Whats Not in a Name…

Mohan Guruswamy

Why don’t Muslims in India have Indian names, is something I have long pondered about?

Many Christians have Indian names and lose none of their Christianess by doing so. Some have mixed names like John Dayal or Satish Jacob. There is SP Udayakumar, the AAP candidate from Kanya Kumari, who is a Christian. He is banking on his foreign NGO and Church financed opposition to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant to win him more than Christian votes. And there was YS Rajashekhar Reddy, a second generation Christian. He kept his religion a private affair but did not hide it either. His son-in-law is an evangelist preacher. For all practical purposes he was a Rayalaseema Reddy oligarch.

I can understand Parsis retaining their Iranian names; they are preserving their identity. Like Ratan Tata or Manek Madon. And sometimes adding to it by denoting an occupation. Or Dorab Sopariwalla or Darius Bandookwalla or even better Cyrus Daroowalla. Did you know that Chinoy came from the Parsis who warehoused the East India Company’s opium for export to China?

Hindus usually have caste names suffixed and antecede names prefixed. If I did it the typically South Indian Hindu way, I would be Nagavedu Guruswamy Mohan Mudaliar. Nagavedu being the village, Guruswamy being my father, Mohan being I and Mudaliar being my caste. In the military my father was Major NKG Mudaliar. As a civil servant he became Major NK Guruswamy IAS. It told his story completely. I went to St.Anns Convent in Secunderabad for my early – KG to class 3 – education and the nuns made me Mohan Guruswamy, like Robert Walker. To some extent that defined me. The Catholic Church was Hellenizing me. Then I went to a Wesleyan mission school. Most of my classmates who were from the districts and part of the church system had hybrid neo-Christian names like John Krupanandam or Anthony Yesudasan. My, by now, upper class Hellenized Hindu antecedents were clear. The post independence native knew his place in relation to me. His name did not matter.

Most Muslims in the Indian sub-continent are converts. I can understand a Mirza or a Khan or a Qureshi retaining a surname for it denotes a descent. But why does a julahha need to be a Zulfikar Ansari or Hamid Ansari, and not be Bishambardas Kori or Ganganath Saliya and still be a Muslim. Keeping wellborn name has its advantages. In 1920 the poet Akbar Hussain Rizvi, better known as Akbar Allahabadi very cleverly commented on the Viceroys Council: “Council mein bahut Saiyyad, Masjid mein fakhat jhumman.” Being a Saiyyad has benefits, but the question is why does the jhumman forsake his identity for nothing beyond filling up mosques? Particularly when crowding in mosques did not confer much. Lower class and caste (yes there is a caste system too) Muslims have the same socio-economic profiles of dalits. The light skinned ones are the ones we see in Bollywood’s Muslim socials, like “Mere Mehboob” or “Chaudhvin ka Chand” and not to forget “Pakheezah”.

In 1967 I heard George Fernandes campaigning against SK Patil, who in Bhendi Bazaar told his audience of the wonderful strides the Mussalman was making, alluding to Dr.Zakir Hussain being President. George who came a little later was told about it. He promptly said “tho kya hua, Abdul Rehman thelawalla, thelawalla hee hai aur enke shasan mein thelawalla hee rahega!” Merely clinging to an alien identity merely perpetuates their wretched condition.

In many countries, like China or Indonesia, the sizeable Muslim communities have indigenous names. In Indonesia many Muslims have names from the Hindu pantheon like Vishnu or Rama or Ganesha and still lose none of their Islamicness. Achmed Sukarno’s daughter was Megawati Sukarnoputri, President of Indonesia. I’d like to see the day when a Shajahan Singh or Ramnaresh Akbar become King of India.

(from his Facebook Timeline)


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