Saturday, October 07, 2006


When I go through the address books of my e-mail account or mobile, I come across so many nicknames that it sounds almost like a secret agent’s black book. The only difference is that instead of feeling intrigued, the reader would probably collapse in laughter. This is actually not different from anybody else who has been to a couple of educational institutions.
Incidentally, I recently heard that in Lawrence Sanawar, all the Gaurav-s have the same nickname – Bugs! Huh? I must have surely misheard… this lack of sleep is getting to me!

Sometimes wonderful names get coined and lost.
Doberman – a guy jo har waqt doobata tha. Never became popular.
Titanic – an even better one about a guy jo akele nahin doota tha, Titanic ke tarah sab ko le doobta tha. Again, got lost in transit.
On the other hand, some really silly ones stick on for the rest of lives.

Basically, there are three broad reasons behind the naming –
(a) Mutilation of name / surname
(b) Schoolboy cruelty towards physical attribute
(c) Tangential rendition of behavioural trait

All Bengalis and South Indians go through a shortening – but they are generally in the realm of logic. Shivaramakrishnan, Venkataraman and Tridibendranarayan get shortened to Shiva, Venky and 3D respectively. However, in a few recent cases, the Venkataraman got shortened to Chicken as well. (Venky’s Chicken – for those who are taking some time to charge their batteries!).
Some of my mates were not too thrilled with Dipta – and inexplicably enough, started calling me Deepa. But thankfully, the basic letters remained common.

As for surnames, lots of Chowdhurys have to live as Chow. All the Zachariahs of the world are rechristened Zac the moment they leave home. A Velankar has to make do with Velu. And Talapatra has to manage with Talu. (One Ms Talapatra I know was called Talumein because of the proximity of a Chinese joint near our college at that time. She never had a special liking for the soup!)

A dear friend of mine – Dr Anirban Banerjee – had his name mangled in a slightly different manner as his surname first got changed to the colloquial version – Bnarujjey – and then got shortened to Bnaru. And that name has stuck so well that a lot of people take time to remember his real name (and my son will surely call him Bnaru Kaku!).

Sometimes, surnames are not changed. They are simply invented. It was once felt at a drinking session that our very handsome friend – Mr Vineet Singh – had too short a name to be impressive enough. So, we appended a Solanki to it. Why? Well, Vineet Singh Solanki does have a regal air about it. We affectionately called him Solu, though. (On a connected note, the 6’ tall Vineet’s family hailed from Bihar. So, we occasionally referred to him as A Tall Bihari!)

This theme typically has racism and sadism running simultaneously. But thankfully, the receipients of the names understood the affection behind the naming and have desisted from lawsuits!

Bhoot: He had a really toothy smile / laugh – which apparently had the scary qualities of a ghost.

Kala: What to do? He was really dark.

Mooli: He had protruding front teeth. And in the fairy tales we heard, we knew rakshasas had “moolor moton dnaat”.

Baba: This nickname is from my dad’s college – where a boy was felt to be tall enough to be the rest of the class’ father! (Trivia: Satyajit Ray was called Orient Longman by some of his British bosses!)

I could go on but would like to cut short the nastiness.

Typically, this is the most creative theme, for it tends to distill a boy’s entire life into one trait –
or worse, one (usually embarrassing) incident. And, most of the nicknames fall in this category!

Mama / Dadu: Almost every class in Bengal has one. (Not to be confused with the Mamu of tapori lingo!) Typically, an overly mature, genial, grandpa-ish or avuncular chap had to bear this cross.

Tenida: My friend from school had this curious habit of telling all jokes in the first person – which led to the belief that his entire family worked for Reader’s Digest since all that his father/uncle/cousin did appeared in the jokes sections of the magazine. So, he was crowned with the epithet (which is the name of a Bengali fictional character, known for his tall stories). It’s a different issue that he was the first person we knew who started behaving like his doppelganger after the name was given!

Topper: He was the archetypal intelligent, idealistic Bengali – and modest to a fault. He dug his own grave by topping the toughest course in B-school (which was a Quantitative Techniques course, taught by another intelligent, idealistic Bengali). And he became Topper. In fact, now some friends call him Topu. Talk about nickname of a nickname!

Chacha: My roommate from B-school. His full name was Gaurav Narasimhan, the latter of which was shortened to Nara and then anglicized to Narrow. The Narrow meandered between the correct pronunciation and Narroo – and one fine morning, he became Chacha Narrow (Narroo – Nehru, get the connection?). And eventually, only the Chacha was left! Of course, he was old beyond his years and that helped the name to stick!

Sloggy: This engineering college friend had this nickname. So why do you think it was so? He obviously batted like Dhoni in the slog overs, right? You wish! In one inter-department cricket competition, he gave away so many runs in the slog overs that his nickname came into being! Even now, he introduces himself to people as Sloggy. The “Nomoshkaar Mashima, aami Sloggy bolchhi…” in his distinctive baritone is quite well known.

Habol: Now, this goes back so many years that it is very difficult to trace origins of. It probably started as a derivation of Habla (the closest Hindi equivalent would probably be Lallu or Buddhu) and then had some even more tangential derivation as Half Oblique (Huh? Yes, I am as puzzled as you are!). This name started in his school days – and when he joined college, he requested all his schoolmates NOT to call him by that name. Needless to say, this strategy failed spectacularly. Now, we have to be careful enough not to call him that in front of his son!

Phantom: This one refers to the famous trait of the Ghost Who Walks – Nobody can contact Phantom. Only Phantom contacts you. So, this colleague of mine who does not answer his mobile, is seldom at his desk and is generally uncontactable is the worthy receipient of the title. But hey – it’s not that bad… like the Phantom himself, he lands up whenever you need him the most!

So that’s the lot I can fit in… anybody got more interesting stories?


Rimi said...

One of our professors is called Jadobpurer bhoot. For precisely the same reasosn as your colleague is called Phantom.

Also, he takes classes only in the late afternoon/ early evening. Lovely post. I like your obsession with the Bengali name. Er aageo ekta post chhilo na?

udayan said...

Running out of inspiration and topics, aren't we?

But did you really have to do you-know-what?

Think you deserve another round of BCFS.

Anonymous said...

Deepa, how could you forget perhaps that most inspired piece of name-forming - Pappu ?

Kim said...

hey good show, was a walk back down memory lane. I've copied an excerpt on my XL Blog

with credit to u ofcourse.

Dips said...

hey i dint read past first few lines of this post if urs(though i read some of the more recent ones). stumbled upon it by the name.
You see, apart from the final "i", I share it.
So you are a Dipto?

monisha mehta said...

hey , nice blog , like it ,
won't be nice if i u can clickover to my blog page too ,
& post some suggestion