Say My Name

first_imgI peered stealthily over the apples. Like a panther I was watching my prey. I knew even from behind that it was him. His shoulder length, chocolate brown hair, his tall slim stature, I was sure he was the one. I made way over to the melons so I could get a better glimpse. I pretended to be examining the melons, when I decided to make my move.“Excuse me, do you know what aisle the pickles are in?” Omigod, did I really just ask what aisle the pickles are in? I couldn’t have said oysters or chocolate or frozen peas? Ugh I was dying of embarrassment.  Mathias was a Johnny Depp look-a-like who worked at the local grocery store where I grew up. He was a high school legend. Every teenage female (and some males too) in a 20-mile radius had heard of the drop-dead gorgeous Mathias. So I made my mission to find him. Every Saturday morning, I would drive over to the grocery store in hopes of seeing him. I would plan my outfits with the zest that most women reserve for choosing their wedding sari. And now here he was live and in the flesh walking me to the pickle aisle.“So what’s your name?”“Reshma.”“What?” A look of bewilderment flashed across his face as he tried to sort out the pronunciation in his head. I cringed on the inside. The problem with my name is that when people didn’t understand it, they didn’t simply ask me to repeat it. They simultaneously made a face that one might make if I said I drink my own pee or kill innocent puppies.“Ray-sh-ma,” I really tried to sound it out.“Ohhhh, that’s kind of a weird name.”I cringed. I liked having an Indian name, but couldn’t it be something more palatable like Reena or Gia, or Asha? When people tried to pronounce “Reshma,” it sounded more like the sound one makes when vomiting than a name. I was only 17 at the time so I lacked the self-confidence to tell Mathias he was a complete and utter idiot for actually telling me my name was weird. Needless to say Mathias didn’t work out. Growing up in the very desi-friendly state of New Jersey, I had known the same kids from 4th grade to high school, so it wasn’t like I had to introduce myself to new people very often. The only exception came every September when I had to introduce myself to all of my teachers. Although my name is spelled “Reshma,” as all desis know, it’s pronounced “ray-shma.” The problem is no one could seem to wrap their heads around this causing them to settle for other random and bizarre pronunciations, such as “Reesh-ma” or “Rice-shma” or simply “Resh-ma.”It hit an all time low in the 11th grade. Most teachers would stumble for the first week before finally figuring out the correct pronunciation. However my AP English teacher, Mrs. Applebottom, was totally lost when it came to saying my name at all even after the first month of school. My friend Gretchen, unable to handle the constant butchering of my name actually got up and shouted, “It’s RAY-SHMA!”After that Mrs. Applebottom never screwed it up again.  Despite my name’s inherent un-pronounce-ability, it wasn’t something that really bothered me until I got older and had to fly the coop. Guys, after all, would eventually figure out how to say your name, if they really wanted to date you. And growing up I didn’t encounter a lot of new people so it didn’t matter. But entering the work force and socializing with a whole new group of people presented a new set of problems. I was 19 when I started working at a modeling agency. My job involved answering the constantly ringing phones and helping the new models acclimate to New York. This of course meant that I had to introduce myself to 10 to 20 new people a day, (including clients and models) each time going through the same back and forth explaining the pronunciation My first day at work, I went out for coffee with one of the models, John. He was new in town, and it fell to me to help him adapt to life in the city. “So what’s your name again?” John asked.“Ray-sh-ma,” I replied, bracing myself for the annoying back and forth. “Huh? How do you say it?” John asked. “Ray-shma.”“Rish-ma?”“No, Ray-shma.””Reeesh-ma?”“RAY-SHMA!”“Resh-MA?”“Sure.” I gave up. It was a pointless endeavor.I imagine if I had chosen to intern at a regular office like many of my classmates (i.e. a law firm or an investment firm), where I would encounter the same people over and over again or had gone to med school where I would likely be addressed as “Dr. Khona,” it would have been no big deal. I could have made my introductions and gotten it over with. However I chose to work in an environment where I literally had to introduce myself to someone every 37 minutes. Exhausting to say the least. But I put up with it, because I had no choice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was incapable of making friends or dating because of my name. Nor was it making me feel lesser than anyone else. And I was definitely not embarrassed of my Indian heritage. If anything it was often the first topic of conversation. Most people assume I am Latina and I am quick to point out that I prefer rotis over tortillas. My name was however becoming an albatross around my neck. I just didn’t feel like wasting my time explaining myself every single time I met someone new, only to have them still butcher my name.After interning at the modeling agency for the summer, I headed off to Paris to study abroad. Interestingly enough, the French never had to ask me twice how to pronounce my name and in fact had no problem whatsoever saying it, albeit with a French accent. But I knew it wouldn’t last for long. When I finished my year in Paris, I planned on backpacking across Europe by myself. As I traveled from city to city, I was going to be meeting a different set of people every few days so there didn’t seem to be much of a point in explaining the exact pronunciation of my name for 49 minutes every time I met someone new. Especially as chances were that I wouldn’t see any of them ever again. Hmmmm, I wondered. Should I try being a “Rachel”? Just for the next month while I was traveling? It kind of sounds like “Reshma.” But part of me felt like a traitor. I felt like I was abandoning my Indian heritage. Like I was telling the world I was white. Or at least Latin. And what about when I encountered other Indians? Would they be onto me? Of course, other Indians also assumed I wasn’t Indian either, but that didn’t change the uneasy feeling I had inside.After much debate, I finally decided to give it a shot. It would make life easier after all, right? So I adopted the name “Rachel” and hopped on a train bound for Munich. At my hostel the next morning I sat down next to a group of backpackers in the hopes of making some new friends.“What’s your name?” one of them asked.I took a deep breath, “Rachel,” I said, nervous they would find out I was a sham.“Cool, I’m Sarah.”That’s it. No weird faces. No asking me to pronounce my name 80 times. Nope, Sarah just followed up by asking what I was doing that day. It was a breath of fresh air and a huge weight lifted off me. For the next month, I traveled with relative ease (in regards to my name anyway), but I found myself overcompensating for my non-Indian name. I would pepper conversations with references to Indian food, my family, or traveling to India. If anyone asked me about why I didn’t have an Indian name, I was quick to point out I had to change it because “crackers couldn’t pronounce it.” Making a joke out of it, assuaged my guilt about changing it. After I graduated college, I permanently adopted the name “Rachel” in an effort to make my life easier. And easier it was. The albatross was gone from my neck. Of course everyone I am close to (including my coworkers) knows my given name is Reshma. The funny part is in the 10 years since I changed my name, I haven’t encountered anyone who has actually questioned my Indian-ness. Not even other desis. It seems the only person who was questioning it was myself. That’s when I realized there’s more to being Indian than my name. Belonging to a culture is something that goes deep into your soul; it encompasses multiple layers. It’s not something that can be turned off by something like a name. I still love dandia raas, bhangra, and cooking achari paneer. I still watch every Aishwarya interview I can and speak to my mother in Hindi (albeit broken Hindi). I still chant the Gayatri mantra every night before silencing myself in meditation. Saying I’m less Indian because of a name change, would be just as silly as saying I’m less American because my family isn’t white.Of course, life as it often does, always comes full circle. I changed my name 10 years ago to make it easier for me to work at a modeling agency. The irony of all this? My boss calls me “Reshma.” Related Itemslast_img

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