Full Bloom

4 min
She can hear a lot in the silence.
The surprise, for one, from her teacher, as he looks at the jumble of letters on his roster.
The confusion, as he looks from her first name to her last, unsure how to proceed.
The hesitation, as she bites her lip until the skin screams and questions whether to let him continue agonizing over the pronunciation of her six-letter name or just blurt it out herself to save him the trouble.
She always knows it’s her turn when the silence begins. Sees the teacher cheerily begin rattling off students’ first and last names, just to show off, then choke on his bravado the instant he reaches her name on the attendance list.
She plays with the hot pink scrunchie on her right wrist, twisting it around her left index finger. She’s only seven years old, but she is starting to realize that she’s going to have to spend a good part of her life explaining herself.

She is nine years old the first time she types her name into a text editing software.
It’s for a first-day-of-school project: making a digital presentation about yourself. She’s already pasted in the gratuitous pictures of her favorite character off of the Disney Channel—she’s always envied Miley Stewart’s ability to switch personas to Hannah Montana on a dime—and changed the background of all the slides to a pink so vibrant that it will be impossible to read the text from a distance of over two feet.
As she wraps up the last slide, she clicks over to the very beginning and types her name into the text box, claiming ownership of this somewhat excessive exploration of her personality.
A zig-zagged red line appears under it.
She pauses, confused. While she’s still nailing down the vowel order in renaissance, her name is one word she’s never had to go over more than once.
She clicks on the red line staining her name like a bruise. Did you mean: Santa? Sand? Sang?
Her finger snaps down on the Ignore All button, and the suggested corrections disappear along with the red line. But every time she introduces herself after that, she feels it still, outlining her silhouette, tattooing her skin and setting her apart from the rest of the paragraph before she can even open her mouth.

“How did you choose my name?”
Her mother looks up from behind the stove. She lathers oily ghee onto a thin brown roti and flips it over so the oil sizzles on the hot pan. The roti darkens as it warms.
“What’s that, kanna?”
“How did you pick my name?” By this time, she has transitioned from reading stories to writing her own. About princesses, kids who travel to space, aliens on faraway planets. Bright-eyed girls with pearl-white skin and blue-green eyes who go to school or learn to wield magic and have beautiful, painless names like Kate or Ginger. They are imaginative stories that take off like fireworks during the festival of lights, but she always leaves them unfinished.
Her mother finishes with the rotis and stacks them on a paper plate so she can bring them to the dining table. She spoons some chickpea curry, channa, onto each dinner plate. The tomato-garlic scent weaves through the air.
“It was your great-grandmother’s name. She died before you were born, but she was so excited when she found out about you. She had a beautiful singing voice. I see her in you every day, kanna. You have her eyes and her long, straight hair.”
“What does my name mean?”
Her mother stops serving the channa, and looks down, her eyes softening. “It means prosperity, wealth, and success. Just like the goddess Lakshmi. It means everything that I want for you.” She finishes serving the channa, and plops a roti down on every plate. “Now eat.”
As the conversation with her mother ends, she turns her attention to the food on her plate, thinking about the things she wants for herself that her name cannot give to her.

Her mother squeezes her hand tightly, the gold wedding band on her wrinkled wrist digging into the soft skin of her ring finger. “Be careful, kanna. Call me as soon as you land.”
She’s always known she’s wanted to study abroad for a semester. She just didn’t imagine it would be in New Delhi. But the more she thought about it, the more exciting it felt: the land of all the Indian detectives from the books her grandmother had sent, the sparkling earrings and sweets her relatives had bought for her when they came to visit her in America. This feels right, even though she knows she’ll be fielding constant text messages from her family from first touch-down to last take-off.
She hugs her mother as tightly as she can manage. “I love you. I’ll say hi to kollu paati for you.” Spending three months in her great grandmother’s old house feels like a childhood dream come true. She wonders if she’ll be able to hear her singing in the alcoves or on the terrace.
She wonders if her great grandmother would be proud that they share the same name.

As soon as she steps into the airport, she knows she is home.
There’s something in the aroma—something vibrant, brimming with energy—that makes the tension in her shoulders loosen. She grabs her suitcase from baggage claim, smiles with all her teeth as the woman in the immigration booth snaps her photo, and steps outside. It’s dark, and the ten-hour time difference has her lost in limbo. But she is content.
Her head whips around as her grandmother comes into view, waving a handwritten sign erratically. Her toothless grin is wild-eyed and wholehearted.
“Saanvi! Va, kanna!”
Saanvi’s walk breaks into a run as she drags her suitcase behind her and leaps into her grandmother’s arms. The soft cloth of her paati’s sari strokes her skin like a gentle kiss on the top of her head. She squeezes her eyes shut and hugs her tighter, taking in every sensory detail.
When her grandmother says her name, it sounds like a jasmine plant in full bloom.
Saanvi takes in the darkened silhouettes of buildings as they drive home to her paati’s apartment. In front of her, cars pack the roads like a game of Tetris, honking incessantly as a motorcycle weaves in and out of the lanes. Paati curses under her breath, then catches herself. “Amma used to complain when I cursed,” she mutters.
“My kollu paati? The one I’m named after?” Saanvi asks.
Her paati sighs. “Yes, Saanvi. She would have been so excited to receive you. She used to go to the temple every week when your mother was pregnant and make an offering to pray for your good health. She used to say that a piece of her heart was inside you.” Her voice trembles slightly. “Your mother said you looked just like her, and I’d seen you in all of the pictures, but... in person, it’s even more striking. I see so much of her in you.”
The car pulls up in front of the apartment, and Saanvi gets out, immediately reaching for her paati’s hand. They reach the threshold of the apartment. In front of the door, her paati has decorated the floor with an intricate rangoli design made of wet powdered rice. In the center of a series of lines and curlicues, there are two hearts next to the words Welcome home, Saanvi.
As they step into the house, and Saanvi listens for the sound of her great grandmother’s voice, welcoming the last piece of her heart back into her home, her grandmother calls her name.
“Your mother said you are here for college. What are you studying?”
Saanvi smiles, because she finally feels it. How much she can, and will, succeed. In both of her homes.
“I’m going to be writing here,” she replies. “I’m writing about Saanvi.”

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