Friday, February 5, 2010

My Name is Neel. N-E-E-L. Neel.


Neel, Abhishek Neel.

Abhishek WHAT?

Abhishek Neel.

Nil? N-I-L. Nil?

No. Neel. N-E-E-L. Neel.

I almost hear the guy at the other end say – “What sort of name is that? Why Nil? Why not Lal, Pila, Hara, Baingani? Ye bhi koi naam hai?

This is a situation that I have faced quite a number of times in my life. My first name being probably the most common Indian male name (i.e. if we agree to eliminate the competition from say the Amits and a few others), most people don’t have any problem understanding it. It is the second part, NEEL, which always causes the problem.

When put together, I think my complete name does sound a little weird. I mean how can anyone be named Abhishek Neel? Of all the second names possible, why Neel?

To be on a safer side, I think I should clarify it at the beginning. Although I may sound as if I do not like my name, it is not so. My name is highly unique and I do love its uniqueness. A simple search of “Abhishek Neel” on Facebook throws up only 4 Abhishek Neels. Out of them,  it is only  me who seems to be genuine. The respective figures for Orkut are 12 and 4.

However, I do think it lacks a natural flow that a name should ideally possess. I think my name has an abrupt ending. It ends with a sudden full stop, as if something more was going to follow, but which has been debarred forcefully from doing so.

How did I come to have this name?

Well, at the time of my birth my mother and father were more or less certain that I was going to be a boy. So, they had not even thought of a female name for the baby that was going to arrive shortly.

The name Abhishek was picked up by my mother. My father had thought of Parimal, after the name of my mother Parineeta, which in turn happens to be inspired by the highly celebrated Bengali novel of the same name written by Shri Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Neel was added as the second name by Chhote Dadaji, my grandfather’s younger brother. This Neel actually comes from my father’s name Nil Ratan Baranwal, and hence is not my surname. How this idea came to my dadaji is something I don’t know. The practice of adding father’s name to the name of children is basically a South Indian and Maharashtrian practice, and certainly not a Bihari one.

So, it turns out that while I was close to being named on the name of my mother, I ended up having a name given by my mother and inspired by that of my father. 

Would "Parimal Neel" have been a better name? Probably. It would definitely have carried with it a bit both of my father as well as my mother. But that purpose is served equally well by Abhishek Neel, isn't it?

A few years back (2000 to be more precise); at the time of filling up the Class X Board Examination forms, I was so bothered with the apparent sudden ending of my name that I had almost approached the office of Principal Maharaj to get my name changed to Abhishek Nil Ratan Baranwal. That, I somehow thought, was a more complete name and that it had a smoother flow to it than plain Abhishek Neel. Not only this, it would also somehow have brought me closer to my father, the need for which I am feeling more and more now.

I was born nameless. I have lived 25 years of my life as Abhishek Neel. Would I die the same? Most probably yes, until and unless someday my mind goes completely off-track and I feel an urgent need to break something old and really important. It would definitely be great to break an old concept or an age-old tradition. It would be some sort of a revolt against the human society. And it would definitely be liberating in some sense.

But then as you progress in your life, a time does come when your name almost completely loses its significance. I remember, till very recently the name that I heard the most was my household name. That, of late, I do not hear much. That is, until and unless I happen to be talking with someone from my family, which may be at the max for, say 5-10 minutes on a daily average.

Didn’t someone say, “What’s in a name? A rose will smell as sweet even if it were called by some other name.”? I think someone was certainly right.


I passed out from Vidyapith in March, 2002. In the summer of 2006, I was in Kolkata to do an internship, when I decided to pay a visit to Belur Math, the global headquarters of the RamaKrishna Math and RamaKrishna Mission and the headquarters of my school. I intended not only to attend the evening Aarti, but also to meet Swami Suhitanandaji.

When I reached his office, I passed in a slip with my name written on it. When I was called in, the first question that he put to me was: “Neel na Lal?” And I shyly replied : “Neel Maharaj.”

The children of till Class VIth standard used to have a nice time in Suhitanandaji’s office in Deoghar. Everyday, in between the bathing time and the lunch time, a number of them used to assemble in his office and go through the really old, black and white photo collections of Vidyapith, while at the same time receiving Eclairs or some other toffee from him.

I also used to turn up there occasionally.

And everyday I turned up, he used to ask me the same question: “Neel na Lal?” to which I used to reply in the same shy manner: “Neel Maharaj.”

Suhitanandaji was the Secretary of Vidyapith till the middle of 1997. Then he was transferred to Belur Math as the organization needed his services in higher positions.

Between then and now, 9 long years had passed. But it seemed as if nothing had changed between us. He was the same person I remembered from my Vidyapith days, as humble and down to earth as always, although a bit older. And I was the same small Class VI student in his eyes. Of a huge 350-strong crowd of students, he still remembered my name.

I was over-joyed.

Was it due to the ancient Bharatiya Gurukula system of education (in which the students must stay with their teachers 24x7x(almost)365) that Vidyapith so diligently follows? Or was it due to the unconditional love and support that both the monastic and the non-monastic members of Vidyapith have always had towards us students?

Or was it due to the uniqueness of my name? And the unique question that he always put to me? 

P.S.: I know the last reason of Swami Suhitanandaji Maharaj remembering me - the uniqueness of my name - is not a very convincing one. When you stay for so long with your Gurus day in and day out, you both tend to remember each other life long. That is one beautiful bond that Vidyapith provides its students with. I am sure, whenever anyone of us visits the school even so many years down the line, almost everyone - and that includes even the guards, the gardeners and the Dining Hall and dairy workers - on campus recognises us and remembers us by our names. That, at least, is still the case with me.  However, I found this the best possible way to end this piece of writing; and so I went for it.


Aayush Shrivastava said...

Trust me when you go abroad, Abhishek Neel is a much more preferred name compared to Aayush Shrivastava. Woof woof.

Shubhankar said...

Chanced upon your blog. So very touching. When I met Swami Suhitanandji in Belur Math in 2000 or so, he happeneed to remember my name too. And that was not because my name was unique(not that it isnt :))...

Abhishek Neel said...

Thanks Haria .. Do keep coming back :-) .. Do you realize dear that this is an interaction that we are having after a very long period of time? :-(

Rinaya said...

I can so identify with the name name should explain why..:P
U've inspired me to write about my name & the disastrous treatment meted out to it by thoughtless souls.. :)
nice post!

Abhishek Neel said...

Thanks Rinaya for the appreciation. By the way, what does your name mean? ;-)

Will be waiting for your article.