WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: POWER OF NAMES
When my father came to the hospital and found out that he had yet another daughter, his fifth, he dealt with the paperwork, chose a name for the birth certificate and left without meeting me.
In the Indian tradition, parents name their children after consulting with an astrologer. The astrologer looks at the alignment of the stars and planets at the time of the birth and comes up with the newborn’s horoscope, even recommending the letters of the alphabet for the name. A poor name choice could bring bad luck or mean a hard life. Every Indian name has a meaning.
During my childhood I never met anyone with my name. I grew up in Singapore where Indians are a minority so my name stood out amongst the Mei Chews, Beng Soons and Puay Huats. There were a few Devis and Saraswatis scattered in there but only one Sujatha.
One day I asked my mother what my name meant. I can still hear her voice “ Ahh, I never liked your name, such an old fashioned name”
Then why did you name me Sujatha, mummy? I asked.
At first I felt nothing. Just sort of bewildered. Ours was clearly a dysfunctional family and this was just another strange thing that happened in my family. I’m not sure why she told me about my father’s disappointment. Perhaps, she was angry. Not only did my father leave the hospital without seeing me, he also left without looking in on her. I could hear the sadness in her voice when she told me this, her lips turned down. I cant imagine how she must have felt. She had gone through hours of labor and pain as I was a breech birth. She told me that all my sisters had been easy deliveries but with me, she had struggled, smacking me on my arm as she said this. Of course I was a breech birth, I needed to let everyone know that I was not the boy they were waiting for.
When I was around 26, I met a historian and theologian who was an expert on Buddha. I heard for the first time the story of how Buddha after years of observing austere practices realized he was on the wrong path and broke his fast. Emaciated, exhausted and defiled, he washed in the river. A young girl took pity on the old man and brought him a bowl of gruel. Soon after, he attained enlightenment. The young girl was named Sujatha. I was stunned, unsure how to respond, so used to being the bearer of an old fashioned, unlikable name. Some months later, someone asked me what my name meant. And instead of rolling my eyes and lamenting what an old fashioned name it was, I repeated the story of Buddha and the young girl. Only then, in the telling, did I realize what a huge dark weight had been lifted off me, a weight that I hadn’t really been aware of. The pain of being a disappointment was mitigated by bearing the name of someone historically significant and quite wonderful. And it felt very reassuring, that I was somehow linked to someone that had known and influenced one of the most important people in our history. I hugged this knowledge, seeking a sense of meaning and feeling like new possibilities were nearby.
And in fact I later became a Buddhist. Whether intentionally or not, naming is powerful and our names seem to have the power to influence our decisions and the course of our lives.
Tag – DPchallenge