Masala Chica has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 2 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

You're No Ordinary Flower

My parents are practical people.

Most of the time.

My father, especially, is a man who has spent much of his life driven more by need than passion, duty over selflessness.

Which is why I guess I am always so amazed by this one particular story about my father.

A story that has a huge impact on my identity, on who I was raised to be and an even greater impression of the man I call my father.

Growing up in an impoverished village to a very poor family, in a town where to this very day, there is no school house or fresh water supply, my father was born into a surname.

A surname that is as common as Smith in America. Russo in Italy. Fernandez in Mexico.

My father's last name was "Das."

It's a name that many Indians have. It doesn't always clearly identify where you are from in India, or potentially even which "caste" you are from. To clarify when I say caste, I mean the social stratification system which is still prevalent in India in determining class and economic and societal associations, practices and norms.

So one day, I believe it was as he was leaving for college and taking some fairly pivotal exams, my father decided to do something so unlike him, so unimaginable to me, that to this day, I still wish I could get into that head of his to understand.

He decided to change his name.

And with that decision made, my father started signing all official documentation with the following last name:


For some reason, it was easier for him to go forward from that day on with the last name of "Kairab" over "Das."

And with that name, he carved a new identity for his future family, some of the only ones to hold this name in the world. I have checked fairly thoroughly. It is possible that there are other "Kairabs" elsewhere, but if so, I am not aware of them.

I love my maiden name, which I have still maintained and hold onto proudly now as a middle name.

In ancient Sanskrit, Kairab translates into "flower that blooms in the night."

Given what sometime seen as ethnically ambiguous looks, people would often ask me where "Kairab" was from. When I would respond, "India" they would sometimes say - oh, yeah, oh yeah - I know some other Kairabs.


And you know, I really loved the uniqueness and this reminder that my father had a moment where he did something unexpected, something totally for himself.

When John asked me why it was taking me so long to change my name, I waffled. I mean, of course - who "likes" dealing with:

The Social Security Administration,
All your airlines where you have your frequent flier miles lined up,
credit card companies,
all of your previous employers who still handle your IRAs/401Ks/etc?
Let's not forget banks, getting new checks, new passports.
Library cards.

Frankly, it sucked.

But while the very "un-fun" aspect of changing my name WAS a major contributor to my desire to start the process- there was something about John's observations that were true.

A part of me didn't WANT to change it.

That realized that this name was something that always tied me to that part of my father. The free and uninhibited part - the parts of him which I had been able to see so little of in my own life, during what has been a very hard and challenging life for him.

I think about the beauty of that name. The pure poetry of it. For when you think about a flower that blooms in the night, I know my thoughts turn to something beautiful growing in something dark. Something finding light and sustenance within itself where perhaps there is no sun or hope of future brightness.

And when I think of the story of my father's life, I
can say with absolute truth, that there really is no better word to describe how I feel about this man who created a life for himself through education - never giving up despite battles of malnutrition, poverty, lack of clean water and medicine.

When things are dark in your own life, I think there is a lesson to be learned within all of us that something beautiful can be borne from darkness.

We see it throughout history. Whether it is the brave few who opened their homes to protect their Jewish friends and neighbors during World War II - at a time when decency was long forgotten and fear and hate-filled propaganda dictated action for so many.

We see it around us. We see it in the face of the young men and women who risk their lives for this country every day. Their acts of bravery in full bloom continents away as they fight in darkness, isolation and fear.

We see it in ourselves and the neighbors around us.

So let's honor it today.

No matter how dark things may seem in life, you always have the power to bloom.



Candice said...

This was such a beautiful post. I can totally understand your trepidation in changing your name. It is a wonderful name!

webb said...

A great post that tells yet again what a big deal it really is to change our names when we marry. We do lose a part of ourselves, of our heritage, of our lives. It's not that our husbands' families aren't fine - or else we wouldn't be joining them - but in a big way we are giving up a big part of our heritage.

Look at all the countries where women don't change their names.

Fortunately, Mitchell was not the least bit unhappy when I kept my own. (Maybe it makes it easier for him to pretend he doesn't know me when I'm being bad!) Makes us spicier! namaste!

Mrs Montoya said...

I kept my maiden name as my middle name, too. I didn't have an issue taking my husband's name but I was not willing to let go of my family name.

I love that your Dad made such a strong decision for himself that will translate through generations.

You always get to me with your posts about your heritage, Kiran. You are such a thoughtful, talented writer!

Lemon Gloria said...

I love this story, Kiran! I've met a lot of people with the last name Das, but not one single Kairab.

I haven't changed my maiden name, and I just don't think I will. It's not that I don't like Nick's last name, it's just that mine has been me for so very long.

psychopneuma said...

It reminds me of a time when I met a girl in my school-life with the surname 'saha'. when she came to know I am chakraborty she hesitated to disclose her surname and when she did and realized that I couldn't care less about caste nonsense we became the best of friends.

Even if caste discrimination isn't on a high rate in my city it is still highly prevalent in the country and causes so many non-needed riots.


Blog Design By Sour Apple Studio © All Rights Reserved.