By the age of 14, I had lost patience to correct every person who got my name wrong, so I just nodded at the immigration officer at Jerusalem airport. She showed my passport to her colleague sitting nearby and they both shared a giggle. I thought the horror show was over but I soon heard my name pronounced incorrectly again. This time, over the loudspeaker because I’d forgotten to collect a document. Some people around started laughing and my mom looked at me with a confused face and asked “Beta, kem hasse che badha (Why is everyone laughing?)”
My parents and relatives all studied in Gujarati-medium schools and in the language – as well as in Hindi and Marathi – Hardik has a sweet meaning. It means “from the heart”. I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say Gujarati is a deceptive language. Gota is a deep-fried delicacy and muthiya is a breakfast snack. So while my name had a positive connotation in the world of my parents, it had a very different meaning in my world, a six-year old enrolled in an English-medium convent.
As children, our attempts at roasting friends begins with innocence, as we slightly twist names. Aman-Chaman, Hunny-Bunny, Bijal-Brinjal, Hardik-Hardisk. I’m guessing that would have been the rationale behind naming a baby Taimur, to save him from the menace. How the fuck do you roast a Taimur, or even come up with something that rhymes with it?
It wouldn’t take too long for things to change though, as Hussain Kuwajerwala fucked over my happiness, roaming around Indian toilets with that dreaded blue “Harpic” bottle. I was Harpic for a good number of years. After all, you could directly associate a human being with a sandaas. If you want to bring someone down in school, that’s the kind of banter you need.
In adolescence, the big guns were out.
I received sex education long before the rest of my classmates, when a senior pointed out what my name “actually” meant. “Oh! My parents don’t know! Those gullible cuties,” I thought. They might have just accidentally ruined my childhood. But I was wrong, it wasn’t just going to be my childhood.
Dick references became an integral part of my life like diabetes in a Gujarati meal. Every picture I click is a dick-pic. My go-to sexting line is “Hardik swagat hai.” De Kock is my favourite cricketer. My best friends are Dixit and Sukhdeep. Some people call me Hard, others call me Dick and I’m yet to figure out which one’s worse. I get a Hardick birthday cake every year just for a laugh. The same cake, every year. I get more penis enlargement spam mails than the average person. Every person I meet, wants to show me that Russell Peters set about how I should be working in porn.
While having an inappropriate name is all fun and games in teenage years, it can get tense and awkward at the workplace. When I sent a “Hi, Diana” to a colleague from Spain on the office messenger, I only got a terse “Hi” back. She didn’t mention my name. After all, it could well be a prank. What person is named Hardick?
Skype conference calls with foreign colleagues have a tricky ice-breaker as you introduce yourself and watch the colour drain from their face. Nope, it’s not a screen glitch. You want to die of guilt for something that isn’t your fault. On a bad day, you’ll get a formal email addressed as “Dear Hardick”, because auto correct isn’t necessarily politically correct.
The only thing worse than travelling abroad with a funny name is travelling abroad with your family. When you visit distant relatives and their kids, you can notice how they are all judging your family for being ignorant but don’t want to say it out loud. Well fuck you Randy, I look forward to your visit to India. In an attempt to fit in with the Europeans, you start making up nicknames like Hardy to avoid embarrassment. If your family couldn’t come up with a great name, they sure as hell didn’t come up with a decent nickname either. Hardu? It sounds like a sour fruit that no one wants to eat.
While my world changed at school, college, and work, it never collided with my parents’ world, who are still blissfully unaware. Every time my name is on a political hoarding in Maharashtra or Gujarat, they brag about how popular my name is. Or when Shahrukh Khan does a “hardik swagat” for some presenter at IIFA, my dad will jokingly congratulate himself. Ironically, my dad has a pretty good eye for funny names. “Ye Butler, Billings, Drinkwater, aisa koi naam rakhta hai kya?” he comments while watching sport.
Oh dad, if only you knew. You are that person.
I have made up my mind about what I’ll name my kid. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him Mulayam so every time he enters his full name on a form i.e. Mulayam Hardik Rajgor, he’ll be reminded of what an arsehole his dad was. And that’ll motivate him to do well in life. I do believe names shape your personality – because they are itself so fundamental to life, it’s a unique word that everyone associates you with. Your entire life. Well, mine happens to be a synonym for boner and it certainly helped me deal with uncomfortable situations and taught me to laugh them off. To never take myself too seriously. After all, even the people laughing almost never say it in a demeaning tone. It just happens to be a funny name and there’s nothing wrong with a laugh.
If your neighbour had a cute baby named Tipu, would you ever guess that he’d grow up to conquer territory, win multiple wars, and build a summer palace in Bangalore with tiger skin hanging on the wall? I think it was the rather silly name and people looking down at him as a child that inspired his success, and helped him become the Tiger of Mysore.
What’s in a name? A lot. Even in a funny one like Hardik.