The kids in my kindergarten class would already be on the second page of their assignments while I was still remembering the letters to my name, Gobind Lambodhar Banerjee, which contained half the stinking alphabet. In third grade, I insisted people call me Gollum.
Overnight, from a freak, I became the cool kid. It was a bit strange at first. The scrawny brown boy in a class full of white kids being called Gollum seemed a bit offensive. But it gave me an identity, made me stand out. I walked around calling girls “my precious” and they didn’t even mind. They giggled and locked hands with me. Gollum had struck gold.
My mother she still called me Gobind. She stressed each letter and ended the D emphatically. Sometimes she’d add an “O” and call me Gobindo. The “O” would trail on the air like the lingering scent of a skunk.
One day my friend Sara called and asked to speak to Gollum. Confused, Ma explained to Sara what my real name meant; ”Gobind or Govind like the the God Krishna. The blue one, you see.” I cringed. Did she really say that? I felt flushed, more red than blue. Sara laughed when I took the phone. She teased, “Gollum, are you a God?” I didn’t eat the lunch Ma sent to school for days. She made fish curry, samosas, even Mishti Doi one day. Staying away from Mishti Doi, that creamy, milky, sweet concoction, was hard. But I did. Food was a powerful tool, and I used it against her by rejecting what she made.
After I began middle school, she stopped packing my lunch three days a week. Instead, she slipped a few dollars into my hands and said, “Go have fun! Eat what you want.” It was liberating. I got ready by myself in the mornings while she made her tea, pounding the ginger and cardamom patiently. She would stand by the door, steaming cup in hand, stealing glances of me while I put on my shoes. In the evenings, two days a week, she drove me to piano lessons. She made me go, no matter how many jarring, off-key notes I played.
When I turned sixteen, I could drive myself to classes and back in our old red Corolla. I managed my own schedule—friends, library, school. I was on top. Though I’d given up piano by then, I excelled at debate and swimming. I would have no problem in getting into the college of my choice.
I didn’t see Ma much on weekday evenings then. She said she’d joined the gym. But when I studied at night, her light in the bedroom stayed on. When I came out to go to the bathroom and get ready for bed, she’d walk into the kitchen for a glass of water and to ask if I needed anything. Once, when I came back late at night from my swim meet in another city, I saw her peep down from the window. I groaned and braced myself for the questions, but when I walked in, I didn’t see her anywhere. Just a plate on the table with my dinner. It was then I realized I wouldn’t have minded her sitting across from me, asking how my day was.
A few weeks after that lonely night came my graduation. The phone rang while Mother got ready upstairs. My old friend Sara called to see if I was ready. I was supposed to ride with her. I apologized, and said things had changed, and that I’d see her at school. I bounded up the stairs and found Ma. She looked beautiful in pink tussar Sari.
“I’m ready to go if you are,” I said. As she looked at me surprised, I asked, “Can I drive?” She hugged me and patted me on the back. Before we left, she lit a lamp in front of the deities and dragged me to the kitchen. She pulled out a little pot stored in a corner of the refrigerator and handed me freshly made Mishti Doi, which I promptly ate. The sweetness stayed in my mouth the entire two miles to the school. She held my hand while on the road for a brief moment and then mumbled “sorry” before breaking into a sheepish smile. That smile passed away too fast.
The auditorium was full by the time we arrived, so I ran to join my friends. Ma found her seat. Dozens of parents sat proud and beaming, ready to cheer their children. From the stage, Ma’s pink Sari stood out in the crowd.
The roster set on the podium, and the announcer Mr. Ross was about to start. I ran to him. He nodded, scratching and rewriting on his paper. When it was my turn to do the walk, my friends looked around surprised when they didn’t hear the familiar Gollum. Mr. Ross instead, very adeptly pronounced the words Gobind Lambodhar Banerjee. I heard Ma clapping loud from her row. I could see her tearing up as she mouthed the words, “my Gobind.” I grinned, waved her a kiss, and murmured “my precious.”
Sandhya Acharya grew up in Mumbai, India and now lives in the Bay Area. She worked as a financial professional and loves to dance, run, and be Mom to her young sons. Her articles have been featured on NPR (KQED), and in India Currents and IMC connect. She blogs at www.sandhyaacharya.com.