What's in a name, Bill?
If only Shakespeare lived in India, he would know the importance of a name. For years, the surname has played a critical role. It has defined caste and therefore acceptability as also political hierarchies but for some strange reason, first names were never seen to be very treacherous. My brother was christened Swapan, as Bengali a first name as any can be while my parents, decided to name me Suhel. Which for years was cause for a lot of torment especially on school certificates. My name was either spelt Sohel or Suhail and in the rare case it was ever spelt Suhel, the surname would inevitably have a Gujarati shade: Sheth or something like that.
But then my formative years were spent in the civil surroundings of Calcutta: names did not matter unless of course you were a Tagore. Everyone went about their jobs ignoring the relevance of names. Especially the first name. The first name was one on which you could take creative license. So if you wanted to give your ward a multi-racial flavour, you could go ahead and experiment with the first name. And that too in a city which always has a pet name for everyone but pets. There is not one home in Calcutta where you will ever hear the real first name being called out. It is always the 'daak naam': which means 'the calling out name': yes, that's how banal it all is. So this was the world in which I was born and raised.
Oblivious of the damage my first name would cause me. Oblivious equally to the damaging prospects it would erect as far as dating and eventual matrimony were concerned.
In the many careers that I then embarked on, from advertising to marketing to investment banking and finally to brand consulting, one would take a close look at brand names; their impact on consumer minds; their ability to trip off a consumer's tongue but very rarely would one question the theocratic impact that the name would have. Never did the thought cross my mind. It must be said, that in all this, our family while devout Hindus have remained largely secular. I am of the belief that secularism is the only way forward for this nation, in fact, for the world. Until of course Goa happened.
I met this amazing girl and she had all one was looking for. A sense of humour which was beyond the cliché; a joie-de-vivre which was compelling and effortless; an intelligence that was focused and well-travelled and a laugh that could magnetise any moment and spread both warmth and good cheer. Along side, all of this, my career also encompassed a lot of writing and it must be said, that I have written perhaps the maximum number of articles against Narendra Modi only because I thought Godhra's carnage was a slur on India and the very idea of a secular India. It represented all that India could not afford to be. But then many years later, Narendra Modi and I caught up for tea and conversation at his home in Gandhinagar post which I wrote yet another article where while I did mention the ghosts of Godhra, I also said, that Modi today had transformed Gujarat into a haven of excellence and growth.
It was that article that set the cat among the pigeons. I was hauled over the coals by the pseudo-secularists; including the armchair Indian Arundhati Roy. But what hurt me most was the blogs that suddenly referred to me as an Indian Muslim. Now I really don't care if they call me Muslim or for that matter Parsi. But what upset me was that it has now begun to have a profound impact on my dating and matrimonial prospects and that is what worries me no end. The girl's father and mother are worried I am some Indian Muslim and obviously that is an issue and I fully empathise with that. My mother is upset that her Balaji necklace-wearing son, who goes to Tirupati at least five times a year, is now being branded Muslim. And all of this because some idiot blogger believed that my first name defined everything about me.
So here is my fervent appeal to all bloggers. Unite ye tribe and absolve me of the definition you have accorded me. Throw stones at what I say; abuse the logic I invest my articles with.
Rubbish my dogmas and chastise my theories but please accept the fact that I am a devout Hindu. That will help solve many personal problems. I always believed Narendra Modi was controversial but the kind of impact he has had, through inference, on my personal life, is shattering. So go out and tell the world, that I am a Hindu. An Indian Hindu if you want me to be distinct from Naipaul. But a Hindu after all. For the sake of my mother and that pretty girl I met not long ago in Goa!
More about Suhel Seth
Managing partner, Counselage