If a cyclone making its way to your town shares the same name as your aunt, it is no wonder you are spending more time discussing its name than worrying about its impact.
Women who are named Nilofar have been the brunt of jokes ever since the cyclone of the same name started developing in the ocean. “Mentioning the cyclone in our house has become a joke since I share the same name,” said 67-year-old Nilofar, a housewife. “My grandchildren pulled out their umbrellas in front of me as soon as I entered the house yesterday,” she smiled.
Even Nilofar’s daughter, Irram, could not resist making a joke about the name. “It’s like my father named the storm after his wife,” she laughed.
The met office insisted, however, that Nilofar is not a female name. “It’s the name of a flower,” said the director of the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre, Abdul Qayoom Bhutto. Nilofar is, in fact, a masculine Persian word which refers to a flower known as water lily or morning glory in English. Its botanical name is ‘nenuphar’.
The meteorologists say that most cyclones are dangerous. So if they have names, such as ‘Babbarsher [lion]’ or ‘Aag [fire]’ then there will be panic among the residents long before it hits the area. “Therefore, meteorologists always suggest good names,” Bhutto explained, adding that other countries in the region also follow the same method. The name ‘Nilofar’ was suggested by Pakistan in 2010 during a regional meeting with India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, he added. “Look at what people are discussing: its name or impact?” asked Bhutto. “Certainly the name is serving its purpose as the threat of the cyclone is not creating as much fear as another name would have,” he said.
According to Bhutto, Indian and Arabian oceans have witnessed three cyclones in the last two months, including Nanak and Hudhud. But Nilofar is the one which is affecting a wider stretch of Pakistan’s coast. The previous two caused only moderate showers in Balochistan’s coastal belt, he said.
The residents of coastal areas may not be panicking but there are fearing the impact of strong winds and thunderstorms. Some of them are praying that the name ‘Nilofar’ does not leave a bad image in peoples’ minds. “Parents won’t name their babies ‘Nilofar’ if this cyclone causes destruction,” said a resident, Sultan Adam. “I hope it brings pleasant weather like its name.”
Others have a feeling the name will increase in popularity. “I feel the name is going to be a popular name for babies now,” said Naveed Rathore, who tried to recall if there were any women in his family by that name.
A private school teacher whose name is Nilofar said it is an uncommon name but it is being discussed everywhere she goes these days. “My husband tells me not to bring too much destruction,” she smiled. She added that her name is not the same as the cyclone. “I represent the flower and this cyclone represents the anger of the sea.”
Nilofur Mukarram, who is in her late 60s, also felt it is unfair the cyclone was named after a flower. But Neelofar Jamil in her late 40s said it makes no difference. “I don’t mind sharing my name with a cyclone.” As the Nilofars come to terms with the cyclone, Priyas should also brace themselves as that is what the next cyclone in the Indian Ocean will be named. Priya, a Sanskrit word, means dear or beloved.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2014.