Starbucks Name

Abhijith Ravinutala HDS ‘19

“What’s the name on that chai latte?” 

“Dhruva.”

“Sorry?” 

“Uhh, just put Drew.”

When Dhruva was growing up, he had asked his dad about changing his name. Dad would spend up to two hours praying in those days.

On one such occasion, Dhruva made sure to finish up early with Alex and Joey, who stayed outside to continue their pickup game without him. He got back inside, showered, and sat dutifully on the couch awaiting his father. He still heard mantras resounding from the prayer room, so he arose to help Mom in the kitchen, which bordered the living room.

“What are you going to ask for this time?” she teased.

“I’m going to try the name thing again,” Dhruva said, peeling a potato.

“Oh God, when are you going to give it a rest?”

“Mom, you don’t understand! People literally never say it right. I’ve tried everything. It’s like their mouths just can’t make the sound.”

His mom sighed and patted his head, which he swatted away, like always.

“I mean, Ms. Jones is now just resorting to calling me ‘you!’” 

“That’s the price of opportunity, son.”

“Huh?”

Before he could get an answer from her, Dad entered the living room, done with prayers. His powerful 5’10” frame was clothed in weekend sweatpants and a towel that hung obediently from his shoulders. Always, three precise streaks of holy ash marked his forehead, beginning to fade as they mixed with the sweat of the past two hours. He settled into the living room couch and let his belly spill out onto his waist.

“Mmmm, smells good!” he bellowed. 

Mom shot a glance at Dhruva. The time was now. He bounded over to the couch and sat next to his dad. 

“Kanna, looking very fresh!” Dad turned the TV on and flipped through their Indian channels to his preferred Hindu sermon. The holy man on TV began droning, monotone, about the virtues of Karna from the Mahabharata story.

“Dad? I wanted to ask you something.”

“Tell me, kanna.” One ear on Dhruva and another on the sermon. 

“Can we talk about changing my name again?”

The TV was turned off. The towel was tossed aside. Dhruva gulped. 

“Dhruva. Do you know what the name means?” 

From outside, the Atlanta summer sun shone peacefully through the living room blinds onto Dhruva, who sank into the couch.

Mom walked in, coming to Dhruva’s rescue as usual. “Chandra—” 

She was stopped in her tracks by the simple raising of Dad’s palm. Dhruva looked up enough to see her standing in the middle of the living room with arms folded, blocking the sunlight from falling on him. She cocked her head slightly and looked at Dhruva as if to say, I told you so.

“Yeah, I know, Dad, you told—”

“Listen again! Dhruva is constant, immovable. Back in ancient times, he was a young boy who meditated so fiercely that it shook the heavens! The Gods were so happy that they said he would become an immovable star, the North Star. And after hearing this for the thirtieth time you should have some pride in your name, for God’s sake!” 

“But Dad, other people don’t know any of that. It has no meaning for people here.”

“So you tell them then. People are happy to learn Sanskrit in yoga classes.”

“But they don’t care to learn it in math class, Dad. Why can’t you just keep calling me Dhruva in the house and on official documents I can have an American name? It won’t even be that different from how it is now for anyone else—except for me.”

“Nonsense. Dhruva is who you are. We wanted you to stay with our traditions. How far can you run from that? You will still have Indian parents and an Indian last name.”

“Whatever, Dad! If you two are so guilty about leaving India, you don’t have to take it out on me!” 

Dad was silent. Eventually, he said, “Dhruva, as long as I am your father that will be your name. Full stop.”

*

“Chai latte for Drew!” the barista shouted out.

Outside, the sun was starting to peel back the morning fog and rushed all at once through the windows of the Clough Commons building of Georgia Tech. The students inside started fidgeting with their laptop screens, trying to avoid the glare while secretly grateful for the distraction. Dhruva stood for a second at the counter, taking his time with the cardboard cup sleeve and looking around at the desks where he would struggle to imbibe his week’s lessons along with poorly made chai lattes. 

“Can I get that sugar behind you?” a voice said from behind him.

He turned around and could only blink.

“Uh, please?” she said.

“Oh, sorry, of course.”

“Thanks!”

She walked up to the counter beside him and emptied two packets of sugar into her coffee. He glanced at her for a second before working up the courage to speak: “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. You go here?”

“Yeah, I do. Mechanical engineering.”

“Ah, nice, me too. What’s your name?” he said, offering his hand.

“Vaishnavi! Nice to meet you. And your name?”

“It’s, uh…Drew.”

“Drew?”

“Well, my real name is Dhruva.”

“Aha—that’s more like what I expected.” She smiled, turning away from the counter. “Where’d Drew come from?”

He paused, looking down at his jeans, and noticed he’d spilled some crumbs from breakfast. He brushed them off in a flash and looked back up at her. “Just a Starbucks name.”