Dealing with names

Please swipe through to view the full gallery. Artwork by Anpu, posted on Facebook.

This is fascinating to me. A lot of people in my life do all the right things, according to this artwork. And I appreciate it when people genuinely want to respect me and my ethnic name.

But I don’t care if you get my name wrong because I think we get too attached to names and labels and the cultural baggage that comes with them.

Colonisation created a global hierarchy. So did capitalism. Yes, it’s terrible that the world’s colonial history decimated hundreds of tribes and tribal languages. We should learn from that history. Languages aren’t meant to compete with each other for attention and recognition. Fighting for recognition doesn’t necessarily bring recognition. If we’re to live in one world together, we all need a common language to communicate. That means every one of us will have to make compromises. People like me, who aren’t native English speakers, may have to be ok with English speakers struggling with our names. The same way, English speakers will have to deal with a thick Indian accent if they want their software issues sorted and a rough African accent if they want their parents in aged care looked after. It’s called co-operative existence.

For me, a person is a person. As long as you’re polite and considerate and not racist, you’re fine. If you can’t remember my name, that’s ok. Because guess what, I often get Michael and Matthew mixed up. Beth and Beck are too much alike. By the time we get to Chris, Cris, and Kris, I’m dying. And don’t even get me started on Mick being short for Michael.

If you need an easier way to remember me, just ask. I’d do the same for you. We all take shortcuts sometimes.

Humans named things and each other so we can refer to them in conversation. That’s all. Don’t read too much into it. A name is a name. It’s not your soul. From where I come from, often, a name is a caste. It’s religion. It’s the foundation of hate crimes and human butchery. No one should strut around wielding it like a flag. That’s the kind of devotion that rips countries apart.

Names and labels are just signposts for a dirt road that’ll change and disappear over time. Just because no one will remember a dirt road 50 years from now doesn’t mean the road didn’t exist or serve its purpose. So what if you forget my name? For as long as my being was here and in your life, it’s served its purpose. That’s all we all are—signposts. Sometimes we have letters missing, sometimes we’re scarred or scratched, and some other times we’re just facing the wrong way. Regardless, here and now. If we are, we are.

What’s in a name when a rose by any other name would smell just the same?


I moved. Again.

After living in Canberra for nearly three years, I’ve now relocated to Adelaide. I’ve packed up my entire life, said good bye to some of my best friends, and flown almost two hours to the west of Australia.

photo of the view as seen from the window seat of a plane. picture shows the landscape of a city with a river and the setting sun in the distant horizon

It’s time to start again.

This time, however—for the first time in my life— it doesn’t feel like I’m running away. All of my previous relocations had an air of hope, of expectation, of the self-made assurance that I was leaving for someplace infinitely better. Moving meant going to better places.

It’s different this time, though. I love Canberra. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the capital. Every day was exciting. As mundane as a regular Tuesday afternoon was, I still had everything I loved—my writing group, sea shanties, poetry nights, gawking at the galas, shaking my head at cockatoos, and just being in nature day after day. Hundreds of gumtrees hundreds of years old lived in my backyard. The bush capital had become my home and there was no other place I’d have rather been.

Naturally, I had to leave.

Leaving a place I didn’t want to leave is one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life. But I’d become far too attached. That’s mostly a good thing, of course, but not when the attachment takes hold and breeds the fear of moving away‚ the fear of being uncomfortable and being in the unfamiliar. I was afraid that I might grow afraid to leave Canberra.

I had to push myself to explore new avenues. Adelaide came to mind. Hot, humid, close to the desert, and driest capital city in the country. It’s miles smaller than Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, but that’s what I wanted—it’s the closest you can get to Canberra’s small-town vibes. Except of course, the population is still more than twice the capital’s. What’s life if you’re not putting yourself in hotspots? Here I am, doing that. Literally.

Canberra friends who lived and studied and worked in Adelaide were surprised to hear of my decision to move Adelaide. It’s a place most people moved away from, not to. In my friends’ eyes, I was hurtling headfirst into an unknown that probably has a stone cold floor.

Maybe it does. But I’ve got thick skin and a hard hat.

I hope to land on my feet, and if my feet get cold, I’ll happily admit and move on to another place. I always keep that option open. But never experiencing this city is never an option. I might be stupid to pack my entire life into a 45 litre hiking backpack and fly into a city I’d never been to before. But there’s no one right way to find yourself in a new city—there’s only what you know and what you think might work for you.

This works for me.

Two years

Two years—

Since I last saw my parents in the flesh.

Since I took my first photo of Autumn leaves.

Since I registered for a library membership card.

Since I told myself my future’s changed for the better.

Two years—

Since I started living with truly multi-cultural housemates.

Since I rolled my eyes at the seven types of tinned tomatoes.

Since I learnt that using three onions for every meal is a luxury.

Since I realised the grass isn’t greener on the other side.

Two years—

Since I considered my creative writing seriously.

Since I began pursuing my own twisted path.

Since I appreciated currency conversions.

Since I left India and landed in Canberra.

Reassessing the day

DST has just rolled out. 

No, it’s not an abbreviation of a new tax announced by a random government in a continent far far away. It’s Daylight Savings Time. 

I’ve now lived in Australia long enough to recognise the real implications of the time change that comes with summer. Last year this time, I was shaking my head at, and rather obviously judging, the immature Australians who complained every year about this once-a-year occurrence.

All that hoopla, even though their smartphones automatically went forward by an hour, without them having even to turn a dial. It seemed stupid and selfish to me that Aussies would be so upset about having more daylight in a day, despite thoroughly enjoying every bit of it by firing up the barbecue and popping three casks of white.

Now, however, into my second year in the sunburnt land, having understood precisely why the country acquired that name, I resonate with Aussies. On the first night of AEDT, I was rummaging in my kitchen trying to decide between cooking and not. 

It was 10 minutes to 7 pm. It was still light outside, and though waning, it wasn’t quite dark enough to turn the lights on inside. I don’t like having indoor lights when natural light is adequate.

It stung me, harder than I expected, that darkness hadn’t fallen yet. Having grown up in South Asia where sunset is often synonymous with 5:45 pm, I was rattled to see it lingering well past that. Technically, it was almost time for dinner, but you don’t eat dinner in broad daylight. And since I’m accustomed to having at least 4-5 hours of darkness before bedtime, the late sunsets are messing with my head.

Perhaps that’s how restless mothers feel when their child stays up on a school night. It felt wrong and it bothered me that I couldn’t tell the sun to quit fooling around and go to bed.

That got me thinking—this happened last year as well. We went from Standard Time to Daylight Time, but I wasn’t upset at all. If anything, I was only fascinated that I could ride home at 8 pm, enjoying the sunset, without a light on my bike.

And that’s when it hit me: the thrill of being in a new place has begun to wear off. Sure, I’m still entranced by glorious sunsets over the lake, but I now realise that it’s one of the reasons I struggle to stick to a routine. Because 10 pm feels like 8 pm and I don’t eat until 9 pm, I end up going to bed at midnight almost every day.

That doesn’t mean I hate daylight savings, but I’m not ecstatic about it either. All I know is that DST interrupts my lifestyle and I’ll complain. Well, a bit.

First world problems, amirite?

First world problems

One of the initial and biggest culture shock for someone visiting a western country from the third world is walking into a toilet cubicle and seeing a roll of toilet paper. 

On the first morning of my first trip to the United States, in 2017, I texted my brother from the bathroom.

“First world question: is it safe to flush toilet paper?”

I had my reasons, too. For in many parts of the world, places that are still undeveloped after more than fifty years of developing, the toilet system can’t even handle a healthy person’s plump and fibrous roll of waste. It takes more than a few flushes to make sure everything is indeed flushed off and not as disgusting for the next person.

That’s why I was terrified of flushing a wad of toilet paper and messing up the four-star hotel’s drainage system. And so, a wave of relief swept over me as the response came in the affirmative.

Later that morning, my colleague pulled me aside to discuss, in hushed voices and rolling eyes, the great toilet paper incident and how bizarre it is to have so much bog roll but not knowing how to use it. We couldn’t figure out how first worlders could feel comfortable with a backside that potentially harboured dried waste.

Growing up in Asia, my colleague and I were both used to washing ourselves with water. As toddlers, we were potty trained, which not only helps strengthen thigh and waist muscles for later in life but also makes it so much easier to wash ourselves after we finish our business. Even to this day, countless Indian homes have potty-style bathrooms that are highly effective in preventing the spread of germs introduced by western commodes.

However, even when Asian countries adopted the modern and more convenient commode system, they still retained the washing habit by installing hand showers in the bathroom. Hand showers that required some additional plumbing, but made a lot of sense nevertheless. Resembling a sprinkler garden hose, it’s fitted into the wall next to the toilet, making it easy for the loo-goer to squish, splash, and then return it to its stand and walk away clean.

I’ve visited the US a couple times afterwards, and since migrating to Australia last year, I’ve become far more accustomed to the idea of using toilet paper multiple times every day. 

Source: Giphy

All that said, when coronavirus came into the picture, just as the bushfires were settling down, we went from one unprecedented incident to another one. From donating supplies to people evacuating fire zones, we’ve gone to physically assaulting each other for a roll of toilet paper. This paper crisis and the disastrous fight for bog roll has taken over the internet with memes, devastating videos, graphic images of empty supermarket shelves, and suggestions to use yellow pages instead of toilet paper. 

Amongst this incredible, insane situation, a few odd people have been brave enough to suggest the time-tested Asian washing method, only to be sneered at. It’s not unheard of, of course. Many Australians have travelled widely, and the country itself homes millions of migrants in every state. The hand shower idea isn’t as novel as the coronavirus. It’s even the more environmentally-sustainable option compared to toilet paper. Sure, recycled toilet paper is marketed as better than regular ones, but hey, nothing beats water.

Dear first world, welcome to the third world.