Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In the name of the father...

In his 1991 book Immortality, Milan Kundera wrote, "We don't know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We don't understand our name at all, we don't know its history and yet we bear it with excited fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration." I only realized the import of this quote I had extracted long ago when I sat in the cold at our younger son's citation ceremony.

As the names were announced one by one, the children came on to the stage to receive their citation. My heart burst with pride in the anticipation of seeing our son being commended. He did, to a mispronunciation of our surname. In one fell swoop, one significant moment of ignorance and brazen callousness not only had Shekhar  been erased from my son's name but he had changed origin, community and state.

Man leaves very little behind when he dies. The tangibles change ownership, age, fray or become useless. Only the intangibles remain. The memories, the love, the humanity...the name.

What's in a name? In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote that it means little, except in essence. Yet when Juliet says, "Deny thy father and refuse thy name...'Tis but thy name that is my enemy," she refers to all the indefinables that come with a name. The name comes from the father. It signifies family honour. It represents lineage and loyalty.

To me our name matters...it anchors memory, defines who we are and says we belong. It is our unique identity, our signature, our introduction and...Shekhar's legacy.

I spoke to a friend the other day. It is sixteen years since she lost her husband. We spoke of many things but when the conversation veered to her husband, her breath caught on his name. Sixteen years and his name still had the power to keep him alive.

The boys have that power. They carry Shekhar in them...in every breath, fiber, cell and...in the name of their father.

A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.

Henry David Thoreau in the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1906)