It helps to get the name right, to call a rose a rose, in spite of Shakespeare’s protestations to the contrary. It is often the difference between warm engagement and casual indifference.
Back then, in the seventies, there were lots of foreign students in the city and names often presented a challenge. I remember memorising the name of a Thai student studying at Government College for Girls (PGGCG-11), and so well did I commit it to memory that the name is deeply engraved in my mind all those 40 years later–Wanida Thapikthakpong. The rhythm of the second name almost lent itself to a catchy percussion beat. Short little Wanida with short, very straight hair, was a virtual square and so solid that a tuning fork might have resonated to a high decibel when confronted with her presence. She was an integral part of a group of Indian students in the hostel.
And getting the name right became the reason for a campus friendship between Ndubueze Vincent Onyebuchi from Nigeria and my husband. He made sure of working out the spellings and pronouncing the name correctly. The rest of the class referred to him as ‘nimbu chinni’. Even if nimbu chinni is a panacea for many ills, it was yet not a very flattering distortion of his name. Most of us who grew up in the sixties, would recall a cartoon character created by Mario called Rajni Nimbupani, a film star with outrageous proportions, posing before exploding flashbulbs. Needless to say that Ndubueze was not happy even though he knew nothing of Rajni or the implications of sharing her name.
As a consequence of this friendship we were the only Indian invitees to a rooftop party celebrating Ndubueze’s doctorate in geology. We were each handed a bottle of Thunderbolt beer as soon as we crossed the threshold.
“Here, one for you and you,” said the man with the bottle opener, churning up a great deal of free-flowing froth. And then we spent the rest of the evening taking swigs from that bottle of beer and dancing to loud music.
Weaving in and out of the party was one of his two little boys--curly hair, angelic features.
“What is his name?” my husband asked Ndubueze.
“Wills,” he was told.
“Wills, as in William?”
“No, Wills, like the cigarette you smoke.”
It was his unique dedication to a friendship since Wills was born in India. We tried to call his boy. “Come here, come here,” we cooed in the sweetest possible accents, assuming English as the lingua franca in all such cross-cultural situations. But little Wills was not beguiled. He turned away, dismissing with a shrug this adult attempt at curtailing his free spirit, which was already winging its way to the nearest exit.
“Main nahin aana,” he said in chaste Punjabi, leaving us open-mouthed at the unusual combination of a Nigerian child spouting Punjabi.
In recent times, when noting down names of students in the attendance register at PGGCG-11 one wondered if our own Manipuri students, whose names are sometimes a little complicated for the Punjabi tongue, are given the same courtesy and consideration.