cover page and said “Your name is very impressive”. Someone said something like that for the first time to me. In that moment of vulnerability I confessed to him “It has always embarrassed me”. He asked me to take a seat. As I sat down, in his typical classroom style he began to explain me. The best part is that he didn’t make it sound sympathetic. In fact, it was more like one of his sessions on branding.

He said “Guru, I have practised branding for many years before I retired and got into teaching. Do you know what I have learnt in all these years? The name is the most important thing in building a brand. It should give the brand an identity and differentiate it from others. It is like this one word advertisement for a brand… and the same applies to humans as well. In your case, it is one of those few names, that I have come across which have certain character to them. There is a promise in your name that you will do something big. Rather than being embarrassed about it- try and live up to it. Build a brand- Gurudev Prasad.” He continued, “On a lighter note I would rather imagine a name like Gurudev Prasad to be doing something substantial than names like Ricky and Monty.”

His words had a magical impact on me. Trying hard to control my tears, I tried thanking him; I said, “I just wish I had someone who could explain this to me when I was a child. Sir, you might not realize but what you said will have a life changing impact on me. I don’t want to thank you and minuscule your advice.”
I ran to the playground and screamed out my full name in the loudest way possible

Few years ago, I was travelling to a remote part of the country for some official work. I was the only one representing my creative agency and there was a team of six from another agency who were working on the same client. All these guys were much elder and quite non cooperative to me. The eldest of them was also their head. His name was some Mr. Chadda.

May be because I belonged to a competing agency, the entire gang didn’t seem to be very fond of me. Leading the pack was Mr. Chadda. He assumed that he had a terrific sense of humour and his team approved his misconception by laughing at all his stupid jokes.

On more than one occasions, I became the butt of his jokes. Respecting his age, I took it sportingly. One night, at the dinner table, he tried to pull my leg again. I was lost in my food, when he said “Guru…It must have been quite difficult growing up with that name? Isn’t it? I am sure you would have been teased a lot in your childhood? I know how it is like growing up in UP.” I swear I wanted to let it go, but something came over me. I replied back “Not at all. On the contrary I am quite proud of my name. I absolutely love it. Talking about teasing, I think that can happen to any name. If you were in my school, I would have nicknamed you as Mr. Chaddi.” His team burst out laughing before realizing that the joke is on their boss this time. Mr. Chadda got back to his food.

Next day we had a presentation of our findings to the top management of the client side. Both Mr. Chadda and I were to present. Mr. Chadda insisted that I should go first. May be he expected me to falter. He was sure that a kid like me would never be able to match up with the work of a team of six seasoned professionals like his.

As I finished my final slide, the top boss from the client side gave his feedback- “Gurudev, you have stood up to your name.”

Now it was Mr. Chadda’s turn to prove.


Kirti said...

Well written Mr. Parvatham

Passionate said...

Again a longgggggg but smoothly flowing nice blog...

their's definate uniqueness in the name, be it "GURU" or Parvatham Gurudev Prasad"

Enjoy Maadi :)

Vikrant said...

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet"

Guru, your gyan rocks!

Prabhat said...

Hey I loved reading it. Even mine is a long name - Prabhat Ranjan Mandal. No one knows in my family why that "Ranjan". Still, I am proud it.

gurudev prasad said...

Hi Prabhat, I am glad you liked it. While on that I visited your write very well. Keep posting.

Annjelyn said...

Hi Guru, Really liked your post. Experiences are very similar to mine. I was tagged Annjelyn Henrietta Shalvina at birth and having Indian parents!!!Imagine being at school!!!
But I love my name :)Alot of research had gone into choosing it :)

gurudev prasad said...

Hi Annjelyn, thats a beautiful name indeed. You know when I posted this article, i didn't know if anyone could relate to it, but when people like you write about their experiences, I realise I am not alone. May be you can write a complete post on growing up with that name. I found your blog quite interesting.

Saiyed Samir Hasnain said...

Hi Friend,

Before reading your article, I thought man has never introduced himself in better way than this:
“My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”—Charles Dickens (Great Expectation)
But after reading I am in dilemma - not yet decided!!!

You took me to St Conrad’s Inter College where we studied together for 4 awesome years. The first time I met you outside the Father’s Office (It was your first day in School and I was a regular visitor to his office). You told me your Name, truth is I might have nodded but I never got it right in the first go, Udai was much simpler and easier for me to Understand.

We met as strangers but we have something in common our name have given us share of troubles SAIYED SAMIR HASNAIN TAQVI is neither a simpler Name to live with so I could relate to a certain extend. I never happened to meet any Branding GURU who would have told me something of that sort but surely I agree to his thought.

You are going in the right direction “Do not deviate”