How I came to be who I am
I was not who I am. I was myself, my own self. That is, until I came to the U.S. When I came here to join the University, I went to the Registration office. There was an elderly woman with big round eye-glasses, who looked at me through the gap between the frame and her eyebrows. I explained that I just came from India and I was going to join the Chemistry Department. This is what happened next.
"Your name?" "Dinesh." "How do you spell it?" "D-I-N...." "Slow, slow, T?" "No, D." "Is that T as in Tom, or D as in Dennis?" "No, not Dennis, my name is Dinesh." "I know that. I am asking you, is that a T as in Tom, or D as in ... as in Detroit?" "I don't know who Tom is, and I haven't been to Detroit. I just came from Madras." "OK, OK, I know that. Is that T-I- or D-I- ?" "D. D-I-. D-I-N-E-S-H." "Is that your last name or first name?" "Uh? Dinesh is my name." "OK. What is your LAst name?" "That is my first and last name. Dinesh." "Then, is your name Dinesh Dinesh?" "No. My name is Dinesh." "But what is your LAST NAME? I am ASKING YOU ABOUT YOUR LAST NAME." "I told you, Dinesh. I always had the same name, from birth till now. DINESH. That's my name." "OK, what is your family name?" "Family? Family name? My family doesn't have a name." "What do the neighbors call you?" "Dinesh." "Not you. Your whole family. What do they call your family?" "Beedida bhat'rr." "So, that is your family name. Do you understand? How do you spell that?" "Spell what?" "B.D. whatever you said, what your neighbors call your family." "Oh, that ... Beedida bhat'rr. What do you need that for? It only means 'the brahmin who makes beedis.'" "What are B-Ds?" "Not B-D. Beedi, is like a cigarette, you see, they roll the tobacco in a leaf and tie a thread around it. 25 in a kattu." "25 in a what?" "Kattu, or katta, whatever. Like a bunch, you see. If there is even one less or one more, my father could always tell without counting. He then taught me how to do it." "I am not worried about your 'cutter' or whatever. What-is-your-last-name?" "I told you, Dinesh." "OK, OK, I don't want to go over this again. What is common to the names of all the members of your family?" "They are all in Sanskrit. My first sister is Suneetha, the second sister is Sumathi ... " "Not about the language. When you write your name, and your sister writes her name, what do you two have in common?" "We have the same handwriting. Even my father can't tell our handwritings apart." "Blast it! What is your father's name?" "G.K.Nettar." "What does G.K. stand for?" "His name, Gopala Krishna." "Then what is Nettar?" "That is our house name." "House name? Aha, does every one at your house have this name?" "It is not our name. It is the name of our house. Strictly speaking, it should be Honnadka. But my father was too lazy to change it. My father was born in Honnadka, but, see, my grandfather was born in Nettar." "What was his name?" "I told you, G.K.Nettar." "Your grandfather was also called G.K. whatever?" "No. That is my father." "Then what is your grandfather's name?" "Govinda Bhat. See, my relatives still call me Mangalore Govinda. Because it is a tradition to name the first son after his grandfather. All the brothers of my father have done this. So, we have Honnadka Govinda, Jogibettu Govinda, Kanchodu Govinda, and I am Mangalore Govinda." "So, then, your name is Mangalore Govinda, not Dinesh." "No. My name is Dinesh. Mangalore Govinda is how my relatives call me. That is not my NAme." "What do they call your sister?" "Ammanni." "What? You said her name is Sooneetha." "Yes, that is her name, Suneetha, but we call her Ammanni." "Is that her nick-name?" "No. she doesn't have a nick name. Only our neighbor's daughter has a nick name. She is called 'soote'. She is very active. That's why." "What about your brother?" "I have no brothers. But then, you can count all those Govindas as my brothers too. See, they are really kind of my brothers." "OK, what are their names?" "The oldest one, he is my big brother. He is called GovindaNNa." "Govind Anna? Then Anna is his last name." "No, ANNA, not anna. ANNA means big brother." "What is his NAME?" "His name is Govinda Bhat." "Then your last name is But." "Not but, Bhat, B-H-A-T. But that's not his name, you see." "If that's not his name, what is it? Why does he have it in his name?" "Bhat simply means he is a brahmin. He might as well write Rao, like his father does, or Sharma, like my father's second brother does." "How does he write his name in official papers?" "Nettar Govinda Bhat. That's how he writes it." "How does his father write it?" "Nettar Venkata Subba Rao." "Aha, I can see now. Your father is G.K.Nettar, his brother is Nettar something Rao... your last name is then Nettar. Aha, I got it." "But Nettar is not the last name. It is the house name." "I don't care. Tell me one last time, what is YOUR last name?" "But I told you, my last name is the same as my first name, my only name, Dinesh." "Then, I am going to write Nettar here. I don't care if it is your house name, your grandfather's name, your dog's name, whatever. It is your last name. How do you spell it? N-E-..." "N-E-T-T-A-R." "N-E-T-T-? Is that T as in Tom or D as in Dennis?" "My name is Dinesh, not Dennis." "AARRGGHHHHH. Do we have to go through this again? Here, write it down." . . . "That's it. From now on, you are Dinesh Nettar, Dinesh is your first name, and Nettar is your last name. OK?"