Once upon a time a bunch of girls decided to sit and gossip. The television was also on and a daily soap was running that had a character called ‘Zain’. “Oh! I love the name Zain”, said a friend. “Oh! Me too; Zain and Zara.” “Yeah, Zain, Zara and Sarah. I am going to name my kids one out of these.” And thus, the topic of our gossip veered to what we would name our kids when we have them; it’s a totally different fact that we were far, far away from the prospect of having kids or getting married for that matter, but then we were gossiping after all, so it was totally fine whatever we said. So each one of us came with a set of names and apart from Zain, Zara and Sarah, there were names like Rehaan, Elizeh, Aaliyaah, Kyra, Sanaya etc. When my turn came I said, “I’d like to name my girls Katyayni and Kalyani.” My best buddy looked at me in disbelief, as if I had said Surpanakha and Putna instead. “Seriously, are you going to keep those kind of names?” “Yeah, why not?” I said, “After all, I love traditional Indian names.”
Traditional Indian names sadly, do not suit the fine tastes of a lot us these days. In fact, if it were possible many of us would have gone ahead and reversed our Naamkaran to something that is more fashionable and exotic. But since, that is not possible we make do with keeping nicknames that are slick/smart versions of our original names, for example Krishna becomes Krish, Sandeep becomes Sandy, Hari becomes Harry, Vikram becomes Vikki. To be honest, it is everyone’s personal choice and right when it comes to choosing the name they want to keep for themselves or their kids, but my point is what is wrong with the traditional Indian names that we are so dreadfully ashamed of? But is it just the name?
The other day when some of my friends asked me what my plans for weekend were and I said, “Bhajans and a Havan”, they looked at me as if I were the most pitiable creature in the universe. “You don’t have a life”, my friend declared, “Look at your age. Why are you wasting the peak years of your youth?” Their faith in my being a normal, progressive girl was only reinstated when they next saw me in my branded, western wear, sipping my mocktail and gyrating to the disco beats. It does not stop here. I went for the Bhajans and a lady sheepishly asked me to find a particular Bhajan from the songbook. “Oh! You must have forgotten your spectacles”, I said. “No. Look at the page numbers. I cannot figure what they are. I hope you will be able to.” “Have they started printing the numbers in Swahili”, I wondered. They were Hindi numerals. Had I not preserved some memory of what my grandmother taught me in childhood, I would have surely had to pass the book helplessly to someone else. And I cannot blame that lady. Give me something written in Bengali and I will stare at it like Abhimanyu stuck in Chakravyuh (My mother tongue is Bengali).
Further, to add to my shock when we started making a list of the Bhajans, the lady started writing the names (that were in Hindi), in Roman script! Well, I cannot blame her yet again because that will be my position too if I am asked to write in my mother tongue.
But if there are factors that endanger our culture and traditions, there are still some elements that make us cling to them. And they can be rather hilarious. We will skip in our cool (or hot) western wear the entire year, but come festivals and we will be decked in all our ethnic finery. After all, it’s glamorous and looks good in the pictures too and besides, how do you do Dandiya in trousers? No fun, that. But ask us which deity is worshipped on which day of the Navratri and we become Gandhiji ka Bandar (the quiet one). With guys this phenomenon is even more prominent, for you can still find girls in Salvaar-Kameez or Palazzos as per the latest fashion trend; but guys in ethnic wear except functions, you got to be kidding. A lot of us will regularly hop to the pubs and bars, but when it comes to finding the Mr. Right, many of us will fall back upon the ‘Solah Somvaar’ fast. And then don’t we remember all the Gods and Goddesses we know on the day of our examinations. Some of us even write ‘Jai Maa Saraswati’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on the answer sheet. Oh! There are so many examples when we cannot just stop being our traditional self.
Jokes apart, it isn’t a sin to wear whatever we like the entire year or living a lifestyle that suits our personality. And it is totally fine to name our kids or ourselves ‘Zain’, ‘Zara’ or ‘Sarah’, however we may please, but how does forgetting our tradition, culture and even mythology help and especially, when we have the wonderful choice of being selective about the parts that we may want to have in our lives. How our festivals celebrate each season and how some really amazing calculations decide which day our Tithis fall on, is just the tip of this ocean; the deeper one delves, the more amazed one is left.
Ours is perhaps the most ancient, surviving civilization and in a bid to live a life that is technically and originally not our own, we can perhaps bring to extinction the science and literature that tells the tale of our own evolution. We have come a far way from where we started and there is still a long distance that we have to cover, but as we scale that distance, let us not forget where we started from. Let us not become that refugee in a foreign land whose traces have been erased in a desert of forgotten knowledge and let us not become that amnesiac who has lost his past and hence, someone who cannot appreciate his present. That; would be very, very painful.