Saturday, June 06, 2009

What’s (not) in a name!

I was 6 years old then. The first standard it was, and I was ahead of the class for I knew “counting numbers” till 100, and I could write this essay titled “Myself” almost flawlessly. This is not to claim that my writing skills were as sharp then, as they are at present. For, never have I felt that I have done justice to the English language while penning down my thoughts. Rather, this is to reinforce the fact that I learnt the essay by rote. I could quote the entire essay from memory at any time of the day. My relatives wanted to hear it every time they visited my house, for it was the custom then, to make children perform “academic item numbers”. In return, I would get a lot of praise, whose artificiality I could make out even when I was a performer (of) ‘myself’!!

But, come the exams, most of the class got a 10/10. I got an 8. For the extent of hype society had built on 'marks’ as indicators of academic excellence, and of their role in a person’s “living happily ever after”, I thought my reward for having screwed up this exam would be being thrown back in time and into the Stone Age!

An evaluation done at home, of my first ever written exam, revealed two serious glitches:
1) I had this hobby of getting stuck at the dots. By this, I mean the dots of the letters “i” and “j”. I spent a minute, in decorating every dot, till it either emerged bigger than the letter itself, or the paper underneath gave in, whichever was earlier! For all the big dots made on paper, my answer sheet more resembled a road map of important cities, all denoted by big dots of graphite! On a macro level, all dots together cost me a mark out of 10.
2) I misspelt my name! Now this went against the established paradigm of “being yourself”! I had spelt my name “Subramania Sharma”, but the mark-list showed otherwise. It read “Subramonia Sarma”. I learnt up the latter spelling later, and thought it was the end of all trouble, but how wrong I was!!!

From “counting numbers”, through a “Science group” in the 11th and 12th, a B Tech in Production Engineering and an ongoing MBA in Marketing, a lot of things have changed. A ‘myself’ now would come to pages, and would be more indecisive than deciding one’s favourite colour and best friend!

But, all through, I have had this habit of being a show-stopper. Roll calls go on smoothly until they reach my name. This is when teachers stop, struggle with the phonetics of my name, and try five variants, before I correct them with the not-so-obvious sixth way of pronouncing it. I end up telling them it is pronounced as “Subramania Sharma”, but written Subramonia Sarma, for that’s my grandpa’s name, and the spelling stuck when my parents named me. I was not in a position to complain then, for little will a one-year old foresee the troubles that a name would bring him, years later in life!

Another instance is when my friend asked me my full name. People normally don’t think so much, for they are already loaded with information on how and why there is an “o” in Subramonia, and why the “h”, so much required in the name ‘Sarma’, is not present. Further, there are others who take the spelling for granted and end up calling me Subramonia, where the m-o-n is pronounced as in Pokemon! Further, the first syllable in Sarma gets pronounced as sa- in sarcasm. Back to my friend who badly wanted to know my full name.

I told him that my name has four parts, one of which is my name, the other my dad’s, a third which is the name of my ancestral home and finally, a family title. Our pal, being spontaneity personified, remarked, “Man! Ain’t this good! You mean to say that, in ancient days, all it took to reach the house of a Tam Brahm was to know his full name! You seem to carry the entire address in your name! Try and put in information like your blood group, academics, etc. Your name can then stand for a mini CV!” Very funny, I told him. But yes, he did have a point somewhere. Tangentially, though!

My chemistry teacher had his share of fun with my name. I won a ‘solo instrumental’ contest when I was in my 7th. The certificates were written by one of our Chemistry teachers. A word of praise for the latter. He was one who conducted the entire youth festival single-handedly. Every event finished dot on time, and no prize distribution ceremony had logistical issues. A person with such impeccable record faltered only once. And that was when he wrote my name on the certificate. He ended up inserting the name of a chemical in my name, with the result that it finally read:

Subr’AMMONIUM’ Sarma

Second last, the ‘o’ in Subramonia makes people think I am a Bengali. It takes a while before I tutor them with phonetics, and bring them from Bengal to Kerala!

Last, there were people who gave up altogether. This was when I was attending the GD/PI session for one of the better b-schools in the country. The process was conducted by seniors who were studying in that institute. There was this female who tried a dozen times to get my name right, but failed. She then struck off my name from the list, and wrote “difficult one”. For the rest of the process, that’s how my name was addressed.

(Un)like (what) they say, what’s (not) in a name?!