I do a lot of odd jobs. Mostly things like house sitting, pet walking, plant care and carpentry. Recently though I’ve become an airport driver. Mostly for friends of relatives. It’s cheaper for them than taking a cab and makes me more money than I get an hour working my day job. Plus, they get a conversation although come to think of it I’m probably not as interesting as a cab driver.
Recently I picked up a Jewish rabbi (no this isn’t the beginning to a joke). He looked sort of like a rabbi. Long beard and black clothes. He was quite talkative and the uncle of my good friends. Most conversations begin the same when you are meeting someone for the first time, especially if you don’t expect you’ll ever see them again.
We began by talking about what each of us did for a living. He told me of his work in a yeshiva and I told him about my carpentry work. Every once and a while the car would fall silent. We’d each look out the window as we rushed by sound barriers, 60-foot fast food signs and housing development after housing development.
I’m pretty ok with silence. I don’t mind sitting in a room or car with someone without talking, I find it sort of relaxing. The rabbi, after one of these silences looked at me and said,
“Kumar” but not like he was trying to get my attention. He was just saying the word out loud.
He continued, “Kumar is an interesting name”
Not really sure where he was headed with this one I looked at him to acknowledge I was listening but remained silent.
“You know Kumar is very similar to kohan which in Hebrew means priest”
“Holy shit” I thought to myself “is this rabbi really about to give me the god talk? I thought only Catholics and Christians did that”
He continued, unfazed by my silence. “You would be surprised the number of words that are derived from Hebrew.”
“Really? that’s interesting. I didn’t know that.”
“You know, you must have something priestly about you to be named Kumar, your parents must’ve seen that in you.”
“Uh,” I stammer, now realizing where this was headed. I hate it when people say things assuming I will be able to answer their question. I wasn’t as annoyed with the fact that he was saying there is something priestly about me as I was with the fact that I know had to explain to him how I didn’t have any clue why I was named Kumar.
“Well,” I begin, “I was adopted and the orphanage didn’t really have any sure records of my name when I was born. I mean Kumar could have been my name when I was born or it could have been a name the orphanage gave me.”
“Oh” the rabbi responded sounding decidedly less enthusiastic about my priestly potential.
“It’s more commonly a surname than a first name”
“Yes, that’s what I was talking about. Kumar as a surname” the rabbi confirmed.
Trying to save face and not disappoint my client I explained what I assume to be the most likely possibility,
“What probably happened was that Kumar was my surname when I was surrendered or when the orphanage received me and since they didn’t have a first name for me I just went by Kumar.”
I took a quick glance at the rabbi and he seemed content with my answer.
I felt sort of strange explaining something that seems so integral to me and my life, my name, to someone I barely knew. I divulged some of the uncertainties of my life that I don’t share with my friends or family. He probably didn’t think much of it but if I had said the same to friends they might get uncomfortable and feel sorry for me. The rabbi did not seem to pity me, just curious.
Its interesting how since I have begun this cute little blog I have found myself in many more situations where I am attempting to answer questions I don’t know the answers to.