Saif and Kareena made a curious choice for the name of their first-born, Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi, and the ensuing social media uproar has been dizzying in its scope and scorn. The name is reminding a lot of people of the Turko-mongol invader Temur Lang or Tamerlane who raided Delhi in 1399 AD and massacred a quoted estimate of 10,000 Indians.
Part of the pandemonium is the price a celebrity Bollywood couple is forced to pay for being ultra-visible in the digital age, even in their private moments as a newly formed family. Some of it is, however, plain absurd, wherein the illustrious Ali Khan Pataudi family is being maligned and their loyalty to the nation questioned. Truly, the late Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi and his son Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, both celebrated erstwhile captains of the Indian cricket team, could have not imagined that the day of the birth of a (great)grandson of theirs could be mired with anti-national accusations.
The prevailing clime since 2014 elections is unfortunately one in which claims of anti-nationalism and sedition have gained a certain bravado. The imagery of the accusation also uncannily resonates with the global wave of Islamophobia, triggered by terrorist organizations and weapon-brandishing invaders like Islamic State that have massacred minorities like Christians and Yazidis.
The facts, too, appear twisted in these vitriolic reactions. Massacres, in much of medieval and modern history, have been used as weapons by invaders for claiming thrones, capturing cities and establishing fear among the common people. India in the 14th century denoted the land beyond Indus – the entire Indian subcontinent, with Sultanate Delhi under the Tughlaq dynasty – thus it was hardly the complex, unified nation-state that we live in today. As an invader, Temur had a special stake in India and in Delhi, as it was one of the richest cities in his day. He began his rubble-and-massacre military campaign in the Persian cities of Herat and Isfahan before moving towards India. There isn’t incontrovertible evidence that Temur only singled out members of a particular faith in the Delhi massacre – unless one erroneously believes that all Indians in Delhi at the time were Hindus. After Delhi, Temur continued attacking and committing massacres in Aleppo, Damascus and Baghdad. So it is unreasonable to give a specifically anti-Hindu bent to the naming of a child when all peoples in the Delhi of 14th century suffered terrible consequences of the invasion. It is curious in the same way that Pakistan frequently names its missiles over foreign invaders that first wreaked havoc over the very same territory that forms much of modern Pakistan.
However controversial the name may seen, interpretation is the right of the one who is interpreting. Although not common, names like Duryodhana (meaning ‘one who can’t be defeated’) and Dushasana (meaning ‘one who can’t be ruled’) do exist in India. Temur means iron and symbolizes strength in several languages. Another famous “Temur” in history was Temüjin (a derivative of “Temur” and “jin”), better known to the world as Chengez Khan who founded the great Mongol empire in 13th century. Although much touted by Temur, there is no conclusive proof of shared bloodline between the two rulers.
When we let a Leopold and a Stalin be – however despotic and exterminating their namesakes may have been – or closer to home, an Ashok and a Sikander be — names of great kings who led bloody campaigns for conquest — why project so much historic hate on a child whose life has just begun? None of the politics can take away from the fact that naming a child is the prerogative of his or her parents. A name is not a jagir or a stronghold of any one personality. If his parents will him to be so, the baby would be called Taimur and the rest of us must mind our own business. If anything, he holds the possibility to bring a better recollection to his name.