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Indian women routinely lose their surnames, names, identities, and also themselves, in the name of upholding ‘tradition’. An incisive personal account.
I lost my name some five years back.
I am no one now. I don’t have any personal hobby, taste, identity, wishes, whims, and fancies. I am popularly known as ‘W/o’. My real name lies vestigial, in the folder of legal documents.
Do you know where else it lies hidden – in my kitchen cabinets.
When we host guests, I take out our best silver and arrange them on the dining table – upside down. And my heart swells with pride because there I see my name, inscribed on the most useful part of my bridal trousseau.
I remember, how upset I was when I woke up to the thak thak of the bartan–wala just a day before my marriage. In the veranda, the box-full of newly bought utensils which I would be using in my new home, were arranged in two heaps. And next to it the bartan-wala was busy deforming the smooth surface of the utensils with his little tools. Mother, in her usual overbearing style, was watching his every move like a hawk, double checking the spelling of my maiden name on every item. “Here, you forgot this spoon,” mother tossed a teaspoon at him from the Done heap.
“Ma, you have ruined the designs, they look so cheap now.” Oh, I detested her orthodox ways so much! She turned, with annoyance written clearly over her face. I know she must have found me so immature and foolish that day. Even the bartan-wala had a little smirk forming on his ashen lips.
“This will prevent anyone stealing your things,” and then she added, “later you will thank me for this.” What my wise mother didn’t tell me that day was that it will prevent people from stealing my name. Because one day, when I am no longer there to tell my side of the story, the immortal utensils (like fossils), will prove my presence in some part of His-story to the future beings.
I know, many of you will find me too dramatic, or exaggerating…but the truth is: we all are together in this, more or less. I am writing for many of us, whether you like it or not.
I will tell you about this girl I once knew as Nisha. Now she is called Lata.
“Why?” I had asked her. “The name is ashubh, inauspicious,” she told me. “It means night and will bring darkness to my marital home, the pundit has said.”
And there is also Sapna, now known as Madhuri. “Upon marriage a girl is reborn,” the ‘boy’s’ mother had put across her point, quoting some ancient scripture. “The identity in her parental home is erased and she is born again as a new member of her husband’s family. And anyway the name will be hardly used, from now on you will be bahu, beti, Chachi, and very soon chutku ki ma for everyone,” the woman tried to add some humor to the situation seeing the trickle of tears in the eyes of the erstwhile Sapna.
This may sound familiar to you. Yes, the factory reset button on cellphones. Just the touch of a button and POOF!! All apps, data deleted and the gadget is as good as the new. The new user (read owner) is ready to make the changes in the settings according to his requirements.
I often wonder is it same for women who are non-Indians, or women who are working, or women who are working and earning more than their husbands. This reminds me of a quote by an Indian poet Anusuya Sengupta: ‘Women everywhere, in all the parts of the world, speak the same language….of silence.’
Well, that doesn’t mean that I am a silence-type. In fact, I am the loudest one in the house. And that is the root of all the problems. Because I resist, I refuse, I think, I give views…and thus I fail as a ‘supposed to be’ wife. Silence is a bargain for a happy life, happiness at least for one member.
So I decided, rather announced, to not to opt for any factory reset. So easy it was, one may think, but it is not. Sometimes the resistance comes from the quarters least expected. Like the time when my husband wanted to add my unchanged name as the nominee to his life insurance policy and the family-friend cum LIC agent uncle, shifted in his chair uneasily and jotted down the correct as per the society norm name. “This will lead to legal complications later,” I had tried to argue reasonably, all my certificates, passport, even the birth certificate of my daughter borne my maiden name. “Oh, the policy is just a formality, such situation must and should never arise,” the man looked me squarely into the face and moved over to explain some new senior citizen policy to my father-in-law.
Or the passport office staff, who almost refused to renew my passport and my toddler’s, seeing that our names didn’t carry the same surname. It was only after calling him to the passport office and making him sign a no-objection affidavit that they were finally convinced that I had no plans of trafficking our child to some foreign destination.
I am often asked – Why? Why I am so sentimental and such a trouble-maker about this name-wame thing. How does it matter if I am called Kareena or Katrina or Karishma? In the end, I am what I am. And then I wonder, when a man can, for a small piece of land, kill himself or kill others, live in exile, face hardship, just because that land is his motherland, his very essence, then how can I leave my name, the identity I am born with.
Author’s note: My thoughts are based on my personal anecdotes and on a keen observation of society at large. Though things have changed to a great extent in metro-cities, in most of the parts of our country we still lie hidden. Do share your thoughts on this and also any experience or unpleasantness you faced in trying to save your name.
Image source: pixabay
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Vartika Sharma Lekhak is a writer based in India. She is the author of the
Why Does My Surname (And Thus My Identity) Need To Change Just Because I Am Married?
“I Write Therefore I Am” Rwituja Gomes Mookherjee, Author Of The Month, February 2018
Was Retaining Maiden Name Just As ‘Normal’ A Generation Ago? Read These Women’s Stories
My Name Is Not Just A Word: Why Should I Change My Surname?
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