From Asia to America, meet the curiously named Kumar brothers
Living with these geographical names has not been easy for the brothers except when they are in their village, where everyone blames their names on the whims of their father and let them be.delhi Updated: Jan 28, 2018 10:22 IST
Can your name define who you are and shape your life? Not quite. But what if your name is Asia and those of your brothers are Africa, Japan, Russia and America? Well, it could certainly create a bit of an identity crisis -- and some comic moments too. Ask the Kumar brothers, who are named after countries and continents. And these are not their nicknames, but real names.
“Asia yes, it’s spelled exactly ASIA. That is actually my name,” says Asia Kumar, pulling out his Aadhaar card from his wallet to prove his name. “It has not been easy convincing people we are not joking when we tell our names.”
Asia Kumar, who works at a private bank in Delhi, has six brothers -- Russia and Prithvi live in Delhi; Africa in Mumbai, Japan in Chandigarh and Bharat in their native village in Balangir district in Odisha. The seventh, America Kumar, is no more.
Living with these geographical names has not been easy for the brothers except when they are in their village, where everyone blames their names on the whims of their father and let them be. But once they left their village in search of livelihood, they realized there is a lot in a name.
- Prithviraj Kumar , 47, lives in Delhi
- America Kumar , died in 2002
- Africa Kumar, 43, lives in Mumbai
- Bharat Kumar , 40, lives in his native village
- Japan Kumar, 38, lives in Chandigarh
- Russia Kumar, 35, lives in Delhi
- Asia Kumar 32, lives in Delhi
Often, they have to answer questions about their father’s motivations, how their names affect their sense of self. The brothers recount many tales of how their names create daily drama in their lives. “Once there was a call for me at my bank’s landline phone and the colleague who took the call informed me that someone from Africa called. I told him the call must have been from Africa, my brother,” says Asia Kumar.
“When I told the names of all my brothers, they were dumbfounded,” he says. Talking to people on the phone, the brothers say, poses quite a lot of problems. “There are times when I say this is Africa this side, and the person on the other side would retort, ‘Ok, if you are Africa, then I am America.’ And it is very hard making him understand that I am not joking,” says Africa Kumar, 43, who works as a lights man in Bollywood.
Except for Prithvi and Bharat, having names of foreign countries complicated matters for brothers in ways they could not imagine. Japan, who works with the air force, often have had to face questions about his and his family’s patriotism and nationality. “At times people would ask if I am an Indian, why my name should be Japan. I do not think there is a family in the country where brothers have faced such difficulty proving their names and the rationale behind them,” says Japan.
Tired of telling the ‘history, geography and philosophy’ of his family over and over again for years, Russia Kumar, 35, who works as a helper in a CSD canteen in Delhi, recently decided to use Tinku, a nickname some people used for him in his native village when he was a kid. “I know Tinku does not suit my age and personality, and people find it funny, but it saves me a lot of unnecessary explanations about being Russia.”
The brothers say their names are the result of frustrated ambitions of their father, Kulmani, a very popular tailor in the village. He had a fierce desire to travel the world, and when he realized that he had no chance of fulfilling his ambition due to his impoverished circumstances, he decided to name his children after countries and continents. “So, our house became a globe and my father its undisputed master,” says Japan, laughing. “In fact, he even wanted to continue the tradition with our children, and suggested that America Kumar’s son be named Washington, but we put our foot down and, eventually, we named him Sagar,” says Asia Kumar.
One day when the brothers assembled at their native village in December 2007, Africa, having fed up with frequent questions, told him angrily he should not have given them these names. The father, recalls Africa, responded flatly, without losing his cool: “I did so after much thought. These are all unique names and you will always stand out, but if you want to change them, please feel free to do so”.
Of course, no one did. “A lot of people thought I was named Africa because I have a dark complexion. But I do not think my father chose names based on our personality traits,” says Africa Kumar. Asia Kumar says America, his brother, did have a few similarities with the country.
“Unlike some of us who tried to run away from our names, he tried to live up to his. At 6.2 ft, he was the tallest and the strongest. He was short-tempered and all hell broke loose if he got angry. Is not it so much like America, the country?” asks Asia, the only brother who is a graduate. But America, Asia adds, was emotionally fragile, and committed suicide in 2002, leaving his father a broken man. The father died six years later. Their mother lives in the village with Bharat.
Interestingly, the geopolitics of the family has been quite different from global geopolitics. In the unique world of the Kumars, America was closest to Russia; Japan too has been great friends with Russia. But the father, the brothers say, did not discriminate among us. “He loved us all equally though he was quite unhappy that we did not give our children geographical names,” says Japan.
His daughter, Christina Kumar, 13, who studies in class 6 in a Kendriya Vidyalaya, says she is quite proud of his father’s name. “Earlier, I felt a bit odd whenever my classmates asked my father’s name, but now I am quite comfortable. I think my father has a pretty unique name,” says Christina.
Except Asia, the brothers do not know much about the countries or continents they are named after and have never travelled abroad. Japan does wish to visit Japan, but there is a worry nagging him. “How will people in Japan take it when I tell them that I am Japan from India? he says.
On many occasions, they got special treatment because of their names, says Africa Kumar. “At times people take selfies with us. Once I was in Delhi for the shooting of 2 States and actor Arjun Kapoor asked me to call my brothers,” says Africa. The brothers may be named after countries and continents but their village is where they feel at home. “This is one place where no one bothers about our names,” says Asia.