I What’s in a name?” the Bard of Avon may have said. I fully endorse his view if you consider how my own name has undergone many avatars in the course of the seven decades that I have been a resident of this planet. According to my mother, it was my grandmother who chose ‘Hayavadana’ to be my name ostensibly to remember a god through me. Literally meaning ‘horse face’ — purportedly of Lord Vishnu who used to descend as a horse to partake of a sweet dish hayagriva held up on a platter by saint Vadiraja. My good grandmother in her ripe age breathed her last with the Lord’s name on her lips which happened to be yours faithfully as recounted by those near her deathbed. As was the practice then and now where you have to have a first, middle and last names, on admitting me to a school, my father added his own name and place of my birth to complete the formality. Thus I became Chitradurga Seshagiri Rao Hayavadana Rao.
All was well until I moved to a North Indian city on employment. Trouble started brewing when I had to introduce myself or fill up forms or sign my name. Blank stares greeted me when I tried to spell my name. I resorted to abridge myself to a simple C S H Rao, but found even this, for many, did not register too well. C S H became C H S, Rao turned to Ray, Rai, Row as one’s fancy played out. I grinned and bore it.
Soon, a time came when a passport had to be obtained. When the clerk handling the matter delivered me the document, I was shocked to see, believe it or not, my own name missing with only my town’s and father’s names on the document. Giving up any hope of my first trip abroad, I approached and pointed out the mistake to the clerk who had trekked to the passport office. He dismissed me with a smirk saying, “Kya pharak padtha? Aap ko kaun naam poochega? Go and enjoy yourself.”
There I was facing a stern-looking military officer in the crispest uniform at Moscow International Airport. Almost feeling like a jelly on a vibrating platter, I was like Bertie Wooster facing his forbidding aunt Agatha, butterflies fluttering in my stomach and cold sweat breaking out. I was sure the officer would send me back on the next flight. After what seemed like an eternity, he stamped my passport with a bored yawn and pushed it towards me. Merely a Rao now bereft of appendages, my sojourn in the country was a happy one as our Indian Airlines emphatically bid its passengers. Fast forward a quarter century or more. I had to acquire another passport. Everything in order, I thought, there would be no chance for the world to fiddle with my name. Alas, no. Sometimes I daydream to ponder who’s the real me?