BY Sahil Wajid
My first name was chosen by my mother because it was, as she put it, a “secular” name. Being a mildly religious woman, that really meant the name came as close as it could to a Hindu one, without sounding like a complete cop-out to some of her more orthodox Muslim relatives.
At any rate, it was better than the more spiritual name that my father, an atheist working at a bank, had in mind: Khusro, which, she said, would have been a pronunciation nightmare (besides being, as I later realised, egregiously Muslim-sounding).
While the turmoil of 1992 was still a few years away when I was born, my mother, unlike my father, seemed to have foreseen the times to come. However, as I was soon to find out, while first names can be chosen, there are no such secularising remedies for family names.
At my Delhi school one day, a seven-year-old in my class found out that my middle initial “A” stood for “Abdul.” He declared it was something to be ashamed about—rather viciously for his young age and in the unrelenting manner that children do when they pounce on an embarrassing secret. I realised at that early age that my Muslim surname was unlikely to ever be an asset and was best kept to oneself when it could be helped.