I may have been unknowingly set up for self-doubt and invisibility the moment my dad decided to name me Shachi. This odd, unfamiliar, unpronounceable, unique name made me stand out when I wanted to blend in. It made me repeat myself louder and louder till it was understood...and then hate myself for giving up, when after the third attempt at it, it was still incorrect. Did I deserve to take up the space and effort it was demanding for it to be said right?
I have an early memory of being dropped off at a neighborhood park in Pune by my grandfather. Now Pune is well known to be one of the snarkiest cities in the world. (I don't exaggerate - there are memes dedicated to them) Two little girls were playing by the swings. I was thrilled! I loved swings and I wanted to make friends. But then they asked me my name. Then, they sniggered and giggled and whispered. What kind of name is that? And just like that, I had to make myself invisible. I may have wandered off and played by myself that day...the shame and frustration of my odd name lying heavy on a 6 year old kid.
My dad, a scholar of Sanskrit picked what he probably thought was a beautiful and unique name - SHACHI. A goddess, wife of Indra, the king of Gods, one of few powerful women sages, teller of truth, strong, beautiful. But apparently utterly unpronounceable to the world at large. The soft 'shh' sound followed by the quick hard 'ch' sound left people baffled. If you were to read my name written in Devnagiri, the script used for Marathi and Hindi, you couldn't mistake its pronunciation - its a phonetic script. But real life experience has shown me that you still can and will.
People are inventive in the ways they butcher my name. I've been called, most frequently, Sachi - without the 'sh', Saachi with and extra 'aa' sound, Sashi- they need to get their ears examined, Shashi - a male name, Sachin - also a male name and thanks to my last name Kale (which means 'black' but also delightfully is the name of a popular health food green), some have smooshed my first and last name to call me Shashikala - the name of a famous Hindi movie villainess. The most hilarious version was at a polling booth in Mumbai where I had stood a loooong time in line to vote for the upcoming elections. I reached the front of the line only to find my name officially listed as Baby Ranchi! Why? Why Baby? The Ranchi, I later figured, may have come from the fact that the Devnagiri 'SH' can be misread as a 'RA". Now Rachi means nothing, so someone kindly inserted an N to make it Ranchi....which is a place name though I don't know anyone called that. Well I went ahead and cast my vote anyways, because I figured...whats in a name?
After moving to the US, it's been a whole new game. My Indian pronunciation vs. the American accent. Now most popularly I will be called 'Shaachi' with an emphasis on the 'aa'. I just smile and nod. I have mostly accepted my fate. (I'll add that most people are genuinely trying and I totally get that thats the closest they can get)
When I first met my husband, one of the things that attracted me to him was that he instantly not only pronounced my name correctly, but also knew the origin. Mainly because he'd read the popular Amar Chitra Katha comic book about Indra and Shachi. But I thought he was a keeper. I'm going to discount the fact that a few months ago, 21 years into our marriage he tried to mansplain the devnagiri spelling of my name to me and told me I'd been spelling it wrong my whole life. Big eyeroll. It obviously, (according to him) was Shachi with the 'short e' sound, not with the long 'e', like I had spelled it MY WHOLE LIFE. (also as written by my dad- a sanskrit scholar). But for a hot second my confidence was shook. Had I been spelling it wrong? No. No I hadn't.
I still have numerous friends, childhood, school, college, colleagues who call me Sachi. Sigh. I love them so I have let it go. A bunch of them call me Sach or Shach which is a sweet nickname that I love. The folks who amaze me are those who don't know me, have never met or heard of me and we are engaged in written correspondence as happens via emails, social media posts etc. Here I am, merrily signing off my name as SHACHI and they will email me back saying Hi Sachi. Why? Why Shannon...or should I say Sannon? huh?? I hate being petty, but I'm so tempted to respond to them by dropping a key character from their names! ( p.s. no Shannon has butchered my name - its just an example)
I used to be filled with dread when introducing myself to people. The inevitable quizzical look, the need to repeat myself louder, then watch them lean closer to me like they're hard of hearing and then repeat it again. Maybe I would have loved being a Priya or a Gauri, sweet names that everyone can say easily and then quickly and smoothly absorb you into their circle of conversation. sigh.
But I've finally grown to accept this strange unique name over the years. Every time I sign my art, I think "how unique!", I don't even need to tack on a last name. SHACHI. Thats enough. And it is.