*The painting in the header is from the internet. I have tried my best to find the name of the painter, but could not do so. I will be very happy to request permission from and acknowledge anyone who has a rightful claim to it.
One Name; Two Countries, Cultures
I never asked my parents why did they call me Sunanda, and its a shame, for now I will never know. A name is nearest to a destiny that parents give you–other than the genes. The rest is all from the paintbrush that life hands to us.
A name is a burden of history; it is also an expectation. It shows the imagination, the extent of the parents’ beings. At times, sadly it also shows that children are named as they are conceived: thoughtlessly and accidentally. Our parents gave us, both the types, the “this is what we want you to be” and “this is what you are most of the time..” Bitty, Kitty, Micky.. In my most ungenerous moments I used to think that they had no more than 3 children because they ran out of rhymes.
My “you should be” name is Sunanda. I am told it means ”very pleasing”, “noble” woman. “Su” is a prefix that means good, moral and “Nanda” means a woman–If the “a” at the end is not pronounced, it becomes a man’s name.
My name is a tongue twister in a country of tongue-twisting languages. Yet it is fairly common in two states in India, Bengal and Maharashtra. Growing up, I would be often asked, are you Bengali? are you Marathi? That delighted me. My Punjabi parents had created me as a cultural anomaly. It caused a tiny whirlpool in the flow of smooth impressions. In a very small way, it did not do what a name is supposed to be doing–stamping me forever with a stereotype.
Later, it fell upon a French professor of Sanskrit to challenge me and acquaint me with the extent of my burden, “What does your name mean?” He brought up a ten-pounder (a dictionary) which gave me 20 meanings of myself–of which I remember two. It is also the name of Parvati, Shiva’s wife and there supposed to be a Vedic poet named Sunanda. Ever since, I have decided to carry its lightly, much like the weight of my skin or anything else one receives rather than chooses.
In the Sanskritic languages Sunanda is an even paced name. It walks briskly. In the Latin family, with their intonations it hops and jumps. The first vowel takes a short step and the second sails through the air and the third lands on its feet, much like I was supposed to when I came to Canada.
And Toronto, even Toronto–the multicultural heart of Canada–had a very hard time with my name. Toronto looked up at me, down again at the sheet of paper, and then asked carefully, very carefully, “Sunandra..is it?” And I smiled and said , “Just about..!” After “Suna..” Canadian love of multiculturalism loses its steam. I can see that the spirit is willing but the tongue is definitely not. It is a tiny clash of culture, and languages– whirlpools in the river where the currents form eddies around each other. Other versions are “Sundana”, “Suanda”, “Sunland”, and about 60% of the time, “Suandra.” Most of the people ask me politely, “Is it correct?”. And I say, “It is not. I don’t blame you and I also do not mind”. Experiment all you want with my name. You are just giving me a richer burden of meaning.
And then there are others, those who manage to pronounce it but, do it with a hard ‘d” as in “dawn”. In this case, it is the long dead 19th century Sankritologists who are to blame. Though, not entirely, for they had to correspond 17 vowels and 34 consonants of Devanagari with 26 of the Latin alphabet. The ‘d’ in Sunanda is soft, the sound exactly like ‘th’ in ‘the’, ‘there’ , but of course English has no consonant for this sound, so it makes do with the combination ‘th’. I cannot write Sunantha. Every person would end up calling me “Samantha”.
A few look at the name carefully and like stepping into a puddle, tiptoe in and say, tentatively, questioningly, “Sunanda”? I beam at them and and invariably they say, “A lovely name..”
I love it then, being in Canada, amongst people who try so hard. I do not mind any version. Though I must say, “Sunland” totally mystified me. Was it snowing that day, and perhaps the person was thinking of sun and sand, a sunny land and not really about me?
I have toyed with anglicizing my name, but cannot imagine answering to Sue. I am still debating whether I should shorten my name. Perhaps “Suna?” It would be easy to pronounce. The problem is it means ‘lonely’ in Hindi and I do not want this particular burden on my soul.
Meanwhile, I remain, yours truly, Sunanda. My name is the nearest to a hijab I will ever wear, a cultural highlighter: I have the choice and yet I don’t.
December 31st, 2012:
Name Game continued…
I have two more to add to my collection: “Sunanga” and “Sundara”
Mind you, these are not even spoken names. This is how some people read and write my name. Meanwhile, “Sunandra” tops the list.