Being personal, it can be annoying.
By Vijai Pant
Let me start with my apologies to ‘The Bard of Avon’, who had made Juliet famously remark, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Perhaps, William Shakespeare did not have us Indians in mind when this thought visited his protagonist. Whether roads, railway stations, crossings, public places or whole towns and cities, we love giving or changing names.
As an ordinary citizen of the country, too engrossed in earning my daily bread and butter, this name game neither enthuses nor disheartens me one bit. The problem arises when it gets personal – I mean, people, and well-meaning ones, start calling me by my nickname, Bijjoo, and that too, horror of horrors, in public.
My nickname saga started in the second year of my life. I was told that for the first few months the elders were quite happy calling me beta, chotu and other such love-oozing names. However, when my granny turned up, beta and chotu were discarded, as she, for no apparent reason, started calling me Bijjoo. Probably, the name sounded quite round and full, just like my chubby cheeks.
In hindsight, I believe Bijjoo had an overpowering mystique surrounding it because very soon everyone in the family took a fancy to it. Blissfully unaware of the pitfalls, with naivety and alacrity, I would answer to the name of Bijjoo. The nickname not only stuck, but travelled at lightning speed to the neighbourhood, the whole town and even those far-off places where our near and dear ones lived.
On entering my teens I made unsuccessful attempts to do away with my nickname, showing my displeasure to all and sundry who would address me as Bijjoo.
The other day at a social function a lady, a complete stranger, after observing me for long, finally walked up to me with, “Aren’t you Bijjoo?” Stumped, I mumbled something incoherent, which was neither a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’. Well, I had no other option. But in those crucial seconds, revelation dawned on her and she said with finality, “Of course, you are. Oh! How much you have changed.” Her convincing words did resolve my identity crisis, but left me hurt and the onlookers amused.
Now, I’m perfectly sure that I’m not the only one to be thus afflicted. No sooner do we make our wailed entries into this ‘Big, Bad World’ than our perfectly normal, unique or even grand sounding names get distorted or substituted by nicknames with our parents or someone equally infatuated with us being the culprit. These nickname givers let their fancy run amok, trying different abbreviated, insane versions of our names till either a consensus is arrived at or the elders of the family superimpose a cute name-doing, what is thought to be complete justice to the baby’s looks.
And, on growing up, many of us face embarrassing situations when our pet names suddenly pop up from nowhere, and that too, when least expected.
Last year a distant cousin of mine, a renowned professor in a university, who is blessed with both a portly frame and fame, recounted her tale of horror, when her mother kept on calling her by her nickname at a social do, much to her discomfiture.
I agree that there is a class of people who love being addressed by their pet names, even in public. However, I think, such people are very few and also their pet names sound stately and fashionable, maybe due to their exalted status. But Pawan, the young executive, does not belong to that class. I still remember how he fumed that day, when one of his close relatives addressed him as Pappu.
Being at the receiving end myself, my sympathies go to not just Pawan, but all such gentlemen and ladies who justifiably feel offended when addressed by their nicknames.
Why should we – all the nicknames’ afflicted – just seethe and simmer in silence? It’s high time we take up cudgels against this abominable practice of people calling us by our nicknames well into our adulthood and beyond.