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      Volume 10 |Issue 22 | June 10, 2011 |


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Shadows of the Namesake

Osama Rahman

What's in a name? This famous question, rhetorically posed by Shakespeare, went on to show that a rose would smell just as sweet regardless of the name given to it. Basically, the Bard insisted that names amounted to nothing in terms of judgement. Slay the bringer of bad news if you must, but in the modern world names are more important than absolutely anything, as far as one-line comedians and visa officers are concerned. The day I was born, someone thought it wise to give me a perfectly innocent, royal and uncommon name. Two decades ago, I was christened Osama. The rest is, 'pun-intendedly', history.

Apparently, sharing a common name with a world famous terrorist is a recipe for one of the worst cooked jokes in history. September 2001, changed the lives of more than just one Osama. Before, bin Laden became (in)famous overnight, life was simple. It was always, 'Osama? That's such a nice name.' Afterwards it became, 'Osama? Surely it doesn't end in bin Laden', or the wittier, 'Osama? How will you ever get a visa?' These carefully thought out killer punch-lines would generate laughter but only from the person who said the joke to begin with. Although usually persons named Osama would smile politely at such lines, we too had an armoury, comparatively less lethal, of unused comebacks. Firstly, it couldn't end in bin Laden, since that kind of means 'son of Laden', and we weren't exactly sons of Laden. Secondly, the visa issue concerned us too and it could ruin our future, thus making fun of our misery wasn't the best way of making friends.

The jokes weren't the worst part, really. It was the pretentious laughter and the self-pat on the back that these people reserved for themselves that was really annoying. Ten years later, people were still making the same joke. How idiotic must a person be to repeat the 'surely doesn't end in bin Laden' or visa issue joke, 10 years later? I mean, come on, surely the fact that someone else already made that joke before must have crossed your mind at least once? Once? Apparently it didn't and a decade later the joke stopped being funny.

Sure, the Osamas of the world would probably never set foot in developed world. They would always be seen as a symbol of honour for a man responsible for atrocious crimes which he never willingly confessed to. But, in all honesty, this wasn't the case. We became Osama when Osama bin Laden was still on the side of the red, white and blue (don't deny it, we know it happened). We were given our names, the same way we were given to the world. And we would make the best of the circumstances.

On a more personal note, I feel it prudent to mention that the tired old gag was a trivial problem. I never actually regretted being given the name, but the fact that it was linked to notoriety gave rise to an urge to make the name truly mine. The burning desire that people look for was already present, with Osama acting as the fuel. Growing up in Osama bin Laden's shadow was never easy and soon he became like a hated relative. Osama bin Laden's struggle, though far greater, was the same as mine; it was an attempt to preserve our identity but unfortunately my namesake was fighting dirty.

Osama bin Laden's death led to uncovering emotions, I never knew existed. Although, he may now never know, the name tied us and all the Osamas to an unacknowledged bond. Relief at the news of his death was soon overshadowed by grief. A part of my childhood was suddenly gone. In his shadows, I had managed to steal a fraction of his limelight and the name he made global, helped me and every Osama to stand out in the crowd. It was a bittersweet farewell, unexpected in so many ways.

Now, there will be a new name to cause concern and make visa-related jokes about. Another joke would live on for decades, ceasing to be funny and masquerading fear as humour. What's in a name, you wonder? It gives the world more meaning and makes sense of things. Osama means lion, and all of us are lions in some ways, kings of our own little jungles and for every Osama that follows the goodness of Simba, some others are pushed to embracing the ideologies of Scar.



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