"We need to change the name of ‘Biryani’ (Indian meat-rice dish), it sounds foreign,” I told my wife, who looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
“Why would you want to do that and what would you name it instead?” asked my wife who loves Biryani and anything with meat in it. “That reminds me,” she said, and started checking out the takeout menus lying nearby and asked, “Do you want kebabs and naan for lunch?”
“For some reason, everyone has suddenly turned super nationalistic, changing names of towns and cities that remind them of foreign invaders,” I said. “The name ‘Biryani’ needs to go because it was brought into India by the Mughals.”
“I believe the name originates from the Persian word, Biryan or Beriyan, which is to roast or to fry. One historian says that Biryani was developed in the royal kitchens of the Mughals and is the rich mix of the spicy rice dishes of India and Iranian ‘pulao’,” I said.
(According to start-up execs, Biryani is the most ordered online dish in India, not pizza, potato burger or ‘dal makhni’).
“Do you know there is also vegetarian Biryani, which is truly ‘desi’,” said my wife, trying to irritate me as she knows I can’t much stand veggies.
“Once you start changing names there will be no stopping,” she added. “Did you know that ‘samosa’ and ‘jalebi’ originated in the Middle East. Or that dal-chawal (rice-lentil dish) came from Nepal and chicken tikka masala originated in Scotland?”
“Did you know ‘kabab’ or ‘kebab’ is also foreign and I think it was invented by the Turks who needed something that was not messy to eat while on the march to conquer new lands,” said my wife, looking into her laptop.
“It is as famous as the sandwich of the Earl of Sandwich,” she said. “The delivery guy is late, he must be playing a game on his smartphone in the garden while my kabab gets cold.”
“BTW [my wife speaks to me like she is texting me], why is everyone suddenly interested in changing names of everything?” she suddenly asked.
“It’s because of the upcoming elections in India,” I said. “From ‘Development for All’, to ‘Make in India’, the new slogan now is, ‘Name it like an Indian’.”
“So, if I get a new cat, won’t I be able to name it Zeenat, after the Empress of the last Indian Mughal emperor?” she asked.
“Maybe you should change your name,” said my wife. “It’s Arabic.”
“I tried changing my name in Canada, remember, when I was not getting a job, but it did not help,” I said.
Many new immigrants from India were sure it was their name that was hampering their job prospects and changed their long names to something simpler like, ‘Mo’, ‘Sid’, or ‘Jeff’.
There were some who resisted getting assimilated into the Canadian ‘khichdi’ (multicultural mix) and protested that if the Polish, with their tongue-twisting names such as Szczepan (for Stephen), had not changed their name, why should someone called Sudershan Subramaniam Swamy do so?
“Why did you change your name to ‘Sabs’, what does that even mean,” said my wife. “A name should have character, it should tell a story about you.”
“Stop dissing my name that your relatives cannot pronounce and think of what to name Biryani instead, that will make it sound more Indian,” I said.
“Why don’t you chill,” said my wife. “Elections will come and go but ‘Biryani’ will remain a quintessentially Indian dish. As Shakespeare said, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.”
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.