Perhaps there should be an official policy on the kind of names that are allowed, and those that are not. In the lives of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan, the memories of being a new parent may well be marred by the ugly debate that raged on Twitter about the suitability of naming their son “Taimur”. According to a section on social media, that proverbially goes by the name of “Internet Hindus”, the name Taimur is unsuitable primarily because it evokes the infamous Turko-Mongol emperor, Timur. The argument goes, Timur, who once laid to waste the city of Delhi and massacred scores of people, is not a suitable name for an infant. After all, do we name our babies after Hitler or Mussolini?
To begin with, the politics of names and naming isn’t new in India. Just a while back there was a raging controversy over changing the name of Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road to Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. These controversies, which rise for a moment, only to die down later, repeating themselves in this circle ad infinitum, however, are important for a reason.
At every point of their eruption, claiming the baggage of history to justify themselves, such occurrences mask an invidious facet of modern India: The absolute unease of a section of the majority towards accommodating the Muslims within the body politic. I could have well used the more apt term, “Islamophobia”. But the term “unease” is apt precisely because it captures the ambiguity of both being a Muslim in 21st century India, and being a Hindu and dealing with a fellow Muslim.
This ambiguity can range from extreme situations to those that can be encountered in the everyday, like denying a house to a Muslim couple in a posh Mumbai locality despite the couple being economically well-off, or the ridiculous claim of “love jihad” by the more rabid saffron fringe when the marital union has been the result of consent of the parties involved, as the recent Tina Dabi case showed us. It can range from the brutality of Dadri, to more mundane accusations of Muslim “backwardness”.
The big question, however, is: For how long can we as a nation foist the unbearable task of carrying the so-called baggage of history on to the shoulders of a large section of our populace? The reasons for that could be many, from the horrors of Partition, to the continued legacy of colonialism pitting one community against the other. But then when we talk of “decolonising the mind”, and undertake such projects like making Sanskrit compulsory in schools, and use history to justify violence, perhaps, it’s important to stand back and notice that history as baggage is equally on the shoulders of those who call themselves Hindus.
In the curious distinction that we so casually make in our lives between a “good” Muslim and a “bad” Muslim, and especially when we fail to notice that a distinction like this is nothing more than a tool to assert supremacy, not only are we culpable of distorting the facts of history, but we are also repeating a sorry aspect of history that must remain in the past.
To return to the question of the name, it’s interesting how in this case “Taimur” signifies two things: It means “Iron”, and by extension, could signify strength, and secondly, it signifies the name of the emperor, Timur. Umberto Eco, the novelist and semiotician, reminds us how meaning and signification is always a process of arriving at, a process that entails both navigation and negotiation. In the distance between these two meanings, iron and the historical figure of Timur, lies sadly the curious paradox of Hindu-Muslim relations as they exist in today’s India.