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nonfiction

I Do Not Have a White Name

24 September 2018

My name is Dilpreet.

DIL-PRE-EAT.

It only needs to be broken into three parts in case someone just can’t fathom that it’s a real name. DIL means heart, and so my name is in 70 per cent of all Bollywood titles. While Dilpreet’s literal meaning is “someone who is good hearted”, I sound cannibalistic when I break it down in English.

Not so good hearted now, hmm?

Of course, I have often been called other names like DIL-TER-TREAT, DIL-PER-PRIEST and DEEP-YEAST.

Deepyeast? Who do you think I am—a fake Instagram account?

I don’t expect everyone to get it without asking at least thrice.

If my math is correct, less than 0.39 per cent of people in the world are likely to have the same name. How did I reach this conclusion, you ask? I googled the percentage of Sikhs in the world (smart, I know). I am super atheistic but one thing I love about being a Sikh is that our names are gender neutral. I couldn’t do another search on males/females/others and reach a number. Trust me, I failed Class 8 Math.

Anyway, I moved to Melbourne around a year ago and most of my social interactions involve repeating my name at coffee shops, events, parties and interviews.

I like cafes that believe in giving people a number. Aren’t we just numbers anyway? Mere data for greedy corporations, an ID number for institutions or the “going” kean beans to causes promoted on Facebook.

Okay, that was deep. For my standards, at least.

To my own surprise, it never really bothered me. I thought I would get sick of repeating my name until people got it, but I ended up getting used to it.

Until that one party I went to solely for free beer.

As I wandered around the bar, pretending to understand art and sipping on tap beer, someone tapped (hashtag pun) on my shoulder.

A thin white man wearing half framed glasses, black jeans and a light yellow t-shirt that needed some serious ironing was staring at me. “Umm, hi?” I said with a slight frown. Surely, I didn’t know him. I mean, I had just started drinking. There was still some time left before I would start saying goodbye to memory.

Turned out he studied at UniMelb too, and knew of me from one of the student groups. Good! My almost non-existent PR skills were not so bad after all.

We exchanged the usual “Oh hi,” “How you going?” “Cool art huh?” and so on.

“So, how do you pronounce your name? I feel like I am not saying it right,” he said.

Well, he was rolling the R a bit too much and wasn’t stretching the -eet at the end too well, but it wasn’t problematic. It sounded like my name.

“Maybe don’t roll the R too much”, I suggested.

“Right. Isn’t repeating your name all the time annoying? Don’t you have a white name?”

The beer must have gone straight out of my nostrils.

“My what name?” I asked while still recovering.

“I mean, you know, how people from different cultures and countries have a shortened name? A white name so it’s easier for people to understand,” he actually explained. Thanks, buddy.

I told him I didn’t have a white name—probably never will. He looked as if he had offended me, but he actually got me thinking.

I didn’t grow up in a white-dominated country, so maybe I’ll never know the struggle it can come with. My cousins who grew up abroad would often tell me that it can get a bit difficult, but I can’t imagine myself in their shoes. So when I hear things like these, I think about them obsessively.

Does having a shorter name actually help? What comfort does that give to people that they couldn’t have with a longer name?

I mean if people can say Czechoslovakia, they can surely say Dilpreet.

My very close friends back in India call me Dil or Dillo. Shorter versions of my name have a special place in my heart. My name wasn’t shortened to “fit in”—it was altered by people who were drunk at 4am and wanted to tell me they loved me.

So, no, I do not have a white name. I wish other non-white people didn’t either. Our names are beautiful. They speak of our roots, cultures, homes we so dearly love.

I would rather repeat my name thrice than cut it to make someone else more comfortable.

If you don’t get it—you should listen.

It’s D-I-L…


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