'My name is Osama... And I am a Gujju trader'
By Robin David
Feb 27, 2010
Saddam Banjara, offering namaz at the Sarkhej Roza in Ahmadabad, says he is proud of his name and will live with it.
For Muslims across the world, life changed drastically, and in many ways, after 9/11. Finding rented accommodation became increasingly difficult, a beard and skull cap invited wary stares on buses and trains, and the police randomly picked up innocent Muslim youth on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities. It's the unfairness of the entire situation that makes Shah Rukh Khan's character in My Name is Khan repeatedly clarify: "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist."
But leave Khan aside. It's a movie, after all. What if your name is Osama, Saddam or Dawood in real life and you live in communally sensitive Gujarat? Do people immediately see the shadow of a terrorist lurking behind the name? These names had become popular at different points of time in the past. For instance, many children were named Saddam immediately after the first Gulf War in 1990, when the former Iraqi dictator was hailed as a hero in the Muslim world for taking on the might of the Western armies. These children have grown up today and what should have been just a name, suddenly isn't.
There's the baggage of ideology and an unhappy modern context to deal with. Muslims will tell you they don't face any problem with such names as long as they are confined to their ghettos. But step out of the ghetto and a name like Osama or Saddam raises eyebrows, leads to subtle ostracism and excessive questioning at high-security zones like airports. Life is a struggle for these people, and they don't have a film's poetic licence to fall back on for a happy ending.
People often double check with Ahmadabad businessman Usama Daruwala.Many ask, Osama bin Laden? The question usually comes with a smirk. "No, Usama bin Ibrahim," he corrects them. "My father's name is Ibrahim." It is obviously not easy to live with a name that resembles that of the most wanted terrorist in the world. But Usama, 30, insists he was named after a sahabi, a person who was a companion of the Prophet and looked after his needs. "When I was given the name, Osama bin Laden was nowhere on the horizon," Usama says. "But I am not bothered by what people say. My name has its roots in the Quran."
That the men named Osama are mostly on the defensive now and unwilling to indulge in much talk about it is obvious. They will look at you suspiciously when you ask why they were called so. They will go out of their way to tell you that the terrorist did not inspire their name. Some will even refuse to talk to you if you start asking questions about the origin of their name.
Saddam Banjara, for instance, is clean-shaven and won't be mistaken for a Muslim until he puts on his white prayer cap. "Occasionally, a head turns in surprise when I tell people my name," says the 20-year-old motorcycle mechanic. "But I am proud of being named after Saddam Hussein."
And though 'Dawood' has almost disappeared in the last few years, partly because no one wants his child to be identified with the underworld don, there is nothing Dawood Ibrahim,a 65-year-old retired businessman from Bharuch, now settled in the UK, can do about it. He considered changing his name at one point, even telling friends in India it was a nightmare passing through immigration and security at the Mumbai airport. He is always frisked more than other passengers and has to answer many more uncomfortable questions.
Of the many Saddam Husseins in Ahmadabad, one is a 19-year-old roadside mechanic in Shahpur, specialising in fitting air-conditioners in cars. "Six months back, I visited a popular place in Gandhinagar with my friends, two of whom were Hindus and two Muslims. They let all my friends go, including those with names like Altaf and Mahir, but I was stopped. They questioned me for half an hour, took down my address and made a detailed check of my wallet. It was humiliating. I am never going back."
Usman Patel, a transporter who shifted from the small town of Modasa in Gujarat to Hubli in Karnataka, was about to catch a flight to Jeddah for Haj in 2002 when security officials stopped him and did not let him board the flight. Why? His son's name was Osama and he was travelling with him. "We were allowed to fly the next day, but I still carry the hurt of that experience," he says.
Osama Shaikh, a 15-year-old schoolboy, remains uncomfortable with the name he has been saddled with. "Because I live in a Muslim locality and (because) most students in my school are also Muslim, my name does not matter. But it becomes an issue the moment I have to go out, while visiting a doctor, for instance." The kid knows there's lot more in a name, especially in these uncertain days, than what Shakespeare would have you believe.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi.