(This was written as a response to Sanjay Dutt lashing out against women (his sister included) who chose to keep their maiden surnames)
Dear Sanju baba,
I am sure I have offended you, as have several other women, including your sister who retained their surnames after marriage. When I was getting married (after most people gave up on the fact that I would ever marry), I was asked by all and sundry, 'So, will you change your name after marriage?' I looked in askance, as I thought it was a non sequitur.
I find it amazing that some of my seemingly cool friends automatically switched to their husband's names after marriage. So quick, that it appeared as though they were waiting all their lives to do just that. It just made me look at them differently. Even the husband thought I would take the middle path and go the Iyer-Agarwal way, though we had never really discussed it before marriage.
Post marriage, when he saw my byline unaltered, he got the message. I obviously didn’t believe in middle-paths, and I am sorry to announce this to the Agarwals, but I honestly think Lalita Iyer has more gravitas than Lalita Agarwal. And Lalita Iyer-Agarwal just sounds apologetic and silly to me.
But I'm sure, Mr Dutt, that if my husband ever contests an election (which god forbid, I don't think he ever will), I would campaign for him, to perform my duty as a wife. But I would still be me.
Besides, I have enough paperwork to deal with and am not looking forward to adding to it with the whole name change thing. And frankly, I don’t have the muscle power or the connections to speed it up like you do.
But I do find it difficult to fill forms these days, as there are these three boxes staring at me: personal name, father’s/husband’s name and surname. I have no dilemmas on the first and the last, I do those on autopilot, but when it comes to the second, I flinch. Who should it be? The father, who contributed to my DNA, or the new man in my life, my husband, who married me?
Think about it. Half my life has gone by. I am an Iyer by habit, conditioning, food, rituals and upbringing. I was an Iyer when I got my first job, my first passport, my first visa, my first raise, my first car, my first piece of real-estate. I was an Iyer when I first started writing and when you first started reading me.
So why should I assume a new surname now, just to ‘fulfill the responsibilities that come with marriage’ as you pointed out? I am fulfilling more than my share of them anyway. And the husband does consider me a good and responsible wife, in fact too responsible for his own good!
I have struck a deal with him that the babies will have both our surnames, so there is a balance. Of course, at a recent visit to the doctor’s when the husband was referred to as Mr Iyer, there was a moment. My point is, how different is it when I get referred to as Mrs Agarwal? Isn’t it the same thing?