While names are usually reflective of one’s faith, in a pluralistic but tolerant society like India, it’s not always so. While the names are common across Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, and to an extent Sikhism, I go back to my early childhood days, when I first experienced this phenomenon. A family in our neighbourhood with the then unheard surname Toppo, had three siblings with perfectly normal and common names Vijay, Kishore and Aabha. The head of the family was James and mother’s name was Mary. We were told that they were tribals from remote and backward area of then Bihar ( now part of Jharkhand) who converted to Christianity in hope of better life. Better life they indeed had as all three of their children were going to the best convent schools of Delhi. We also understood that Church allowed, rather encouraged them to baptise their children by adopting common local names. This trend is particularly visible in another state with sizeable Christian population, Kerala, with boys having names such as Babu, Vinod, Vijay and girls Baby!
However, India of yore, especially before partition had common, simple, easy on tongue and uni-religious names. A Dilawar could be Singh, Khan or Chand! Or for that matter Zorawar, Chand, Iqbal, Dara and feminine names like Juhi, Gulab, Chanda and Shayari ! However, the malaise of regionalism, religion, ethnicity in this country has totally disrupted the fabric of tolerance that is an important imperative in a pluralistic society like ours. First we divided languages – Hindi (Hindus), Urdu (Muslims), Punjabi ( Sikhs), English (Christians), then colours – orange/Keshri (Hindus/Sikhs), Green (Muslims), then dresses- Saree (Hindus), Salwar/Kameez (Muslims), skirt (Christians), then food – Roti/Sabzi (Hindus), Gosht /Biryani (Muslims), Pork/ stakes (Christians) – in such circumstances, what to expect of names?
One of the rarest examples of demonstrated secularism and broad minded attitude that readily comes to my mind is that of famous music director Khayyam. Mohammad Zahoor, as Khayyam was originally named, fell for the charms of Jagjeet Kaur, a Sardarni, music being their common passion. The couple named their son, Pradeep, a typical and common Hindu name, who unfortunately had an untimely demise. Names like Rajiv Ahmed, Nazm Sharma, Robert Vadra ( yes our very own Priyanka’s husband) would add so much consonance to the noise that we are currently hearing in this nation on petty matters.