Most of us carry a single name throughout our life and never bother to change. Name becomes an identity by itself and a pointer to our other identities even without our knowledge. Among our friends and relatives, name carry the identity of our face, character,etc. beyond that in a general world a name carries the identities of caste, religion, region, etc.
I have a name which is not really reflecting some of my identities and in contrast to general perception. Last 10 years of my life in Bangalore has given me some stark experiences because of my name. I could meet many people who talks about strange names and experiments on names happening in Kerala, my native state. I always attributed it to the progressive outlook of the society there. My father, who is a communist, was ready to experiment with the name of his first son. He picked my name from the sports page of a news paper. When I was born ‘Rameez Raja’ was in the Pakistan Cricket team and making some head lines in sports column. My father was neither a cricket fan nor a Pakistan fanatic. He just dropped the royal part “Raja” from that name and my name since then is ‘Rameez’. This brought a whole lot of new experience to me for the last 33 years.
Some of my relatives were not ready to call me ‘Rameez’, instead they called me ‘Ramesh’. I believed it is because of the complexity of pronouncing my name. Then comes the school days. Most of my friends were innocent so that they didn’t bother about the ‘progressive’ angle of my name. But there were few elements very keen to know what is the name of my father and mother. Some of them assumed and spread the rumor that my parents had a inter religious marriage. That was because many of them know my mother, who was a clerk in the same school. During the college days the level of curiosity had increased on my friends circle. They wanted to know ‘What is my second name’. Don’t you have a caste tail like Nair, Nambiar, etc. My father, who dropped the royal aspect “Raja” from the original name was not keen on a second name. So for the sake of writing, I have chosen my place name as my second name and that didn’t clearly help others to identify my identity.
After Engineering my obvious destination was Bangalore even though some of my relatives insisted me to go to “Gulf”. There is a trend among house owners in Bangalore not to let their house to bachelors for obvious reasons. But we survived that and my first land lord gave his house to a group of people covering almost all religions of South India Hindu, Muslim, Christan and an atheist. Problems started after marriage. As you can imagine marriage itself had many problems. Many from my wife’s relative circle assumed that I am Muslim and had a tough time for her to convince all of them.
My wife was doing M.Tech in an Engineering college near Kumara Swamy Layout in Bangalore while we got married. I couldn’t get a house for almost a month after our marriage and she continued in her P.G. Things got improved after she also joined for the search of a house as her appearance in no way suggest her as a Muslim. House owners will ask at least two or three times my name and will show a confused face. My wife will come for my rescue and start explaining about my name. They will get relaxed a bit. Then they will bring the secular card. “No. No. We don’t have any such problems. We haven’t given our house to Muslims earlier. That is why…” The same experience repeated in different degrees in all six rented house deals.
The last one was a bit different with a different dimension to it. Even after our explanation our house owner and his family continued to believe I am Muslim and they told the neighbors and other tenants also. “They are Kerala Muslims and inter religious marriage”. This had some impact on the relationship with our neighbors. Another tenant in the same building has a kid of the same age as my daughter. In no time they became friends. But his parents were really worried that he may eat something from our house. Interestingly they were also meat eaters, but they didn’t want their son to eat anything from an “Ahindu” house. At some point they started stopping our daughter from visiting their house, but her age didn’t bother to obey. But it took a bad turn when they started poking us about our cleanliness, water usage, etc. They started picking up all sorts of minute things. That was the first time I have decided to change my house without a reason of my own. The next street is dominated by Muslim population. When I started looking for a house they were receptive because of my name. But they didn’t lend me one when they got in to the details.
I got a new house closer to my work place but a bit far from our Organization’s office. The current house owner is a retired magistrate from Tamilnadu. To my surprise he was also not an exception while inquiring about my religion. But the explanation he has given was drastically different from the previous people. “This area is dominated by B.J.P people. they don’t want a non-Hindu to come in this area. If I lend the house to a Muslim I may end up in giving unnecessary explanations. Thank God, You saved me”. He had to say this much because I had made a verbal agreement with him the previous day.
My current neighbor is from “Kerala”. But the first thing they wanted to know was our caste. They have asked this to my wife and at a later time to our maid too. And they were keen to emphasize that they are Brahmins.
I get irked by these happenings always, but felt helpless. In last one century a lot have been changed. But fundamentally the fundamentalists inside many of us have not changed. We need to work towards a better world of equality through every interaction with others. Question ourselves, the hypocritical progressive outlook, undergo a self critical rectification process, starting from the four walls of our house.