Essay of Ideas: Transforming from “EC” to “Eshani” Chakrabarti
by The Milton Measure on Friday, November 18th, 2016
“E-S-H-A-N-I” I begrudgingly explain as we go around the table in my seventh grade english class. “It’s half my mum’s name and half my dad’s name.” Seeing the confusion adorning my classmates faces, I further explain. “It’s a made up name. Kind of strange. You can just call me EC.”
When you meet someone new, that person’s name is often the first tidbit of information you learn about him or her. A name is something to hang your hat off of. Something concrete. Names have been used for identification, geographic location, and a myriad of other purposes. At the beginning of your life, you’re given a name that will define how you’re perceived for the rest of your life. But what happens when all of the people around you have exactly the same names?
I know fifty Johns, at least ten Emmas, and there are three Chloes in my a capella group alone. How did we get to a point in society where everyone has the same name? Whatever happened to individualism and creativity? Fun fact on the matter, growing up, I hated having a unique name. My mother pronounced it (EE-SHAW-KNEE), my sister pronounced it (EE-SHUH-KNEE), my father pronounced it (UH-SHAH-KNEE), and my grandparents called me Shanu. I grew up bamboozled with how to pronounce my own name. I’d switch the pronunciation each time I’d meet someone knew. I resorted to the easy initials of E and C.
My uncle once informed me that Eshani is actually the name of a city in Iran. This fact sparked all kinds of wonderful in me and convinced me that if I arrived in the city of Eshani, its people would make me their Princess Jasmine and life would be splendid. Maybe that’s not the case, but at least I’ll always have the fall-back plan of working at Disney World.
So in my younger years, I was called EC, but now, whenever middle school friends refer to me by that former nickname, I am met with puzzled glances. I am almost exclusively Eshani in my world today. Growing up, I wanted to be a Lucy or a Claire. I wanted to find a kinship in my classes with someone with the same name. Eshani was weird. I was raised in a sea of blue eyes and blond hair. I didn’t have many friends that looked like me. I didn’t know many people with the abundance of letters in their last name that I had. When do you hit the age where it’s fun to be different? When do you make that switch?
For me, most of it boils down to being a brown girl in a white part of a white country. That is not to say that I do not feel completely American. I blow up red, white and blue balloons on the Fourth of July. Mashed potatoes are my favorite food. Still, I think many are raised with the idea that some people are more American than others. The kids who go to church on Sundays. The kids who call their grandmas Nana. The kids who’ll never question which ethnicity box to check. So where do I fit?
While my friends are off summering in Chatham or Martha’s Vineyard, I spend my summers in 115 degree New Delhi. You might not recognize me in the summer. I’m speaking different languages. I’m wearing different clothes. I’m eating different foods. I’m a different Eshani. No more authentic than the mashed potatoes fanatic within me, but different nonetheless. Life isn’t always biryani and bangles as the Indian Girl. When I’m flying on a plane with my family, I know my mum will make my dad shave his beard so we don’t get randomly selected in the airport. I know my time at the immigrations counter may be longer than the average traveller. Some people are just focussed on whether or not to bring an airplane pillow.
As a country, we like to believe we live in a post-racial society. We like to believe we’re better than those who came before us. More tolerant. Forward thinking. But the truth of the matter is just because we’ve elected a black president, everything isn’t fixed. On November 9th, many citizens believed they’d woke up to a different country than the day before. As a nation, we’re entering into our third period of reconstruction. Racism is mainstream again, folks. Following acts of terror and distress, a country is often unified with hope to move forward together, but we’ve reached a crossroads at which our country is more polarized than ever. Being a person in today’s world is about being put into boxes, and I can’t seem to find a box that fits me. We claim to support a melting pot culture and celebrate the unity of citizens varying in race, gender, and sexual orientation, but the division in our country is palpable. Our future is uncertain and being different is dangerous.
Being around my Indian friends, I feel painstakingly un-Indian. I don’t spend my Saturday evenings praying with my friendly neighborhood pundit. I can’t cook a samosa. Meanwhile, surrounded by our country’s current political climate, I feel overwhelmingly alien. I’m a woman, a person of color, and a child of immigrants. I fear the racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic dialogue emerging in my country. Some days I’m not white enough or brown enough.
Strange as it may be, I’ve grown to like being different. My name is the first indication that I’m complicated. My parents combined their names because they wanted their children to be raised with the mentality that they weren’t expected to be like someone else. The life of an immigrant is unpredictable. Culture clashing is natural, and racism is institutionalized. My parents didn’t want me to conform to what was normal. They hoped I would be the kind of person who focuses on the similarities that bring people together, rather than the differences that tear them apart.
In the heart of New Delhi resides the main road of political India: Shantipath. After India gained its independence, the road was lined with the foreign embassies of different nations. Shantipath’s sanskrit meaning is the path to peace. The question of how to fix the divide in our country is a complicated one to which I do not have the answer. It’s hard for me to ever imagine a time where the world will feel normal again. But finding our nation’s shantipath is not routed in separation. I feel an obligation to know more. Why people act the way they do. Why people alienate those who are different. I feel an obligation to vocalize my frustrations. To represent the underrepresented. To participate in the narrative of redefining what it means to be an American. I pronounce my name (ESH-AW-KNEE). It is often misspelled. It is pronounced incorrectly. It is made up. But it is mine.
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