Never, ever, say my name, please
Better souls than you have tried and been buried in unmarked graves, shamed and forgotten forever
I think you'd better tell us who you are, me lud, starting with your surname," said the perfectly round Welsh policeman.
He knew he'd caught a ripe one. Indians are not usual in the village of Llandeilo, Wales, and one sitting in a parrot-green parked van with stilts sticking out the back was possibly already a felon. My friend, a professional clown, had disappeared to get directions and would not be back for some minutes.
"See," I began in impeccable Indian Civil Service English, "hailing from the southern parts of India, I don't actually have a surname. I have two initials, followed by my legal given name, which happens to be Gopinath. The two initials, C and Y, represent, respectively, my..."
"No surname?" he crowed, delighted. A feller without a surname could definitely be up to no good. "I better see your passport, son."
"Are you sure, sir?" I asked, concerned. "You'll probably be able to manage the C, it's only bi-syllabic, but the Y is a real killer. I implore you, sir, for your own good..."
But it was too late, he had seized my passport and was peering at my family's bane, my pride, my legal monicker, Chitoor Yegnanarayan Gopinath. As I watched anxiously, he ventured where few have dared, to pronounce my middle name. The blood drained from his ruddy Welsh cheeks, the blimp tottered, and fell in a faint by the road, a hapless victim of south India's complicated way of naming its own.
"You should have listened to me," I said mildly as we drove off. "I have no surname."
Think of me as a Matunga man with two initials and a name. Against all odds, I remain to this day a true son of my soil. The sonship is enshrined in the Y of my name, which indicts my father, the late Yegnanarayan, as my true perpetrator. The soil identified is one Chitoor. Behold the torchbearer of the ancient coordinate system of nomenclature.
Gopinath, son of Yegnanarayan from the village of Chitoor.
Where is Chitoor? I'd comfortably believed that it is the town at 13°14'N and 79°07'E Andhra Pradesh, 80 miles northwest of Madras. The Encyclopaedia Britannica reveals that the bulk of Indian steatite originates in the nearby hills. How, I sometimes wondered, could my origins be in Andhra when I knew no Telugu, had been born in Kerala and spoke Tamil at home?
One morning I learnt why. Unknown to the encyclopaedia, there is another similarly named town, Chittur, in Kerala's Palakkad district. This, it finally becomes clear, is my Chittur. Here, by the Ponnani River, located in the Palakkad gap of the Western Ghats, on the shore across from the railroad junction of Olavkod, is half my gene pool.
I tracked down K Y Padmanabhan, distinguished Chittur resident and senior official in the Diamond Exporters Association. An attempt was once made, he told me, to form a Chittur Residents Association, but petered out, thanks to everyone's other preoccupations.
Padmanabhan's initials spell Kulapuzha Yezhuvattu Padmanabhan, meaning "Padmanabhan from that large 70-strong family by the pond". Here was an even more precise placement than mine, based on the village's topographical features.
I happen to like C Y, even though I've never been to Chittur and my father was born in Srivaikuntam. Even though people ask me to this day if I might be related to the cricketer C D Gopinath, I say, with patience, No, I am Chitoor Yegnanarayan Gopinath, no relation to any sportsman or for that matter, the Chinese author C Y Lee.
My siblings beseeched me to be culturally irresponsible like them and rename myself Gopi Narayan. Think of others who changed their names and grew rich, they implored.
Think of Walter Matschankavasky who became Walter Matthau.
Or the painter El Greco, previously Kyriakos Theotokopoulos.
Would Samuel Goldwyn, the movie mogul, have been such a tycoon if he had stuck to his given name of Goldfish?
I have thunk and reconsidered. My decision was and remains that I will continue alone with the haloed legions of Lalgudi Jayaraman, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and their ilk.
Moreover, the C and the Y will not be stripped of their ethnic baggage, unlike in the case of R B Jones who for excellent reasons no doubt, decided on his passport to be R (only) B (only) Jones. He stumbles through life now as Ronly Bonly Jones.
C Y Gopinath is proud to pronounce that he prefers to remain unpronounceable, unlike the rest of his pride and downfall. His name will declare his genes and his means, and correctly position him as a true son of the soil in an age where sons do not shine and the soil is greener on the other side.
And, as for Conly Yonly Gopinath, I'll pass.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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