Chitra Ramaswamy : So, what is in a name, exactly?

For 32 years I've assumed my name is Chitra Ramaswamy. This is hardly lazy of me; most of us take our names for granted. It's the motley collection of letters on my passport, birth certificate, pay slip, front door, at the top of this very column.

It's a name that bursts out of stupidly small boxes on forms and ties the tongues of strangers. It's my name, and over the years I've got used to it. Become attached to it, even.

Nevertheless, if I've learned anything in my 32 years as a Ramaswamy it's this: never, ever, take anything for granted. (Also, never, ever turn off the telly, especially when a sub-standard crime spin-off series is on, though that's by the bye.)

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It turns out I haven't got this name business quite right. If you're going to get all historically accurate about it, my name is AR Chitra, which makes me feel quite donnish, as if the letters represent doctorates. In fact, the A stands for Arkalgud, a small town 150km from Bangalore in South India, where Pa Ramaswamy entered the world 67 years ago. The R stands for yep, you've guessed it, Ramaswamy, making a surprise guest appearance in front of my first name.

The revelation comes one Sunday morning over brunch and a VHS viewing of an Inspector Morse spin-off called Lewis. My first name is actually Ramaswamy, says Pa Ramaswamy, pleased to be the bearer of such juicy tit-bits during an ad break.

Now this should not come as a surprise. Everyone has always called Pa Ramaswamy Rama. It's just that I always assumed it was a nickname, that his real first name was Arkalgud and his second name, beginning with S, was from his father. My mind is now boggling. The letters that come to the house are addressed to one AS Ramaswamy. So who is this impish man in a sarong and slippers sitting on my dad's sagging armchair, spinning such stories?

It was too complicated for people to understand when I arrived in London, he explains. They didn't get how my first name was at the end or that the names at the start represent my home town and my father but aren't spoken. I nod over the din of the TV, wondering what on earth he's talking about.

Stop confusing her, says Ma Ramaswamy, which in translation means, shut up - I'm trying to watch this. She then mentions that her full Indian name is TS Shylaja, which makes her sound like a poet. The T stands for Talya, she says, which is the village in Karnataka where she was born. But it's no big deal.She points the remote at the telly and cranks up the volume.

I sit on the sofa, turning these strange new names in my mouth, enjoying their feel and taste though I can't pronounce them properly. Pa Ramaswamy ignores the ear-bleeding volume and continues to drop bombshells. He tells me that when he first arrived in London in 1967, an English colleague asked him his name. When he said Ramaswamy the man replied 'I can't say that. Can I call you George instead?' Needless to say, these were pre-multiculturalism times. Pa R refused (thank god, or my name might be Chitra George). 'But tell you what,' Pa R said, 'You can call me Rama'. My mind boggles again at how, in a curiously roundabout way, Pa R ended up with his actual name, which is now my surname. And then we carry on watching the telly.