Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A rose by any other name - Samina responds...

Here is Samina Rizwan's charming response to my reference to her in my last post. Apart from being heart-warmingly delightful, it is a MUST READ for all Gen Next girls bent on hyphenated last names.. (Samina is a Pakistani friend, who heads Oracle's Middle East and N Africa region - she is currently based at Dubai) ..
Harish, Naming conventions amongst us South Asians remain yet more exasperating, although don’t make that claim before the Chinese, who surely outdo us in complexity.

My mother (Ammi) was named Zahoor (one of those names, like Krishna, carried by both men and women). Story goes she fell ill as a child and was renamed Roohina (the spiritual one). At school she was registered as Roohina Akhtar, her last name having nothing to do with her father's (Col Dr. Mohammad Sharif of the Indian Medical Corps) or her mother's (Badshah Begum). Her sisters had different last names, in fact not last names at all since `Zubeida Begum’ merely conveys something like Lady Zubeida, rather like Kaur establishes the gender. Thus did I come to begin life as Samina Akhtar, taking Ammi's last name, not my dad’s.

My Dadijan didnt get along with anyone, she was opinionated they say. I was her first grandchild, and a first girl in my dad's family of 5 boy siblings. Dadijan (whom I called Ammijan and my dad called Bey-ji), was ecstatic to have me (also unusual for a Punjabi village woman who typically abhors a girl child!), and called me "Ainie" or `my eyes’. To this day, in our village, I hear people calling after me "Ainie?" and I look around me for a little girl with that name. Anyway, I hated not being my father's daughter, so somewhere between 7 and 8 years of age, while re-registering at school yet again due to a posting, I took it upon myself to write my name as Samina Rafi. Ammi kept introducing me to teachers and sundry as Samina Akhtar but I knew better. The Rafi stuck, especially after I arrived at my real childhood home, the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Murree, I am told a replica of the same name school in Simla, and introduced myself to Mother Mary Andrew as Samina Rafi.

As Defence Attache to the US, we were the most `regular’ named people amongst the Pakistanis. We were `The Rafis’ now, Ammi having learnt her lesson and converted to Roohina Rafi and naming my younger siblings Haroon, Umar and Ayesha Rafi. Btw, there is a story to my dad’s name Rais Ahmed Rafi too which I shall tell later (no one in his family was a Rafi prior to his birth, and all his brothers were subsequently Rafi being named after him, not their father...STRANGENESS!).  Anyway, life name-wise was simple in the USA....and then I got married.

Rizwan was Raja Rizwanullah Khan. None of those were last names. I fretted over this aplenty, unbeknownst to all, since I was just `Amreeka returned’, where a last name would define you, only the social security number doing better. I asked Rizwan what I should call myself and he, taken aback, said "Samina!?". Then I asked "what is your last name?" and again he was taken aback "Do I need one? I am Raja Rizwanullah Khan - isnt that enough?" Rizwan was so adorably uncluttered in mind and heart, bless him.

Short short, I experimented with Samina Raja, Samina Rizwanullah, Samina Khan, even considered Samina Rafi but it was bad enough everyone in the Air Force referred to my husband as "Rafi's son in law", I didn’t want to stretch that one further. I arrived at Samina Rizwanullah, sounded perfect for a future political career, until I became employed by Oracle. At the time, the Balasubramaniams and Venkateshwarans of IT had not yet arrived, so Rizwanullah was terribly complex. I cut off the tail and redefined myself yet again - Samina Rizwan. My children had already arrived, at least the older two had, and their fate was sealed too after exasperated considerations of this or that version by me and characteristically calm responses from Razi "Yaar, Khan kar do, Rizwan kar do, Raja kar do...mere hi bachey hain!". Raja Taimur Khan, Andaleeb Rizwan. TK and Billu carry their own cross now - what to do with the Raja prefix!

I end on an anecdote. In Arabic, the word Samina means FAT, FERTILE. Although it is embarrassingly relevant to me in both instances, my mother did not intend to name me it. She meant to name me PRECIOUS, NAYAB - which is an Arabic word using the alphabet "the" not "se". Thamina is my name - Precious, Priceless, Valuable - that’s moi! Unfortunately, in Urdu, while I write it with a "the", the pronunciation remains more Hindi-like, 'se'. Now, in the Middle East, I invariably end up starting my talks and presentations with "Although my card says Samina, let me tell you my mother did love me and did not mean to say I would be name is.....".

A rose etc... Touche!

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