First I'll dispose of 'Laya.' Blame that on Google. I was always Mai, just Mai, but when I registered for an account, they wanted, no, they insisted on a second name. I could have - probably should have - used Kaur, but at that time, I had not yet returned to the Sangat and all things Sikh and I felt I had no right to use that name. I almost randomly chose Laya from Himalaya. It does sound euphonious with Mai, eh?
"Mai", however, has a real story.
I Am Born
(That reminds me of Melanie reading David Copperfield from the movie Gone With The Wind.)
When it was time for my birth, my mother went to stay with her family. I'm not sure why. I think that she and Dad were not getting along and she didn't want him around. She waited and waited, getting angrier and more impatient by the day. It seems I was in no hurry to get into this world and arrived two weeks after the projected due date.
In being born, though, I made up for lost time. There was no time to call the doctor, much less get her to the hospital. It must have been the shortest labour in history.
After all that, I was a girl.
No, not that silly Punjabi prejudice against the girlchild. Dad had enough sons anyway. In his family, there is a genetic condition that affects all the girls born. Usually, they die as babies or very young children. My mother said, "They live just long enough to break your heart." She had three girls, all of whom died, before me and was not at all willing to go through that heartbreak again. She hadn't wanted another child to begin with and now she had as little to do with me as was possible. Beyond feeding me, she paid little attention to me.
Of course, Dad was called and he and my brothers, all seven of them, came running, along with a friend of the youngest. He arrived in a few minutes, bellowing "Waheguru!" partly from joy and partly he wanted that to be the first word I ever heard. (It wasn't, of course, my mother was cursing in furious anger the whole time.)
In those days, doctors were more willing to make housecalls and her ob/gyn came to the house. I don't know all the details, but she stayed home and didn't go to the hospital until going to be checked up a few days later. I guess there weren't as many malpractice suits then as now. After a time, all the medical details were taken care of - it was not true that Dad cut my umbilical cord with his kirpan, I'm not sure who started that story - I was cleaned up, wrapped up in a baby blanket and my mother gave me my first meal and then went to sleep.
He whispered "Waheguru" in my ears a few more times and slipped a tiny kara on my wrist.
Dad threw back his head and laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally he bellowed, "This one won't put up with cowards. I see we have another Mai Bhago on our hands!" I have been Mai ever since.
Mai is, after all, a Sikh name. At least my Mai is. I was always brought with that lady as my ideal, a true warrior princess and servant of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
WHY TRY TO FIT IN? YOU WERE BORN TO STAND OUT!