Two weeks ago I was peacefully watching TV when the phone rang. It was a 1-800 number. Usually I do not pick up marketing calls. That day I was indulgent. I took the call.

“Hello”, I put on my booming, deep, scary voice.

A female voice spoke back to me in a high pitch, “Hello, may I speak with”…”

There was a long pause”…she was trying to pronounce my name. After 10 seconds she came back, “Hello, may I speak with Mahavas?” I told her that was not the way to pronounce my name. Over the next couple of minutes she tried many combinations to unlock the tangle of letters. Every time I said no. I was beginning to enjoy this. Finally I told her to call after she got it right. [This call centre was surprisingly not in India!]

When I kept the phone, I thought, What”s in a name? I realized, everything. I went back 40 odd years to the day I was born. I could clearly see my mother. She was knocked out after her laborious effort at giving birth to her first child. Me.

I was born into a family which follows the matrilineal system; basically in such households women had the power and controlled the finances too. But by the sixties (1960) men (who follow the mat” system) were beginning to protest and demanding more share of the power. To appease them women tossed around a few tidbits from time to time. One of them was naming new born children.

At the time my father was working miles away. By the time he heard the news and took the train down south, it was five days. So for those five days, I happily rested in my crib like one of those “No Name” [unbranded] products in a Loblaws [Canadian] Supermarket.

On the sixth day my father came to see me. He took me by my feet and dangled me [Michael Jackson took a cue from my father!]. That was the first time I saw my father. Upside down. I hung there like a well-fed bat with my arms akimbo and an irritated expression on having my sleep disturbed.

Now you have to remember that here was a man trusted with a very important job: naming his only child. He had never done it before. My mother was lying in bed propped up by pillows. Grandma was fussing around and waiting for the precious name to be uttered. My father was still hanging me; he was at a loss for letters, names. Grandma gently reminded him, “What are you going to call him?”

“Mmmmmmmm” My father was at a loss for words. He had one forefinger on his unshaven gaunt chin trying to push the words out. For a moment I thought he might bounce me up and down a couple of times to see what comes out. Then he set me down and mumbled again. “Mmmmmmm” Grandma took the cue and wrote “M” on the wall.

Father was still trying to jumpstart his brain power which refused to start. Then he saw the “M” on the wall. He said, “Aaaaaa!” Grandma added an “A” to the “M”. I was also watching the most important ceremony in my life. I was so disgusted with the whole process, I said, “Duh!” That was my only contribution to my name. “D” also went up on the wall. “MAD”. On seeing this, father couldn”t but help laughing. “Ha” he belted out. To accelerate the process, Grandma added “HA”.

The whole process of naming was getting on my father”s nerves. He stepped out to catch some air. At that time we had a fleet of vehicles from a bicycle to a scooter and car. He took the Vespa scooter for a spin and came back an hour later. He was so impressed with the scooter that he decided that “V” should definitely be a part of my name. He himself added “V”.

He should have stopped then. But now that he was getting the hang of things he was on a roll. He added another “A”. Grandma said, “Duh!” D went up the board. Father had to add the only vowel he seems to know. Another “A” for the child, please! By now all of us realized that he was losing it and has begun to repeat the alphabets. So like an overinflated balloon in a tropical climate he deflated and sat down on the recliner. “Ssssssss.” Grandma added “S” and put a stop to the circus. So as not to repeat the process with my last name, she took my father”s first name and added it as my last name. Now the engine had a locomotive and can embark on its lifelong journey.

Very close friends call me “Mad”. Some friends call me “Madhav”. My wife and thousands of my relatives call me “Madhu”, which means honey! Then there is my official name, Madhavadas, the story about which you just read. And then enter the telemarketers with their own versions. By now I have developed split personalities ready for a blockbuster movie.

You may ask now, What”s in a name? Everything. Remember to name your child a short, sweet name that is easy to pronounce and that can be remembered. You may even want to throw in a couple of numbers and signs @*&% just like in a password!

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