In the days before gender identity became infra dig and when fond parents gave toy cars and guns to little boys and dolls and ribbons to little girls without being politically incorrect. I was burdened with a unisex name- Kajal- phoentically spelt ‘Kajol’ of Bollywood fame. This led to merciless ribbing by peers and taught me a great deal about unarmed combat. Being a skinny kid, I often paid in blood for the honour of my young manhood, tears being strictly “no-no” for the boys. I heartily hated my grandma for this indignity and tried to keep my dark secret from strangers, always emphasising my official tag of ‘Soumya’- in Bengali, an unambiguous male nomenclature. This saw me through till college.
In the predominantly North Indian ambience of our campus in the Capital, ‘Soumya’ did not pose any problems. In any case, a series of appellation like ‘Somu’. ‘Bong’, ‘Commie’, ‘Cat’ were attached to me and all of them answered without a gender bias. The only jarring note came during allocation of hostel seats from some South Indian colleagues. With that kind of a name, I was headed for the women’s hostel, they said.
Some years later, two developments caused complications once more. I had started working for a South-based corporation and had also gone into that partnership allegedly made in heaven. In our case, probably it was a result of detente between different heavens. For, my alliance partner was a North Indian lady of another religious persuasion who answered to the extremely masculine call of ‘Tajinder’. The name always conjured up in my mind an image of a large hirsute transport operator- the exact opposite of the petite accountant with whom I had hitched my future.
In the South, ‘Soumya’ is commonly associated with the fairer sex, the male equivalent being ‘Soumyan’. Thus all correspondence to me was always marked to ‘Ms. S Mukherjee’ while my wife was always ‘Mr TM’. This confusion was also posted to hotel room and guest house reservations for us by tour operators and our company officials. We were always acutely aware of gender bias and sexual discrimination in the workplace-in reverse. When my male chauvinist ego was bruised by my wife’s faster climb up the corporate ladder, I blamed it on my name.
How I wish my name had been chosen with greater foresight or at least that the Capital’s penchant for unisex names like ‘Hunny’, ‘Sunny’, ‘Guddu’, ‘Tinku’ had influenced the naming process. Now when my young nephews sport long hair and ear studs, chain, kara and rings and my daughter is equally comfortable with the politically incorrect AK-47s and Barbie dolls, my name probably would not matter. But things were vastly different in my youth and continue to be so for my generation. Maybe I should file an affidavit in court and carry a declaration in the personal columns to clear the sexual ambiguity of my tag