Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Naming Ceremony

Dear Ellie,

Yesterday was your 27th day outside of the womb.  That means you are supposed to be formally named.  Among Hindus throughout India, you would be named on the 11th day of your life, but among the Keralans of southern India, Hindus and Christians alike, girls undergo Namakaran Sanskar (the naming ceremony) on their 27th day.  Since your Grandma and Grandpa are from Kerala, then the 27th day just feels like the proper way.  

I've had mixed feelings about cultural ceremonies like these because when you get older, I don't want to coerce you into an identity.  You're mother and I have always been the kind of people that balk at fidelity to a specific culture.  I'm a believer in your mother's perspective: "I am who I am, I don't need a culture to tell me who I am for me."  For some reason though, I found myself waiting here the night before last until midnight.  Waiting for your 27th day, so that I could follow the ritual's requisite and whisper your name three times into your left ear, "Eleanor, Eleanor, Eleanor."

I was even disappointed when I realized that we couldn't really undergo most of the Namakaran Sanskar.  We wouldn't be tying black thread around your waist or dabbing a black dot of makeup on your cheek to, yes, "ward away evil."  You can't really do that kind of stuff in the NICU, after all.  I found myself wondering why I was disappointed that we couldn't.  And then I realized that this wasn't the first time that I had feelings which deviated from my position about culture.

Even before your mother was pregnant with you, I found myself squirreling away little articles of that identity.  Things to stash for you... just in case.  Like some old English language, Indian comic books about classic Hindu stories of antiquities that I found buried in your Grandmother's closet.  Or a pretty blue Saree.  I've even entertained the idea of learning some Malayalam words to teach to you later.  Malayalam words other than the three ones I know already.  The ones that translate to "buffalo," "fart," and "poop."            

I'm not sure why, but part of me wants you to have the choice to identify (maybe just a little!) with that culture born amid one of the great cradles of humanity, half a world away.

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