After the Manyata/Dilnavaz/Sara-Sanjay Dutt surname controversy I had a chat with this young man who seems like a sweet, harmless old fossil – who pointed out that it takes little to keep peace. And if a woman is joining a man’s family, why not take his name yaada yaada… Just to keep peace.
That’s it. No better reason, but peace. Here’s my question – why does peacekeeping always fall to the woman?
I tuned out during his session of gyan because I realised that he was so mistaken in his basic premise that there seemed little point in going on.
Women today no longer just join a man’s family like staff. Marriage is an equal partnership where the man is also becoming a part of her family. In which case, why not mutually exchange names along with vows and leave it at that?
Today, man and woman both leave their parental homes and set up one of their own, based on mutual respect and equality. How hard is that to understand? Even if not physically – you do set up the concept of a new family together.
Men need to either keep up with the times and understand that, or then get left behind and wonder what the hell hit them.
Okay so I wrote this post and being the kind of issue it is, it never does end. Funnily it came up a few times more. My PAN card is a mess. My dad has this loooong name which includes his first name, father’s name, village name and a bunch of other jazz which most of the time does nothing but add to administrative issues. All his official papers have different names and sometimes initials for a few of them. As a result my PAN card which has his name, doesnt tally with his PAN card and now I’m going nuts cutting through red tape to get it. It hasn’t mattered all this while but now that I have a steady income, I need it desperately and I’m cursing my dad for having kept 4 names that he displays randomly as the mood posseses him.
I spoke to the income tax call centre today and the lady was as frustrated as me as we went through the documentation. We realised that on every bit of proof we have various permutations and combinations of his name. I’m tempted to quit work and not earn a rupee just to save myself this running around. Between the Brat’s admissions, my eff-ed up knee, my job, the Bean’s health and a planned move to shift out of this third floor house, I am standing on my own last remaining nerve.
The lady finally frayed it by saying, ‘You know ma’am, don’t mind but your father’s name is too long and there is too much scope for mistakes. Please re-apply with your husband’s name.’
I hung up slowly after thanking her. And I was just so tired. It’s as though I’m nobody without my husband’s name or father’s name. Yes, I know this is a process that even the husband goes through – he must always fill his father’s name. But I’m tired of how patriachal it is.
What if I want to fill my mother’s name? For one thing she’s a darn sight better organised than my father, has all her documentation in place, and has just a first name and surname. It would be the simplest thing on earth to apply with her forms as proof. But no, it must be either my father or husband. Both of whom have their endless village name, father’s name and God alone knows what else that they add and subtract, making every bit of identity proof a pain in the arse.
What if my parents are divorced and I dont want to use my father’s name and I’m single and have no husband’s name to give? Why don’t the columns read Parent/Spouse’s name instead of Father/Husband’s name?
Here’s a better question? Why oh why do I have to get a PAN card?
I think the mistake we make in this endless debate, as in many others, is believing that if I’m not for you, I’m against you. Well this isn’t one of those. A woman’s name is her own business. It begins and ends at her doorstep. If she is okay with changing it, nobody has a right to tell her she is regressive. If she doesn’t want to change it, nobody has a right to tell her she is a rebel.
This conversation came up again with friends and a couple of them said that their surname wasn’t their identity so they didn’t mind changing it. ‘My name is not my identity and changing it won’t change the person I am’ they said.
I beg to differ. It’s definitely not my identity, but it’s part of my identity. You wouldn’t have randomly changed it before marriage either – right? Because it WAS important to you.
It’s just a question of the times and social conditioning. A 100 years ago even the first name was changed after marriage and most women meekly accepted it. I’d like to see anyone changing their first name today meekly just because their inlaws say so. I know a lot of families still give that new first name as part of the custom, but how many women in our generation do you know, in your own social circle, who have taken on the new first name and are referred to by it and introduce themselves by it? Or changed their official papers to their new first name? Or told all their friends to call them by the new name?
Similarly, we women of this generation have grown up accepting that surnames will be changed. There is no inner tussle in the head or the heart. But our first names – well that we were told we’d have for life and I can bet you we’d have a huge issue accepting it being changed. We accept the surname as fait accompli because we’re conditioned to believe that its okay. Which is fine. When we were kids, all families had the same surname. But things are changing.
Families no longer belong to the same community. They’re a mix of Bengali, Tamilian, Bihari, Mizo, Goan, Haryanvi… so many combinations. The entire definition of a family is a new one. They’re a mix of religions. (Did anyone see the Republic day issue of HT Brunch? Story on the Alvas and another family – mix of so many religions and communities). They no longer eat the same thing. In the same family I’ve seen the Jains eat different food, some people eat egg, others eat meat and yet others eat beef and pork. So even the dining table holds different food for the various members. The people sitting around the table worship or believe in different Gods or different avatars. So the name perhaps, is the least of the issues. How does it matter if we carry different second names?
Do people with the same surname not have fights? Do they not get divorced? Do they not fight over property? Do they not have affairs and cheat on their spouses? Does it give enough of a family feel to not harass DILs for dowry? Does it make you feel enough of a family to support your wife and split the housework? Does it make fathers attend school functions that their kids are in?
I see some women who change their surnames but insist on every single tiny custom being done the way they’ve always done it in their parental home. This is not a generalisation – its just that changing your name is not really a sign of wanting to fit into a family. The attitude should be one of willing to adjust and be a part of it. A simple name change means nothing more than that.
There are all sorts of people and the way they behave isn’t governed by their surname. A few days ago we were househunting and the broker was slightly rude to the OA. The OA gave it back politely but I went at the broker like a tigress and the OA had to calm me down and drag me away, reminding me that we needed the broker. I didn’t care. We lost the best house because of my hot headedness but I wasn’t going to stand by and watch some asshole give my husband lip. And we don’t share a surname. But I can’t imagine feeling anymore of a family than we already do. I loved him 8 years ago when we had different surnames and nothing’s changed. I can’t imagine loving my husband or my children anymore than I love them right now – I feel it come rushing up my stomach and burning my insides. If I loved them any more, I’d implode!
All this, is not to say that women shouldn’t change their surnames. But to say that keeping the same surname makes you feel more like a family is just a specious argument. You feel like a family because you are one. Nothing can change that. Not the food you eat, the God you pray to or the name you keep.
If you want to change your name because you were conditioned to do so and you think there is no harm – why that’s a fair enough reason. If you do so because you like the sound of Mr and Mrs Agarwal – good for you again. If you do so because you love your inlaws and think its a small gesture to keep them happy – good for you. If you think it would keep your husband happy and make him feel more like the head of the house – good on you again.
But don’t tell me it will make you more or less of a family. Don’t tell me it will make the kids misfits. And don’t tell me that a man doesnt equally marry into his wife’s family. I don’t want to hear it.
PS: Disclaimer for those who will be sure to come running and imagining things. I have no issues with those who change their surnames. I fight for their right to do that just as I fight for my right to keep mine. I do have an issue with statements that reflect badly by implication – that not changing my name is either disrespectful to my husband (what respect ? he’s an equal), will leave my kids feeling like misfits ( really – and have you never seen families with the same surname where the entire family hates each other and have no communication or relationship?) or any other such crap. Actually – go ahead. Tell me, and make my day as I rip each ridiculous argument to pieces.