In a Name?

By Monica Bakre

“No, No, No, No…” spoke up Sudhanshu, “Not that name…”

“Why, Papa? What happened? ” asked his daughter-in-law, Swati, who was actively planning her one-month-old daughter’s cradling ceremony with the whole family.

“Yeah, Papa, what is wrong with ‘Sunayana’? Baby has beautiful eyes!” said the proud father, Shubham.

“Let the children decide, na…why are you butting in?” was Sudhanshu’s wife, Ruchi’s admonition. Sudhanshu became quiet.

“Must be some story of his youth, I feel…” said Swati to her husband, once they were in their own room.

“I think so too…something that he is very touchy about…”

“But I never knew Papa as being particularly the emotional type! How come?”

“The best thing would be to talk to him and find out.”, planned Shubham.

Several hours later, after the family dinner, when Baby had been settled in her baby cot, and her nanny instructed to call them if she got up, the younger couple decided to speak to Papa again.

Sudhanshu was in his favourite rocking chair by the window which overlooked the neat, trim lawn of his spacious bungalow. Ghazals were playing softly on the stereo system in this library of his, and he had a calm, if pensive look on his face. He was a well-placed dealer in automobiles with three agencies for leading brands. His only son, Shubham, was actively involved in managing the business, while Sudhanshu guided him from time to time.
“Papa…” Shubham dragged a small stool by his side, while Swati settled down on a bean bag close by.

“Huh? Haan, beta…bolo…” Sudhanshu put off the music with the remote that had been placed on the window sill.
Shubham found himself suddenly tongue-tied! Swati spoke up.

“Papa…we have been a bit concerned. You do not want Baby to be named ‘Sunayana’. That is okay. We will not name her that. But, is there something worrying you? Something on your mind?” she asked softly.

Swati, a well brought up young lady had been married to Shubham through references from common friends of the elder couple. She had blended in beautifully with her new family and saw to the needs of all, taking help from the able staff in the house.

“I think both of you ought to know.” Suddenly, Sudhanshu had decided to speak his mind! Shubham and Swati, though surprised, were also a bit concerned about what they would get to hear and whether they would be comfortable listening.

The story as narrated by Sudhanshu had begun nearly forty years ago!

“It was the seventies. As you know, I grew up in Kolkata. I had just completed my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. I then took up a job as a management trainee in a company dealing in automobiles. Training took me to New Delhi, which was abounding with wonderful sights, food, and fun. I proceeded gladly, a free bird, out to explore the world!”
Sudhanshu took a halt here, his eyes fixed on the jamun tree in the distance near the compound wall of his bungalow.

“I took up a barsati on rent and moved in with my meagre luggage. My meals were taken care of by the numerous eateries that dotted the neighbourhood. Chhole-bhature, chaats, paani puri…you name it and it would be there! You know what, I even found a shop which sold rosogollas just as we make them here in Calcutta…oh, Kolkata!”, Sudhanshu smiled, with a satiated look as though he had in fact just partaken of the delicious fare right then!
“It was one evening at a chaat stall that my life changed!” Sudhanshu sat up now, aligning his back straight to his rocking chair. Swati and Shubham moved in closer. Their eyes were riveted on Sudhanshu…both, taut with eagerness.

“Engrossed in digging hungrily into my crisp masala potatoes, at one point, at my heel, I felt a silky swish…I was wearing open sandals… I moved a bit as there was quite a crowd now building up. A little while later, I felt the swish again! I then turned and looked down. Was it an insect trying to crawl up my feet?” Sudhanshu recalled this graphically, it appeared.

“And then, the person whose thick, black plait was almost at ground level, turned! She was facing me!”

“Oh!” exclaimed the younger couple together under their breaths.

“She was in a group of three or four other girls. They were all merrily gorging on tikkis and chholey when I happened to have a full glance at her. Her face was oval, her complexion, wheatish, and the hair! Oh my God! Jet black, thick, and the plait till the ground! Can you believe it?”

Swati instinctively caressed her shoulder length hair, imagining a plait that touched the floor!

“I was young and felt an immense pull towards her. I just wanted to be friends with her. But, it was the seventies, remember? There was no Whatsapp or Facebook then! Like all of you have today!” Sudhanshu chuckled at this.
“Anyway, I managed to get what we used to call an ‘intro’ with her after researching and finding a common acquaintance in the neighbourhood. ‘Sukeshi’ was the apt name that she had!

“But how did your parents know when you were born that you would have such beautiful hair before you grew up?” I asked her when she began seeing me in the community park stealthily soon after we discovered a common attraction to each other.

“Arre, for five years, till I joined school, everyone used to call me ‘Minty’. That was my pet name. When it was time to get me admitted to school, they had to find a formal name. By then, my hair was already long and thick. So, Sukeshi it was! Frankly, I don’t like the name myself, but that’s it!”

Sudhanshu looked straight at Swati and Shubham now.

“But I liked the name very much.”, he said firmly.

“And so, it went…I began visiting their home too. I guess I was not unwelcome because of my assured job and sound family background. And once when my parents visited New Delhi for sightseeing, I introduced them to Sukeshi and her family.”

With a smile, Sudhanshu carried on.

“They even began giving me permission to go for movies with Sukeshi, first in the company of her two younger, giggly sisters, and later, just by ourselves. I guess the neighbourhood also knew of this impending match that was beginning to fructify in their midst. We would get benevolent smiles from all down the lane as we set out. My heart would swell with pride, the beauty of Sukeshi’s hair adding thrill to my pomposity in grand measure. I knew she was the one for me…she was just right…and she had beautiful hair!”

If Shubham and Swati had any responses, they did not express them, so spellbound were they with Sudhanshu’s description. All of a sudden, a cloud seemed to appear in Sudhanshu’s bright eyes. He gazed long once again in the distance outside the window.

“But then, you know, trouble started. It all began one day when her mother, one sister, Sukeshi, and I went to attend a late night music concert at Silver Terrace auditorium. It was swank and new then. The music was enthralling and once the show got over, we decided to take the last bus home.”

Shubham and Swati knew that the ensuing description of events was not going to be easy.

“On the way to the bus stop, Sukeshi suddenly felt a spell of giddiness. She tottered and held on to my shirt sleeve so as not to fall. This was surprising as we had all had samosa and sandwiches during the break. So, it couldn’t be hunger for sure.”

“Anyway, discarding it as a one-off incident, we forgot all about it. Till…one evening, when I went to their place, Sukeshi told me thrice in succession that her sister’s school result had come out. Every time I would tell her that she had already told me so. But, after some time, once again, she would make the announcement!”

“This was slightly unsettling. In time, her parents also reported her newly acquired habit of repeating statements made by her. She also preferred to sleep much more than she usually did.”

Shubham and Swati had their minds racing around trying to guess what could be the cause of this oddity, given their new-age medical knowledge sourced from the internet, books, and magazines.

“We finally saw the doctor when Sukeshi complained of severe headache one day. Brain tumour…that was what it was…a fair sized one, but one that could be removed surgically, we were told.”

The gasps that escaped the lips of Shubham and Swati were audible enough for Shubham to break out of his monologue and ask them, “I hope its ok that I am narrating. Not too disturbing for both of you, right?”
Shubham and Swati just nodded to signal for him to continue the narration.

“The operation was fixed for a Tuesday morning. We admitted her on Sunday. It was there that the doctor told us that for any brain surgery, the head would have to be free of all hair.”

“I was flabbergasted and bluntly and somewhat foolishly asked the doctor if Sukeshi’s hair would be chopped off. The doctor nodded and I was stunned…”

“The chances of a full recovery were remote. Remember this was forty years back. Medical science was not what it is today. We were also told that Sukeshi’s hair may not be allowed to grow back soon as successive surgical interventions may be required…”

“This did it! Or, I am not sure if just the brain tumour was the only reason, but it definitely was a part of my decision to call it quits!”

“Papa!” blurted out Shubham suddenly, only to be hushed to silence by his wife.

“I agonized over my decision for a day or two. I spoke to my parents too. They agreed with me that now Sukeshi would be a liability. I don’t blame them…they wished only well for their son…”

“And so….without telling anyone, without even bidding farewell to Sukeshi, I quit my training mid way, left the job, and returned to Kolkata…to the safe confines of my home, health, family, and no encumbrances.”

Having told all, Sudhanshu seemed to be relieved of a huge burden that had weighed heavily on his conscience.

“I was a coward, children… I was only thinking of myself and my pride in Sukeshi’s appearance…her hair particularly…”

“In time, I married your mother and we have been happy together. She does not know this story because only my parents knew.”

“Did you ever contact them later, Papa? How long did you associate with Sukeshi and her family in New Delhi?” Swati asked a logical question.

“Almost a year? Yeah…about a year. My training was for fifteen months, but I quit just about within a year. I did have to pay the company for breaking the bond that I had signed with them, but my parents supported me. They just wanted me to be free…and frankly, I wanted to be free too…!”

“Down the years, I reflected a lot, children …on my act of disappearing from Sukeshi’s life without so as much as one backward glance. But…remember, I never regretted what I did. I will tell you that honestly.”
“But… sometimes, I would reflect on my deed.”

Sudhanshu went on to describe exactly why he thought he had walked away from the budding relationship.

“I found that at that young age, I had got attracted to Sukeshi’s physical beauty, her long, lustrous hair in particular. Nothing abnormal about that, actually. But, I discovered that I had developed a strange vanity owing to that aspect. It was almost like my identity was pinned to it!”

“For that matter, in my eyes, even Sukeshi’s identity was deeply linked to her hair. It took precedence over all else. It did not matter to me that she was a post graduate in Economics and that she had planned to apply for an M.Phil in the subject too. It did not matter to me that she was a gentle, compassionate soul who did not speak ill of anyone. It was not that she was meek and submissive. She had her views, but she had a pleasant way of conveying them so as not to hurt anyone. In other words, I had not paid attention to her intrinsic qualities, but had concentrated only on her extrinsic ones. In my view now, this was incorrect on my part.”

Shubham and Swati looked thoughtful. They were still not able to comprehend the connection between this narration and why their baby should not be named ‘Sunayana’.

“Now…you might wonder as to how I could have conducted myself better. Frankly, there is no answer to that. I did not have the courage to face the family and tell them that I was unwilling to take the responsibility of a patient of brain tumour. I had a complete aversion to walking up to her and declaring that I was leaving. So, I took the easy way out. I just left the city.”

Shubham and Swati could understand this predicament that Sudhanshu had unfortunately found himself in, back then. They could also understand as to why no one except his parents knew, as it was impossible, in fact even unnecessary to tell anyone, particularly his wife. It was a difficult chapter and could not have helped any, if he even had disclosed it.

“And so…when you name your daughter by a physical attribute…remember, that in one way or the other, that becomes her primary attribute. And, it’s just an external one…Your baby will have ever so many intrinsic qualities, you will be amazed!”

“So…why not name her something more inclusive and apt? Right, Papa?” asked Shubham.

“Yes…I agree…” said Swati.

Sudhanshu looked relieved that he had put his point across effectively to the young couple. The next day, the couple once again trooped into Sudhanshu’s study at night.

“Papa…we have thought of two names. You select one.”, said Swati excitedly.

“Hmm…tell…” Sudhanshu sat up.

“Papa…one is SWECCHA (one’s own wish) and the other is MANASWAMI (in control of one’s mind) … these, according to us, are empowering names for a girl child. What do you think?

Sudhanshu found his eyes getting moist as he ruminated over the two names.

“SWECCHA might be difficult for baby to spell, right? She is too tiny!” he managed to say!

“She will spell only when she grows up, Papa…not right now…” pointed out Shubham, amused at his father’s statement.

“Arre haan….I never thought of that…” laughed out Sudhanshu.

Shubham and Swati joined in in the mirth which wiped off all the gloom that had been pervading Sudhanshu’s mind.
“MANASWAMI. Yeah, I like this name better. Manaswami– One who controls her mind…one who makes her own decisions…one who can take care of herself…one who can be on the righteous path that she is shown…always…”, finally pronounced Sudhanshu with a satisfied smile.

“Just right for our precious baby girl…yes…” the young couple chorused happily….

About the Author: Monica Bakre is a qualified counselor/psychologist, with interest in reading, writing, cooking, music, and pets. She describes herself as an observant, absorbing, thinking, speculating, and sensitive individual.

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