Annus Horribilis

What a year it’s been!

With the passing of George Michael on Christmas Day, it seems as though we have lost more luminaries in a year than we have in the last decade. From David Bowie to Prince to Alan Rickman to Zsa Zsa Gabor, nearly every month has brought news of another celebrity demise. In and of itself, this would make headlines. But coupled with all that has gone on politically, 2016 has kicked us in the teeth repeatedly.

Pondering the US election results, a colleague had remarked that the pendulum had swung this far right only as a reaction to it having swung too far left. Equal and opposite seems to have been the rule of the thumb this year. Brexit and Trump. Farage and Le Pen. Racism and Misogyny.

Adding an extra glitter to the proceedings have been all the horrific terrorist attacks the world over. From the Istanbul bombing(January) to the Brussels airport attack (March) to the car bombings in Baghdad (May) to the Orlando nightclub shooting (June) to the Bastille Day attack in France (July) to the suicide bomber in Quetta, Pakistan (August) to the Ohio State University Attack (November) to the Berlin Attack (December), to name but a few.

And all the while, the world has watched the plight of the Syrian civilians in Aleppo caught in a civil war nightmare, from a distance, helpless and shocked that a despotic ruler can attack his own people time and again, with nary a murmur from the powers that be. Alliances and political juxtapositions being paramount.

Turmoil, upheaval and change have been 2016’s calling cards.

Governments are mutating, political ideologies are being replaced, humongous talents are bowing out, and climate change is being labelled as fraudulent. Is this the beginning of the end?

Every Century has brought its own kind of change. The world has seen natural disasters, extinction of species, plagues and contagion, war and strife, and it has carried on spinning on its axis. Despite all of mankind’s destructive capabilities, and megalomaniac desires, the world has survived. How much longer though?

With the nuclear codes in the (very) small hands of a man with an easily bruised and (very) large ego, might this be the last decade or so that the world does carry on spinning on its axis? Let’s hope not. Let 2016 be a footnote of sorts in our History books. If it is the year that took away so many and so much, let it also be the year that led us to self awareness, to a perseverance and persistence of belief in the ultimate wisdom and kindness of the human species.

If 2016 has been an annus horribilis, let’s look forward to an annus mirabilis in 2017.

Goodbye, you awful year. We shall not be sorry to see the back of you.


So what’s in a name?

A famous cricketer in India, Yuvraj Singh, gets married to his sweetheart, Hazel Keech, a model and actress. During the wedding ceremony, Hazel’s name is changed to Gurbasant Kaur, by the Sikh priest performing the ceremony. He is the ‘Guru” of the family, and both Yuvraj and his mother, follow his instructions to a T. As does the new bride obviously.

From Hazel to Gurbasant, what is in a name after all? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet Shakespeare claimed. Yet, let’s examine this a little closely. Our names are the repositories of our identities. Our histories, our backgrounds, our cultures are all tied in with our names. Is it quite so easy to discard them and don new ones?

As most little girls would attest, the first sign of a crush is to link one’s name with the object of one’s affection. Signatures are practised with flair. Surnames are dropped with nary a thought. But this is all play. When it comes to the actual doing, post marriage, many women choose to keep their original surnames. The reasons could be professional or personal. It’s a name they are used to, have had their entire lives, have earned their degrees on, and refuse to compromise on, at that juncture.

Years ago, my mother had a run in with an American boss’ wife. In correspondence, she had unwittingly referred to her by her husband’s surname. The lady was livid, and insisted that this was rectified immediately. My mother was confused. In India, in the 80’s most women donned their husband’s name after marriage. This current trend of double barrelling names or even keeping the maiden name did not exist. When we discussed this at the dinner table that night, we wondered if the lady was some kind of a bra burning feminazi. In actual fact she was just a qualified professional who refused to be pigeon holed by her husband’s name or accomplishments.

Later, in the nineties, a cousin of mine called off an engagement, and settled on staying single because, not only had the future husband and in laws demanded that she become a stay at home wife, but had also insisted that she change her name to his. This was a doctor who had put several years of study to gain her qualifications, only to have her attainments and her career be subsumed by his. She wasn’t having any of it.

Contrastingly, a school friend did what Hazel has done, and took on a new name- first and last- to please her husband who did not much care for her original name. She seemed happy with her decision, and to this day, doesn’t see why it should have been a big deal at all.

When I got married in the late nineties, I did what most good Indian brides did back then, and adopted my husband’s last name. Would I do it today? Maybe. Maybe not. I was still discovering who I was back then. Today, I am farther along in that journey, and am comfortable with the name I have. It has become a part of my identity.

Would I have changed my first name? Not a chance. It’s a name that was picked out lovingly by my mother. It’s an unusual name, and much as it has been a pain in the rear, career wise, and living in the West, with it getting mangled beyond recognition, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which brings us full circle to Hazel. Hazel, who had an ugly altercation with some bank officials a while ago. They refused to recognise her name as Indian, and release her monies to her. Who argued, leered and embarrassed her to the extent that she took to Twitter to lambast them. Would Gurbasant have had the same problems? Maybe their Guru was exorcising those demons by christening her with a more Indian than Indian name. Or maybe he was just exercising his clout. Either way, Hazel, going forward will be Gurbasant Kaur, and more power to her.

Critics will carp that a woman’s surname was never hers to begin with. It was her father’s and then his father’s before that. Quite when this tradition of taking on a man’s name began, I do not know. What I do know is that whatever one chooses to do with one’s name- keep it, take on another, change it by deed poll- it should be one’s own decision.

What lies in a name is a lot more than meets the eye. And I doubt very much that we’d like a rose to be called a cauliflower.