From Himal Southasian:
You know the name you were given,
You do not know the name that you have.
– The Book of Certainties
‘I am a Czechoslovakian, sir’ says the one.
The other slaps him and says, ‘So what?’
– Bohumil Hrabal, The Betrayal of Mirrors
What’s in a name, one may ask. But names and descriptions can pose serious existential questions. One remembers a short story, Shahadat, by the Urdu writer Intizar Hussain, in which a man, during the turmoil of Partition, is reluctant to disclose his actual name. Instead, he decides to use a few other names, which generally signify other faiths. In so doing, the protagonist ponders the significance of a name, and its logical link to the person who ‘owns’ it.
Besides posing existential questions, names have acquired much weight and visibility in the cultural sphere in Pakistan in recent years, especially in the art world. This has become particularly apparent in the tendency to name art events, galleries and publications using ‘local’ terms, such as Vasl, Shanakht, Khayal Khana, Taza Tareen (art events) Nukta, Nigaah, Suhbat (publications) Nairang, Majmoo’a, Kunj, Koel, Khaas, Royaat, Gulmohur (galleries) and so on. A similar propensity is visible in art scenes around Southasia, in a trend that has been visible for the past decade but has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years. All such usages reflect a longing to employ ‘profound’ local terms in connection with art.