May 30, 2020
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My youngest daughter is called Tir. The English can't pronounce it. They interpose a 'u' sound as though they were saying 'deer' or beer'. Then there's the soft 'Th' for 'Tir'. Europeans, at least those who haven't trained in acting school, can't manage it. Poor Tir comes out as 'Tear' and the die-hard hippies who hear it swoon - Wow, 'tear' - that's a far-out name man!

If the truth were told, the name came to me in my mother's bathroom, which happened to have a Parsee calendar hanging on the wall. Practising my faltering Gujarati, I was reading the names of the days of the month. As a good Zoroastrian child I had memorised them, half as well as seven-times-tables: Hormuz, Bomon, Adibess, Surrevar.... Some of them I recognised as names. I have a cousin called Bomon and a sister called Meher. Then I came to the name 'Tir'. I have never heard it used on a child before, but it passed through me like an arrow. A strong, unusual and undoubtedly Zoroastrian name.

It had the advantage of being a beautiful 'Indian' idea too: the Hindi word for an arrow. That was it.

I looked into the derivations. The Persian or Zoroastrian was ambiguous. One book said that 'Tir' was the name for Sirius the Dog Star. I know it. It's at the bottom of Orion's Belt. Another book said it was the name for Cupid.

Now that made sense: Cupid? Bow and arrow of love? Venus' boy? And the word in Hindi meant precisely that - an arrow, associated now with love, with a merging of Parsee and Hindu myths and with my daughter. So what if they call her 'tear' in Britain?

(A weekly column on Indian words in common use in Indian cities.)

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