By: Kamal Baruah
The use of surnames is a relatively new convention introduced during British colonization. I could trace my ancestors back to the indelible links with Burma, where they didn’t have any surnames instead my forefathers were Chathura, Mathura (thura means brave in Myanmar), Majum, Naomon (Mong Mao prince Chao-lung Sukaphaa), and Sansing (Aung San – The Burmese leader).
While most surnames in India reflect caste, lineage, history, and context but the Parsis have a delightfully modern streak creating their identities through professions that the trade one’s ancestors practiced (Daru-wala, Baatli-wala, Bhajiwala, urban streets (Poona-wala, Coorla-wala, Colaba-wala) and stories around families (Unwala, Canteen-wala, Bandook-wala, Dr Adi (half) Doctor, Poch-khana-wala. The longest one I have come across Soda-water-bottle-opener-walla. By the way, there is no concept of surnames in Tamil Nadu. They use their father’s name as first name and own name as surname. People from Bihar drop their surnames to stay away from their caste identity and take up generic surnames like Kumar. Many Sikh use the sole Singh and Kaur without any other family name after the advice of tenth guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh. It’s tricky to pronounce the names of the indigenous people of the northeast.
Young people face embarrassing moments from close friends while pointing one’s darkest secrets such as Golueven a popular leader is often addressed as Pappu by the media. The list is seemingly endless. Chotu might be the race of short, stocky humanlike creatures. They are abandoned for decades by society. NSD Alumni Pabitra Rabha is the man behind changing the lives of dwarfs in Assam. I had the opportunity to witness humorous names across the country while on frequent transfer on combatant duties. Today I cherish one memory of the time I spent there.
As I reported to Orderly Room with my colleague Dhamne at Air Force Station Yelahanka, we felt unnerved by the encounter. There was fly-past above Bangalore sky. Amidst aerodynamic noise in the aerodrome, Ground Training Instructor Corporal Banerjee at Sports Section was welcoming our arrival. I was jumping with excitement when I saw a wooden badminton facility inside the indoor hall. While awaiting i/c Sports, we had a funny feeling with one nameplate Warrant Officer ‘Thela Singh’. He was our first signatory to our form. The name brought us a smile from the outset. My Marathi friend also got understood, so I did. We thought that was ok for our diverse country but we were blown away by the fact.
Our next appointment was on the other side of the court with another Warrant Officer. We looked around the room to find another door name sign. Funnily enough, it was Warrant Officer Mela Singh. We could not stop laughing as the Bengali fellow also got his feeling with that native meaning. But those gentlemen were very friendly as people from Haryana are always sporty. They are a big stride in Indian sports too.
Though I did not play Badminton professionally I had a knack for playing in the evening with them. The most important factor of going badminton was those name signs that I enjoyed thoroughly attacking offensive smash from a high point to my opponents. It travelled down steeply towards the service court of Thela (push) or Mela (open) either as my opponent found very little time to react and return the shuttle. I yelled every after-winning rally point. The noise from the wooden court was incredible.