“Hi, your name please!”
“Hello, umm..Niveta, Niveta Tiwari.”
“Would that be N A V I T…”
“No, not an A, its an I after the N.”
“Sorry mam, can you spell that for me!”
“Yeah sure, N I V E T A.”
“Okay Miss Nivita..”
Nivita, Navita, Namita.. The myriad variations of my name no longer serve to unleash the Hulk within. You know how that meme goes. If I had a dollar for everytime someone misspelt or mispronounced my name (and I spared them of my wrath!) I would have been an Ambani or Bill Gates by now. And then there are those who do not tire out of the curiosity about its meaning.
It means, “A beautiful girl with long hair,” yo all! Yes, atleast for me it does. Because that is how this name came about!
Even as a kid I was the epitome of rebellion and my name in itself stands as a testament.
My mother had decided to call me Jaya after her favourite actress, Jaya Bhaduri. Like many others, Amma was a fan of Jaya Bhaduri’s long swinging braid and sarees, and that sheer modesty on screen! So I was named Jaya before my admission in junior kindergarten. I had already zeroed upon a cool name for myself, so I was caught unawares during the first attendance.
“Roll number 15, Jaya Tiwari!” The teacher looked at me meaningfully when no answer came, “जया, बेटा roll call पे सबको जवाब देना है।”
“Excuse me Miss, but my name is Niveta.”
“बेटे attendance में आपका नाम जया लिखा हुआ है।”
“Mam, लेकिन मेरा नाम तो निवेता है!”
And I refused to answer the roll calls until she changed my name in the attendance register after a good few days of constant pestering at the hands of a three year old!
You see, there was this beautiful, tall and curly haired girl called Niveta in our school. She had this long mane. And your girl fell for it. So, she decided to call herself Niveta because that is how she wanted to be, like the fair long haired Niveta..uh I mean Nivita, Navita, Namita..To tell you the truth, to this day I have no idea what she was called! All that mattered for my childish heart was to look exactly like her!
So, did this Niveta succeed in growing her hair down to her ankles?
Well I succeeded in changing my name against my mother’s will but whom was I kidding! From head to toe I was under Mumma’s control. Afterall, she was the one who had to comb those hair every morning, dressing me ready for school!
I was the last one to budge though. One could spot a tiny chubby version of me, running about the house, shrieking at the top of her lungs and hiding under the beds, refusing to go to the barber. Yes, like all of you I also committed the mistake of underestimating the power of my mother, that too the mother of this budding क्रान्तिकारी! The barber was then called home every month, and through tears and cries of protests I had to see my precious hard work chopped off.
Papa’s consolations of toys and balloons were no match to my puffer-fish face. Maa had to suffice with my clean and organized hair and some angry warnings, “अगली बार ऐसा नहीं करने दूंगी अम्मा, देख लेना आप!”
My mother is an absolute sucker for inner beauty and an avid chastiser of vanity. An exemplary specimen of simplicity herself, I had never seen her painting her nails or buying designer sarees. Her round golden बाला was what she wore for years until one of the pair was eventually lost somewhere and Papa gifted her a new one. Only she had this long braid going down to her waist, much like Jaya Bhaduri. No wonder I fell for Niveta’s long hair! Between balancing work and three kids, Amma had lost most of her hair too and actually didn’t have much time to tend to my desire of growing mine even longer. And since I really looked cute in that boy-cut, she even dressed me up like that. However I used to be her exact opposite, demanding bangles and dolls from my Nani whenever she used to visit us. I still have that silver anklet she gifted me on my fifth birthday. It doesn’t even fit my wrists anymore but big enough to hold all those childhood memories. Even the dolls I played with had long hairs and I used to dress them up in colorful attire!
For years, I kept myself annoyed over the fact that I could not dress up like a girl, and had to wear those baggy jeans and boy’s T-shirts. But with my younger brother’s company, I started enjoying WWF and video games as well. Eventually, I got used to being a tomboy, an introverted one, mind you! Not the badass boss like our Meera Ji! Being bullied for my weight and nicknames such as Sister Nivedita, also saved me from the मजनू types, and I could concentrate better on my studies.
After higher secondary, I had to go away from my hometown in order to attend a coaching and prepare for the pre-medicals. And there in the hostel, encouraged by the girls flinging their chotis at me, I had the sudden realisation that no barber would be called upon to cut my hair anymore, and I did not need to remain a परकटी forever! I grabbed the opportunity and my hair, and twisted them into oiled braids! Little did I know how difficult it would be, with the undernourishment of hostel food and without the experience of managing long hair. At first I didnt even know how to tie a pony and struggled to keep my growing hair together, as opposed to the कटोरा cut which didn’t even need to be combed when I used to jump out of my bed at six in the morning and run for my classes. I felt guilty about all those fights with my mother, as I grew tired of balancing organic chemistry equations along with my glasses and shoving those growing strands out of my eyes at the same time. And within a few months I slid back into the old easy-to-handle hairstyle.
One day I was standing in a grocery store filling up the monthly quota of junk food by exhausting all my pocket money, when I recieved a pat on my back, “और भाई कैसा है!”
I turned around glaring, ready to slap whoever had dared, and saw that the poor culprit was already begging for my forgiveness with folded hands, “Sorry Didi Sorry! मुझे लगा मेरा दोस्त करन है! दीदी माफ कर दो, उसके पास भी ऐसी ही Undertaker वाली tshirt है, पीछे से देख कर लगा वो ही है!”
I was on the verge of tears when he grabbed his Maggie family pack and ran for his life, afraid that I would administer him a Chokeslam right there. Thankfully alot of embarrassment was spared, as no one from my coaching centre was there to witness the scene or I wouldn’t have stepped out of my closet until my hair grew long enough to become a जटाधारी.
It dawned upon me, how important it was for a girl to look a certain way, in order to retain her feminine identity. I recalled dressing up my dolls. Hence the long-hair dream started to materialize again. I even changed my dressing sense and switched to skirts and kurtis instead of WWE t-shirts. In college however, I did enjoy all the attention it garnered. The girls used to be in awe of the utter straightness of my hair, which they failed to achieve even after long hours of torture at the hands of a hot iron. I told them it was not the hair but my stubbornness, refusing to curl (read bend) in the face of adversity!
Now after years of fighting against hair fall (and not just patriarchy!) and trying various home remedies, am back to shorter hairs, although not the boy-cut. My mother still believes I would look pretty in an even shorter cut, specially as I grow older. I love to scare her saying that I am gonna go completely bald someday! Atleast I won’t have to worry about the greys! If someone told my Bua ji that I was talking about going bald, she will then recall the day of my मुंडन, which got delayed by a few years by the arrival of my baby brother. I remember fighting with Bua ji afterwards, demanding back my lost hairs “आपने ही आटे में लपेट कर मेरे बाल गंगा जी में फेंके हैं न बुआ! अब पापा से नेग मांग रही हो! लाओ पहले मेरे बाल वापस करो!”
Cut to the present day, sometimes I catch myself staring at the mirror, trying to imagine how I would look with a shaven scalp.
Much like the way I had fallen in love with the dolls, their colorful dresses, long hair and bracelets, somehow I find myself getting attracted towards that ochre robe, the rosaries and shining bare head. I sigh in relief when Swami ji says, “सबको ये रंग कभी न कभी अपनी तरफ खींचता है।” तो मुझे भी खींच रहा है, इसमे कौन सी बड़ी बात है!
I have renounced my dolls and replaced them with this false sense of identity and ego. Without even the slightest of knowledge about what it entails, I am eager to be ordained a Sanyasi and shave my head, unaware of the responsibilties that will fall upon my shoulders!
N A I V E, that would be the correct spelling for me then!
Is Sanyasa a mere donning of the ochre robes and going bald? How different is it then from a bride wearing red and adorning herself with gold ornaments? And if renunciation really means letting go of all identity then why do I need to wear saffron or white or any other color? What difference does it make, if my spirit remains as black as ever? How many masks will I hide behind, until I finally shed all the garments and colors, and become stark naked like the way I was born, and finally merge my identity with the Divine, so that only She remains and I am no more..
Until I do not figure out which way I am destined to go, I am keeping my hair short enough to be manageable and long enough so as not be mistaken for a guy! I wonder if all this while, the only thing that my mother wanted to teach me was this मध्यम मार्ग!
Little does she realise that she has been pushing me closer and closer to this other extreme, not just with her teachings but with her own, almost renunciant lifestyle. And it appears as if life itself wants me to eventually go bald as the trials and tribulations would rather have me shave off my emotions and stay detached.
I day dream about my renunciate avatar (if ever at all!) What would I be named? Niveta, Navita, Sister Nivedita?
You think Google hasn’t been bothered enough with the meaning of this name? I did, Google answered. I wasn’t happy. Ultimately it buckled under the stubbornness of my self-created identity, including my name and its imaginary meaning!
“The name Niveta is derived from the word Niveda which means the inherent purity of the Naivedya being offered to God!” And even if this is not true, I will keep repeating this to myself until I become pure enough, fit for consumption by the Lord of Vaikuntha himself. Will He then ordain me a Sanyasi?
I was that,
now I want to be this.
This constant wanting to be something else!
उस लड़की के लंबे बाल थे
मुझे भी लंबे बाल चाहिए थे
उसका नाम मैंने अपना लिया।
अगर गुरु का दिया हुआ नाम अपना लेती हूं,
तो क्या उनकी तरह सन्यासी हो जाऊंगी?
ये होना है
वो होना है
मैं ये हूं, वो हूं..
गृहस्थ हूं, सन्यासी हूं
राजा जनक हूं, या वो भिखारी?
ये स्वप्न कब ख़त्म होगा?
क्या हो तुम..और क्या-क्या बन जाओगे?
ये बनना कब बंद करोगे!
बहुत हुआ अब, बहुत बन लिया!
अब मिटा दो
ये सब मिटा दो!
मैं, मेरा, कुछ भी न बचे
मुझे अब तुम ख़ुद में मिला दो..
Consume me in the fire of Your love, my Beloved and annihilate all my identities.
At your mercy now, Prabhu! ❤️🙏🏻
PS: By the way, if Swami Ji ever decides to give me His name, I think I will go bald with happiness and gratitude itself!
Picture Credit: Papa and his Nikon camera. Circa 1995.