Over the last week, I’ve been reading “The life of Pi” by Yann Martel, the one that won the booker prize last year. The book starts with the plight of a boy who was named piscine patel by his parents, in honor of a swimming pool. It goes on to describe how piscine patel became Pi patel to avoid the ignominy of being called ‘Pissing’ patel for the rest of his life. Well, I have a different story in hand - of a name that refused to remain the same. As the book fell off my grip … I traced again the beaten paths that my name’s taken for the last 22 years.
I was supposed to be called Vipin – short, crisp and very meaningful. My parents even bought a school bag for me and stitched my name on it (something that’s still a part of my childhood memories). On the day of the naming ceremony, my grandfather comes up with this wonderful idea of naming me “Rathish”. A learned man that he was, no one wanted to question his call. Moreover, more than half of them there didn’t know that Rathish actually referred to lord Manmadha – the god of love. So, Rathish it was, rather “Rethish” as my dad has been calling me since day 1 in his typical Malayali accent.
It never stuck anyone why someone should be called cupid of all things. Rathish as a name wasn’t bad. It fell in this thin line between being queer and unique. Often in school, when a new teacher, in an effort to strike a friendly note, asks each student to introduce himself, I used to sit there biting my nails completely aware of what was going to happen next. It was a well-rehearsed scene with a Shakespearean timing.
“My name is Rathish Madam”.
“Interesting, I’ve never heard it before. What does it mean?”
And the whole class would wait for me to say “Lord Manmadha” and giggle as if they’ve never heard it before. No. “I don’t know madam” doesn’t work either coz a faceless last bencher would scream at the top of his voice that I am lying.
Semantics apart, my name soon started showing signs of multiple personality disorder. Rathish soon became “Ratheesh”, “Ratish”, “Rathesh”, and “Rethish”. All this was ok as I had a standard answer of “Proper nouns are not spelling specific”. But disaster stuck when the names of top scorers in class X were written on our school’s notice board – “Rathusu”!!! Can you imagine my plight! Till the last day the walls of the school are going to stand, there on the board right at the entrance of the auditorium, will my name remain as “Rathusu”. I could already hear people screaming “Rathusu” wherever I went.
Thankfully after my twelfth, I packed my bags and left to a place 3000 kilometers away from home – a remote corner in Rajasthan where people from all places came in droves. I was sure that my name would never be weird in such an eclectic mix. But the name was a vice that was not going to let go so easily. Everyone in my college had to have a nickname. If you didn’t have one, you were a Non-Existent-dull-Person. What else would Rathish be? ‘Rat’ of course. I seriously didn’t have qualms with it considering the names my friends came up with. However, there was this one time I was honored to have dinner with the director and the dean of the university. All of us were seated in a table and engrossed in a conversation and suddenly one of my friends called out, “rat, can you pass the water”. One lady who heard only the “rat” part almost fell off the chair in panic. It was as if the moment froze and stayed that way ad infinitum. Finally the director broke the ice, smiled and said, “You guys have weird names … rat!”
Then happened the one thing that I would forever thank my name for … there was this girl for whom my heart fluttered day and night. And as luck would have it, we were in the same compartment on our first return journey back home. We got into this “I’ve never met you before” conversation and in the end, I was pretty satisfied with the impression I had left. So, I was waiting with bated breath for the day of reunion – wondering if she ever talked or thought about me in those few days (years rather!) that passed. The day I met her, the first thing she told me was “Rathish, my sister wants to meet you”. You should have seen my face! She did talk about me, and talked so much that her sister wanted to meet me. A hundred thousand 60-watt bulbs burnt bright on my face. I should have ideally left it at that … but ego persisted,
“But why me?”
“Oh, we were playing this game where she wanted me to recall all the names of people I remember in BITS and she found yours really weird and wanted to meet you”.
Someone must have heard an atomic explosion in the Chennai central station … but hey, she still remembered my name… those bulbs again! I thanked my name as if it was not a part of me.
I am now in France and French is one language where R is replaced with a sound that can be best pronounced as “kkkkhhhhhrrrr”. So, Rathish is now Kkkkhhhrrrratish. And even in written communication it’s always Ratish (sounds so similar to reddish, rubbish or radish). Here’s a mail that I received recently from my professor.
PS: incidentally on a lighter note...'Ratfish' & 'Radish' are the options that appear as an alternative to your name in MS Word... they don’t sound bad at all!
So now when he’s too excited, he calls me Ratfish. I got my first article published and even that called me ‘Ratish’. These days, I’ve quit worrying about it and just let it die. Let the soul of the name “Rathish” rest in peace.
But the name isn’t just a name isn’t it. “It’s the sweetest melody to anyone’s ears” as Dale Carnegie puts it. I know Cynicism sells, but I still love my name for all its oddities. In that decisive moment when my grandfather decided to name me, he gave me a gift that I can never part with. When at the end of the day, I want to identify myself, I do it with my name – Rathish, rat fish or rathusu – whatever they might call it. It’s still the first thing any stranger asks me about. I even joke about how the only thing I got from Lord Manmadha was the name.
Late at nights, I even have dreams of my illusions coming true, and a girl in a flowing dress coming and telling me, “Rathish, you know you have an interesting name. Show me what else have you got.”.
All’s in a name.