x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Desi Girl: When it comes to my name, I've heard it all

The only association desis make with my name is that of a laundry whitening agent also called Ujala.

Hi, my name is Ujala. It's Spanish, actually - it means "I wish".

No kidding. I was watching a Spanish-subtitled episode of Supernatural a couple of days ago and at one point, somebody said: "I wish!" You know that radar everyone has when they hear or read their name? Well, mine went on red alert. The subtitle for that specific dialogue read "Ojala".

So it was spelt a little differently and pronounced slightly differently, but enough people have called me "ohala" for them to assume I'm OK with it.

So, yes, it's a Spanish name and it means "I wish".

Well, I wish.

If you went by the insight of an increasingly irritating neighbour of mine, my name is Arabic and it means "hurry".

It was funny the first time I heard it: I - running late for an appointment, as usual - bumped into him in the corridor. I'm all for neighbourly pleasantries, so I smiled back when this gentleman smiled at me after we ended up in the lift together. He told me his name and asked me mine. I told him. He started chuckling and said, "Ujala, Ujala - you know what Ujala means in Arabic?"

I looked at him quizzically.

"Ujala means hurry," he laughed. "That's why you always hurry. You hurry like your name. Always Ujala."

I had to laugh. It would have stayed funny if only I didn't have to suffer through reruns of the exact same conversation for the next five years.

Every time I run into this gentleman, he says the whole thing all over again as if he's just thought it up and as if I'm hearing it for the first time. It's getting to the point where I double back into the house if I see him in the corridor when I come out the door. I have fantasised about telling him that his joke stopped being funny after the 500th time he told it, but I don't have the heart to do that. So I try to dodge him the best I can. And when I can't, I grit my teeth and flash him the closest thing I can muster to a sincere smile.

My name is neither Spanish, nor Arabic, though. It's Sanskrit.

Today, Sanskrit is the official language of the Indian state of Uttarakhand and one of the 22 scheduled languages of the country. You can hear Sanskrit chants in theme music from The Matrix Revolutions, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

But none of that trivia adds any sense of romance to my moniker. The only association desis make with my name is that of a laundry whitening agent also called Ujala. An excited narration of the infamous jingle - "Aaya naya Ujala! Chaar boondo waala!" (Here comes the all new Ujala! All you need is four drops!) - is the first thing I hear when I tell a fellow desi my first name.

My full name opens a whole other Pandora's box: since it's a common name in India but much rarer in Pakistan, it is commonly thought of as a Hindu name. With a Muslim last name such as Ali Khan, I get asked everything from whether I was adopted to whether I converted to Islam after I married a Muslim.

So I am only left with two choices: change my country or change my name. Neither of these wishes is coming true in a hurry.

Ujala Ali Khan lives in Dubai and loves all things desi

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