Monday, January 24, 2011

No 'First' name please! I am a south Indian.

My request is meant specially for the new breed of Telemarketers. One of them, a girl this time, irritated me right in the morning and I was rude and banged my phone down. My first!

Our conversation went like this:
'Mr Doreswamy is it a good time to talk?' I replied 'No! And this is Srinidhi here.' Apparently the girl did not bother or failed register my correction. She should have known that in South India it is different. It is the village, father's name and then the given name. (Hopefully it is still the same.)

True the TM's are coached not to give up and keep talking. But when she continued rattling her piece ignoring my correction I saw red and being Taurean my reactions can be quite extreme and I banged my telephone down. Wait a minute, I just switched off my cell phone but my body reaction was that of a person who violently banged the phone down!

Honestly the girl is not to be blamed. In fact, it is a conspiracy by the West and by our brothers in the North as well. I know some of us have adapted and a few have tried to resist valiantly. In all probability it may now be a lost cause.

I understood the impact of this first name/last name thing only when I moved to Pune. One evening I went to meet my colleague 'Deshpande' at his home. His father opened the door and I asked 'Is Deshpande home?' He replied with a smile, 'We are all Deshpandes here, which one do you want?'. He was just having fun and luckily my friend came out to greet me before I could answer! Would have been embarrassing as I did not remember his first name!

I recall that once I silenced a lady who crowed with pride 'We all have the same surname, my son and his son will all have the same family name' with: 'It is alright if it is a well known family like yours. But if parents are notorious, it would be a disadvantage.'

My first passport was SI friendly, it just had blank space to fill in the name and Doreswamy Srinidhi was simple and straight forward. My father for some reason had decided to drop our village Grama from my name. Just as well as these smart kids would have addressed me as grama or gram!

It became somewhat confusing when I moved to Bangkok. My first task was to design my 'Name card' and having learned that the Thais used the first name to address people I called myself Srinidhi. D.

I thought it was a clever move, Thais would call me Srinidhi (Actually they settled for Kuhn Si. They found Srinidhi too hard to pronounce!) and the rest would not address me as Mr. D and I would be back to being Srinidhi.

The real blow came when I renewed my passport in Bangkok. The passport had a new format for names and the official at the embassy, probably from the north, put Doreswamy as my First Name. I did think of getting it corrected, but by then I had a ten year US visa in my old passport. Also there would be corrections in many other official documents. And this would lead to complications all across. So I just gave up and resigned myself to being called Doreswamy in Thailand. Fortunately it was not too often.

I had hoped that once I returned to Bengaluru I would regain my own name and when this girl addressed me as 'Doreswamy' I just blew a fuse!

I wonder if there is a movement in the south to go back to our old system. Worth investigating. I think tracing back people to their roots in these insecure days makes more sense than identifying them by caste or profession and so on.

A follow up note:
When Kesari queried me on Thais inability to pronounce our names I got curious and found this in Wikipedia. I wonder if India should follow suit and make family name mandatory or continue with the freedom we have now.

Thai names follow the North Indian and Western European pattern in which the family name follows a first or given name. In this they differ from the family-name-first pattern of the East Asian tradition.

Thai names, both given name and family, are often long and there are a great many of them. The diversity of family names is because they are required to be unique to a family, and they are a recent introduction. Further, Thai people change their family names relatively frequently (this practice being virtually unknown in many other countries outside of marriage).

Last names became legally required of Thai citizens in 1913:[1] before then, most Thais used only a first or individual name. The names generally convey positive attributes. Under Thai law, only one family can use any given surname: thus any two people of the same surname must be related.

Thai surnames are often long, particularly among those of upper-class families.[citation needed] According to the current law[clarification needed], to create a new Thai surname, it must not be longer than ten Thai letters, vowel symbols and diacritics are not counted.

As a measure of the diversity of Thai names, in a sample of 45,665 names, 81% of family names were unique, and 35% of given names were unique: the people with shared family names are thus related, and the diversity of given names is conventional.[2]

Friday, January 21, 2011

It was easy!

It was one of those days when I was at a loss about what to do! In addition there was a bundh in Karnataka and our plans were disrupted. In fact, it was the right day to travel as the traffic was very thin and we had work right across the city, but I chose to be cautious. We never know. Very frustrating.

Anyway it was time to shower and as I looked at myself in the mirror I was shocked as my beard seemed to be missing. Surprised, I switched on the light and saw just a shadow of my beard. I cursed myself for letting the barber trim my beard with a machine. No wonder Tara had said yesterday that I was looking neat! Normally she does not register my haircuts, a dividend for being bald.

Actually I grew my beard inadvertently years ago when I could not shave due to herpes, probably shingles is a better word. As managing a full beard seemed arduous at that time, I tried a goatee and continued with it.

I almost took it off when it turned white and someone said that I could look like Amitabh if I dyed my hair on top. (I was almost bald!). Why would I imitate an actor who is even younger than me? Anyway Dev Anand was our hero.

I guess the time had come for me to change my image. I forgot to take my scissors to Pune and my beard became unruly and unkempt and it was too boring to work on it myself and surrendered it to a barber. I also noticed that my grand children were no more interested in touching my beard. They had passed the age of being intrigued by it.

In fact, while in Pune, I had asked Leela if she liked my beard and whether I should keep it. Her first reaction was 'You can take it off!', but being the diplomat she is, she said: 'If you want you can keep it'.

So as I looked myself critically with the shadow of a beard on my visage I decided to take it off. It was easy as not much was left in any case.

I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I guess it will be a while before I get used to my new image!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Success of Ordinary Indians

Cousin Rangaraj sent me the link to the article 'The success of ordinary Indians'. I have used the same headline for my blog.

I quote from the article by Akash Kapur: 'These are not stories about the nation’s rising population of billionaires, nor are they are about India’s wildly successful technology entrepreneurs. These are stories about ordinary lives.

It is this very ordinariness, the commonness today of a journey that leads from deprivation to hope, from poverty to something that is at least within striking distance of prosperity, that is the real indication of India’s progress over the last decade.

As the new decade begins, I want to focus on the lives that have been lifted up since the start of the millennium. I have room to tell only four life stories. There are millions more like these. But these four men and women capture some of the hope that marks India today, and that casts little pools of light amid the shadows of deprivation that have for so long defined this country'.

The four stories: A widow Ms. Rajalakshmi who lives in a thatched hut but whose daughter is studying for a degree in computer science.

Mr. Ramnathan, a high school drop out, whose children have reaped the benefits of his hard work. His two daughters have technical degrees, and his son is finishing a course in commerce. Elder daughter back in India after a stint in Chicago plans to start her own software business.

A 36-year-old autorickshaw driver D. Sedhuraman whose daughter attends a private school and has ambitions to become a doctor or an engineer.

Archana Somani, 55 year old. At the turn of the decade, she and her husband ran a small souvenir shop and a travel business. They did fine back then, but now they do much better.

Reading these stories I am reminded of similar ones. Tara and I met our old house maid and her family. Her three grand children are graduates of commerce, computer science and law. They are looking forward to a much better life than their elders who had it tough but managed to educate them. They are bright and confident and I pray that they get the right breaks in their life. It is not easy but I hope being educated will surely help them.

My driver in Bangkok is another good example. His wife worked as a house maid, but they put their four daughters through college and helped them to have much better lives. It is even more creditable as it was easy for girls to be drawn to the more remunerative and infamous careers in Thailand.

While many have come out of poverty, there are millions who may never have similar opportunities and that is sad. It could even prove dangerous for our country. In real numbers, there are more people who are poor now than at the time we became independent.