>I didn’t, not for a very long time. I thought if I told my name to strangers I may get into trouble: they may stalk me, act familiar with me, use my name for things I did not want it to be used.
It started very early, way back in school. I was a teenager then, taught to ignore comments by boys wanting to “make friendship” with me. Sometimes those comments were questions, usually ‘What is your name?’ I never answered that question, never except once.
A boy my age following me on his bicycle insisted day after day he wanted to know my name. I ignored him like I had ignored others before him. But he was cute. And naughty. And if it had not been for my conditioning I may have befriended him. But it was only because he was cute and naughty that I took the liberty to reply to him, mock him rather. He pleaded me to tell him my name and I barked back at him, “Chameli!” It was the unlikeliest of names for somebody my age and the likeliest thing to stun him into silence. He never asked me my name again. Never came back to follow me.
When I was in college and used to travel in trains – usually alone, often with friends – to Delhi, I had a very unoriginal but fictional name for any stranger on the journey who wanted to know my name. I called myself ‘Preeti’ for no apparent reason. On hindsight, I do not know what I thought they would do with my name if they knew it but I never told my name.
I was almost fanatical about not disclosing my identity. At self-service cafes like Barista, I never gave in my name fearing that when they called it out, the whole café would know me by my name. I can now ask myself that if they did, what would happen, but I did not question myself then. Instead, I gave the name of whoever was with me. Later, I became slightly more daring and came up with names I would liked to have. Like Vivienne or some such fancy thing.
I don’t know when I grew out of this mindset but somewhere down the line I realised I was being very boring. I was closing myself off to a lot of people. They were strangers, yes, but how would I make new friends if I kept lying to strangers who could be my friends? Did I have to know people from somewhere, through somebody to befriend them? And I realised I could afford to be less harsh on others and more liberal with my name!
Yesterday, T and I were at a bookstore browsing through books, discussing authors, must-reads, flipping through magazines when a young boy (I say that as if I’m an old hag but he was definitely much younger!) came up to us and started chatting nonchalantly. He complimented T, told us he was Afghanistani student here on a scholarship. And then he asked me my name.
I did not pause to gave him the name by which everyone who knows me, knows me. I did not pause to cook up another name for myself. I did not pause to think, after I had spoken to him, that I had done something out of my league.
But when I came back home, I realised it was probably the first time I had told a stranger my precious name. It felt good to be finally free to be D to a stranger.