Celebrate Being ‘Unique’

The first day of school, college or university is always accompanied by a mixture of nervous excitement and mild panic. In my case, each of these milestone events come with an added issue to stress about: ‘How would my name be prounounced this time?!’

If you are like me, you are one of those fortunate souls with a name (or perhaps multiple) that finds itself being mispronounced frequently. The name may make perfect logical sense in your family’s ethnic language, culture or religion, yet as it journeys through the English language, its pronunciation appears to get left behind.

Before my name was called in the register, there would always be a pause before the teacher or lecturer made a hesitant attempt at ‘Ananya’. Some others however, decided they were not going to even try to pronounce it and instead asked whether I had another name I preferred to be called. Thus was born an English equivalent nickname, ‘Ana’, that has stuck with me throughout most of my life. Most Indians or at least Bengalis have 2 names: a ‘good’ name (Ananya) for official documentation and a ‘dahk’ or ‘affectionate nickname’ used by friends and family. ‘Ana’ became my ‘English Dahk’ name alongside my other Bengali nicknames.

I used to go through a phase of just switching topic when anyone asked about the real pronunciation. Some were persistent and would seek out a fellow Indian in the hope of finding out my ‘real name’. Triumphantly they would proclaim they had discovered the ‘Indian way’ of saying it. However, India is a country of numerous cultures, traditions and languages. Hindi may be universally spoken but different Indian states have separate principal languages. Within these, diverse variations in dialect can also be noticed, depending on geographical location. This means that ‘Ananya’ in Hindi is pronounced much like the modified English version, only with a few softer syllables: ‘Ah-naan-ee-yah’, which is noticeably different to the Bengali pronunciation.

It is interesting that even non-Bengalis, living in an area of West Bengal (where Bengali or Bangla can be heard predominantly) will pronounce ‘Ananya’ as ‘Ah-naan-ee-yah’. Not that it bothers me. I have become accustomed to hearing variations of my name. In fact, I like to make note of the most original attempts: ‘Ah-nigh-ah’ has maintained its first place position for a number of years now, whilst the National Health Service tried to record my name as ‘Anan Ya’. To this day, however, my dentist still tries to call me ‘Anya’…

Maturity has revealed the core issue at play at adopting ‘Ana’ over ‘Ananya’. I wanted to be like my peers and therefore shied away from my full name, assumed ‘Ana’ instead and consequently the name has stuck. Yet as I have gotten older, I have come to realise that each and every one of us has quirks that make us different: misplacing items hours after being purchased, adding cheese to every meal (!), obsessing about Canadian popstars – sound familiar?! These traits are for celebrating not being ashamed of. What is it about yourself that makes you different?

Mine? So, what is my name, really?
Ananya, pronounced in Bengali as ‘O-non-nah’ (O as in ‘lot’) meaning ‘unique’, or ‘like no other’, in Sanskrit.

So today I ask, is there anything about yourself that you have been hiding or shying away from? Instead of shying away, can you embrace this about yourself and be proud? After all, without these qualities, positive or negative, we would not be who we are today, the same as everyone else– we would not be unique.

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Smile – It’s The Weekend!

 
If only my journeys were as entertaining as this… Have a great weekend!

Durga Puja 2012

Whether you are well accustomed to Durga Puja or have been newly introduced to it (either through this year’s Hindi blockbuster, Kahaani or last week’s BBC episode of This Is India) this 9-10 day Hindu festival is celebrated in the millions, worldwide. Navratri and Garba celebrations occur during this time but for Bengalis, Durga Puja remains a key event in the religious and social calendar. Being British born, I envy my Indian friends and family that are able to truly relish the ‘native’ Durga Puja experience at home – a colourful chaos of sounds, smells and visions. Western schooling systems rarely permit sufficient vacation time during the pujas and therefore visiting West Bengal for Durga Puja remains on my Bucket List. However, for now I share Durga Puja celebrations through my own eyes, growing up in the UK.

Lehengas & Luchis
Since childhood, Durga Puja has always created a sense of excitement. It meant it was time to finally wear the traditional Indian lehengas, salwars or saris bought during our last India trip especially for the occasion. New clothes became a symbol of new beginnings, the colourful combinations and shimmering sequins celebrating the diversity of our culture.
After putting our hands together in prayer, bowing to the Goddess Ma Durga and blessing ourselves with the holy fire, we are allowed ‘prasad’. Prasad, in the form of fruits, Bengali sweets or coconuts are usually offered as a form of worship and after the religious rituals have been performed, are eaten, as they have now been blessed by the Goddess. Puja celebrations involve not only religious festivities but also allow a cultural mix of songs and dance, enjoyed before more puja meals.
Luchis (or Puris) are a delicious yet deceptively devilish Bengali classic – fried doughy bread usually accompanied by daal and Bengali misti (sweets).

Meeting & Greeting
As I grew up, Durga Puja gained more significance in the social calendar. It became a constant in our ever changing, hectic lives. It offered an opportunity to greet friends, old and new that had travelled far and wide for this one occasion.

Aarti & Shadhana
Along with devotional worship (aarti) comes the opportunity to cleanse the soul and carry out ‘spiritual practice’ or shadhana; a time to seek spiritual peace within yourself regardless of the chaos of the modern world around us.

Today
For me, Durga Puja today encompasses all these: ‘luchis & lehengas’, ‘meeting & greeting’ and ‘aarti & shadhana’, not as 3 separate entities but as an integrated culmination of festivities. Excitement grows as we coordinate our outfits, warm affection and emotion stirs as we embrace familiar faces and sweeten our palates. Today, it is amazing to be able to witness puja celebrations across continents through 1 effortless video call on a smart phone, live television broadcasting or through uploaded Facebook photos or statuses. However, let us not forget the real reason of our shadhana, our real cause for celebration.

Goddess or Ma Durga/Durga Ma – is believed to be mother of the universe. She is responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the world.

‘It is believed that Ma Durga was created by gathering the strength of all the mothers. Every year the mother graces us with her presence, eliminates evil and goes back so that all of us can live happily and peacefully without fear.’

– From Kahaani, translated from the original Hindi.

So this Durga Puja, whether you are a devotee or not, may you be touched with Ma Durga’s sword of omniscient knowledge, protected from all evil by her many arms and blessed with the certainty of success.

It is thought that as we strive to form an inner peace within ourselves, we become unaffected by the circumstances we cannot alter. In doing so, we detach from the fear of the unknown and become the people we are meant to be. May we each find our inner peace this Durga Puja.

Shubo Bijoya – Happy Durga Puja 2012!