Once upon a time, there lived a boy. He lived in a large house, in a tiny village, in the small state of Goa, a Portuguese territory in India. He had 3 older sisters and an older brother, but over the years, his family got bigger as 6 younger siblings were born.
An interesting story surrounds the circumstances of how the boy got his name (shared by an older sister). The family had just lost their oldest son (just before the boy was born), possibly to typhoid, at the tender age of 16. He was the boy’s stepbrother and much-loved by all. When the day of the boy’s naming ceremony dawned, he wouldn’t stop crying. All day the house resonated with his continuous crying, until his worried parents consulted the village priest in desperation (that’s what they did in 1938 in obscure Goan villages when children had problems). The priest had a solution (Don’t they always?). He told them the crying was probably because the boy’s brother’s soul was lost and unhappy (Surprise, surprise! I thought the soul was free from all desire? Never mind, what do I know!), on account of him having died young with lots of unrequited desires, and that he was making clear his displeasure over the new arrival because he thought it would mean his own departure was forgotten, diminished somehow. Don’t shoot me, it’s what the priest said!
The solution he suggested was what we here in Goa call taking a ‘Prasad’, not to be confused with the ‘Prasad’ that is an offering to the Gods. This ‘Prasad’ is akin to seeking God’s blessings or permission to pursue a chosen path, a second opinion of sorts, from the expert! It’s an ancient, fascinating local custom, of divine communication! Bits of a leaf from a particular tree (usually the ‘Bael’ (Aegle marmelos) tree, a favorite of Lord Shiva), are applied to different parts of the Idol in the temple with water, while family elders (mostly men) sit around the Deity, and the priest, either poses the problem that has been troubling them or asks for blessings before a major decision is made (buying a house, a car, before a marriage, changing a job, travelling abroad and a million other things!). It really is quite fascinating. The priest frames the question, so that Yes or No is the only answer possible. Then in a clarion voice, he demands that God should make a leaf from the left side of the Idol fall, for a Yes, the right side for a No or vice versa. The questioning goes on as every one sits rapt and praying until a desired answer is obtained 😉 This is serious business and if a Yes is not obtained it could lead to weddings being called off, business ventures abandoned, houses left unsold…you get the picture.
Taking ‘Prasad’ is very much a cornerstone of Goan society, even today, certainly in the GSB community (a class of fish-eating Brahmins and traditionally considered the highest caste in Hindu society in Goa), that we belong to. It was taken after hubby and I decided to get hitched…you know just in case we were displeasing the Cosmos and in danger of bringing innumerable sorrows upon our families (like that would have stopped us ;-)).
So, back to the story then. On the priest’s suggestion, a ‘Prasad’ was taken, after which it became crystal clear that the dearly departed soul of the older brother was indeed forlorn and devastated by what it perceived as a happy ‘moving on’, by the bereaved family. The family was instructed to name the crying boy after this much-adored sibling and to honor annually, a young boy, who hadn’t had his ‘Thread Ceremony’ (a coming of age ritual among Brahmins), as a mark of respect to their departed son, in the hopes that this would allow him to ‘Rest in Peace’. The boy had to be someone who hadn’t been through the ritual Thread Ceremony, because the boy had died before his. And so, Dad is named Ramchandra (Lord Rama’s name), after an older brother he never knew, but apparently resembles! But such are the complexities of Hindu society, that though you may name your children after family members that have passed on to show respect, you may not then call them by that name, for fear of offending them!! (I know! Go figure!) So, there’s another name that becomes for all purposes except legal, the real name! And so, my Dad’s given name is ‘Vasant’, it’s what everyone, who’s allowed to use it, calls him! It’s what my Mom called him, when they married and lived first in Bombay and then in Japan, until she stopped when they moved back to ultra-conservative Goa, where it’s Ok to just holler ‘Aye’ or some such to get your husband’s attention but sacrilege to use his given name (it was in her generation). It’s what his friends (the few he has) still call him 🙂 and it’s what I wish for him on his Birthday – coz ‘Vasant’ means ‘Spring’ and that’s what I want for him as he turns 72…a Second Spring!
Can’t think of one person who deserves it more 🙂
Happy Birthday Daddy!