'My husband took my name'

Keepers of Cool

Kermin Bhot talks about how her husband Abhishek Mande Bhot took her last name after marriage.

“A little after returning from our honeymoon four years ago, my husband, Abhishek, broke an important piece of news to his parents—he’d be taking my last name. While we waited for some form of judgement from either parent, all we got was a long drawn out ‘Okay’ from his dad. Even as we waited for him to complete what we thought would be the beginning of a long monologue, he didn’t say a thing. Much to his credit, not only did he leave it at that, he even asked Abhishek how he was proposing to go about it.

“My mother-in-law didn’t have much to say—she’d not only changed her last name but also her first name when she gotten married more than 30 years ago. That’s an age old tradition among the Maharashtrian community my husband belongs to. Maharashtrians are Hindus who live along the western coast of India and have their own distinct language, culture and traditions. I suspect it may have been tad odd seeing her son change his name but she didn’t say it. She’s always been accepting of our relationship and this was just another way for her to stand with us in solidarity.

“My husband and I have an inter-religious marriage. He’s a Hindu, while I’m a Parsi—two communities as far apart as they can get. Parsis are followers of the prophet Zoroaster and are descended from Persians who emigrated to India to escape persecution from Muslims centuries ago. Both of us come from very diverse backgrounds. I was raised in a Parsi household in South Mumbai on a staple of American and British pop culture and he was born and raised in the distant suburbs of the city in a middle-class Maharashtrian household. Add to that the fact that I was older and earning more than him and one might think we had a recipe for disaster. But while there were differences, there was also a lot of common ground—our core beliefs and thoughts were the same.

“Also, I suspect Abhishek’s education in women’s rights and the fact that he has always been surrounded by strong women made it easier for him to accept the age and salary factor, as well as the fact that I didn’t need a knight in shining armour to rescue me.

“Our relationship was and is far from conventional, and Abhishek taking my name is just another manifestation of it. The folks in the building in which I own a flat call him ‘Bhot sir’ and compliment him on his fluent Marathi. He’s stopped trying to explain to them that he is a Maharashtrian. Till a few years ago I was the managing editor at India’s foremost women’s magazine, and when we got married some of his coworkers would joke about what it’s like being married to someone who is more famous than him!

“Everyone has an opinion about this, of course, and it is currently split between being mildly amused and thinking of him as the village idiot. He is very passionate about women’s rights and at one point he would go to lengths trying to explain why this was important. Over the years, though, he’s given up explaining. To journalists who interview him, he says he changed his name because he wanted to. He says that he had the option of continuing with his own name or choosing to take mine and he chose the latter. It was really quite as simple as that, he insists.

“But I should like to believe that he had an ulterior motive when he took my name. Because even four years after our wedding, his name is a conversation starter. And the conversation almost always veers towards the one topic that we are most passionate about and one that has found itself at the heart of the modern day narrative—choice.

“The concept of choice is a complex one but one that is the cornerstone of human civilisation. Most of us (ie liberals) like to believe that accepting someone’s right to choose is pretty darned easy. But when that someone chooses a narrative that isn’t in line with our liberal ideologies…ah that’s when the narrative becomes a little complicated, doesn’t it? We will fight for women who want to be independent but when the same women want to hit the beach in a burkini…we catch ourselves squirming in our seats.

“It is a conversation that absolutely must be had. Not just with the people who don’t subscribe to our ideology but especially with people who do. It shouldn’t just be had with people our age and those older to us but also with young adults and children who are just beginning to form their worldview.

“And to think that the starting point of all of this is some guy taking his wife’s name is really quite fascinating. Then again, if you ever find yourself asking my husband why he took my name, there’s a good possibility he’ll reply with a perfectly straight face: ‘Why not?’”

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