If you are born in an Indian village – at least the one in which I was born – you can be sure of two things; one, you will not know your date of birth (according to global calender even though it is mostly used) and second, you will never be known by your given name. These two social construct of ‘puranic’ proportion can only be belied should you survive the basic schooling and somehow jump into the bandwagon named education. Education makes you to realize that if you are born in this ‘den of ignorance’, knowledge and ignorance, both are bliss.
In my village, which consists of only Hindus of 5 castes, one family started celebrating birthday of one of their kids in 1990’s. Few others followed the suit in last decade. This first family to celebrate b’day was a prominent joint family and the ‘lucky’ kid was the youngest one in family. This family used to have hold over whole village, and over nearby villages, for at-least a century. And may be to prove their superiority, they chose to do this foreign thing. This family was also the the first one to own a T.V.. And it is very likely that they got the idea of celebrating b’day from ‘idiot box’.
Every village has its own character and it will be a travesty of ‘theory’ to generalize any concept about village. Though one can surely typify some of the characteristics. Only a damn fool (from city) and and a bloody ignorant (again from city) would be able to convince himself that villages have something in common for sure. Villagers do not worry about themselves or about the world. Indeed, poor people do not worry about anything, they seem to know how this world function! Well, there are few things which you could be almost sure of, that poor people in India have astonishing will to survive with dignity and they take life in better terms. Neither they worry about ‘whither my life?’ nor ‘death’ scares them as it does their Western counterparts. Talking of West, Indian countrymen takes life in much better ways than they do. One can then get the idea by only listening to the Western country songs. They are overfilled with grief and sadness, Indians one are full of joy and happiness (I am not denying that real life these days may be quite opposite). Besides, it is considered manly if one can laugh at the idea of death. May be it is due to our ‘believes’ that the soul changes its clothes and have reincarnated somewhere else at the same moment. May be the hidden joy of of ‘new birth’ cancel out the ‘hidden sadness’ of a ‘death’.
Fortunately this village have not witnesses that much of violence as some of the other villages have witnessed and are witnessing or have taken part in it. Its was late 70’s when a old man and old woman died during a fight – as people say due to a stray bullet and not by intention. Since then it has only seen minor incident till 2000. Last decade was the most peaceful one.
Lets come back to our topic. Date of birth is not an issue which can be of an epic proportion in villages. If you get to school, you always get one. Except for that piece of paper, no one remembers it. But ‘names’ is an issue which can really create stories.
Before I began dwelling into my memories, I wish to comment over a ‘ridiculous burden’ forced over us. When ‘aryan’ came to settle in north India, for first 3000 year they did not write down a damn thing, then they composed their first ‘veda’. Now to disseminate knowledge or whatever, they used their tongue and spoke. They must have loved to talk a lot. This is still true. Indians, in per capita basis, are the worst writers, both in quantity and quality. However, they are formidable speaker. Others, especially Japaneses, mistake this verboseness and eloquence for intelligence. Although they mostly speak 1000 words where only 10 will do, they have been quite thrifty when it came to giving names. Most of our ‘puranic’ and ‘vedic’ character posses single name e.g. Ram, Lakshman, Arjun, Krishna etc.. I am not sure how big the names were in early ‘Tamil’ anthologies. Even in these days, in villages, names are still short. We are not talking about south Indians and ‘Daruwalla’ and ‘Malpani’ kind of professional names. Then came British and they must have tried to continue with their culture of having at least two names. Poeple who wanted to get jobs had to fall in line. Some, especially from Western coastal areas, took their village names as their last name like Palwankar. In north, in my area, we have to contend ourselves with ‘singh’ and ‘kumar’. While former is a influenced by ‘Sikh’, the latter is simply an assertion of ‘bachelorhood’, though these days ‘Kumar’ is used even after marriages. Woman were tagged with ‘devi’ if married and with ‘kumari’ otherwise. Our business class like Agarwals, Saxena, Bhatnagar etc and ‘educated’ class especially ‘Bhadralok Bengalis’ took to this system of ‘binary names’ quite passionately. For them, it helped in business as well as in education. One could simply figure out whether they belong to a certain class/caste. In our case our history and culture act as a ‘slow-down’ factor. Rajputs and Brahmins were marked out in public by their attire and not by their names. A sword in his side and a thread over a top-less body served this purpose. In these times, having any of these two objects on your body can either make you a laughing stock or land you in jail. Brahmins, by their very nature, always kept and keen eyes over future power-equations and adapt themselves to it. We, with all the ‘self-respect’ and ‘traditions’ on our head, took to agriculture which was the only respected occupation for a military man. Despite of having total private control over lands, we could not convert it into a ‘business’ and still continue to do so. Now a ‘Me’ given a name like mine, confuses others by a combination of first name which is Muslim and a last name which is Sikh. On top of it, I sound like a Jat and claim to be a rajput.
Back in my village, among old people, I am not known by my name. If the old person is a lady, she will say, ‘Savitri ka launda Bumbai wala’ or ‘Savitri ka launda jo vegyanik hai’ or ‘savitri ka launda beech wala’ or ‘Gullad wali ka pota – (grandson of Gulad wali)’; If its an old man, then my name will be, ‘mumbai wala engineer’, or ‘seth ji ka beech wala launda’; if he is of my father age then again the previous names holds. If they are of my age then only I will be known by my name. Enough of self-absorption, lets hunt for others.
Lets start with old man. There is no one who is remembered by their original names. Depending on the most impressive deeds they have done in their lives, they will be named. If this particular old man is a schoolteacher, he will be known as ‘master ji’. If there are more than one ‘master ji’ then an adjective is in order. This adjective is generally name of the ‘mohalla’. If an old man is missing some body part then he will known accordingly. Like if a hand is missing then its ‘tunta budhdha’, if he legs are not working then ‘tik tiki wala budhdha’. If this old man is kind towards children then he will be named in slightly better terms. If he is not then a more demeaning word will be found from local vocabulary which there is of no use putting here. Anyway some samples – ‘mahoo’, ‘dabri’, ‘galgal’, ‘gandheliya’, ‘bakkal’, ‘kanchu’, ‘bankada’ etc. There is no meaning of these words. Emphasis is put on how ridiculous these name sounds rather than how funny they mean. Actually this whole business of constructing new names is an extension of our linguistic tradition which put a lot of emphasis on minute phonological changes rather than nuances of meaning which is a hallmark of English.
Naming old woman are not a tough task. As far as children are concerned, they will simple say ‘X ki dadi’ (grandmother of X) where X being one of them. Other woman will name her either ‘X is dadi’ of ‘Y is ma’. Fellow old woman are the only one who MAY call her by her name. That is only possible when they are alone. It is not to say that they are not named according to their habits or looks but this way of naming them is not the most significant. There are few who are named as ‘chasme wali budiya’ (old woman with spectacles), or ‘hasmukh budhiya’ (old woman with a smile). Generosity of words is not denied in naming them in these ways.
Most of the villages in my area must have a ‘Gandhi’ and a ‘Hitler’ at any given day. Well, a Gandhi and a Hitler resides in every Indian struggling for his supremacy. The only difference here is that they live together in harmony. Though they will not leave a chance to mock each other. While crossing each other ways, they will exchange few words. Gandhi, as expected, will not go beyond ‘Salle Hitler’, Hitler will not leave a opportunity to use his favorite words of ‘Abe bhootni ke Gandhi, teri maa ki….etc stc ‘. The ‘Gandhi’ is always the one who is ‘most peaceful’, calm with himself and ‘like a cow’ for his family. Anyone should be able to fool him. The ‘Hitler’ on the other hand, should be the one who has done some remarkable deeds of disapproving nature. Like our current Hitler, who is aged 19, has failed high-school 5 times. Well this is not a record. There is one who has failed is six times. He is named ‘chhanga’ – for his six fingers in one hand. But he stands apart, in both magnitude and significance of his failure. He has scored a 0 in Hindi, his mother tongue and passed but English in same year. Even in village, you don’t see this kind of performance. Besides he thinks that the enzyme in Human saliva is name ‘Homo sapiens’. To be honest, it is the only technical word he knows.
Getting the tile of Hitler is not at all easy. He posses some other characteristics also. One he never listens to his elders, fights with them and run away abusing them. Now these are some fundamental characteristics expected from every rural kid but in my village, which is more ‘civilized’ than others nearby villages, this much is enough to grant him this appellation. Our Hitler is nothing compared to the ‘Hitler’ of nearby village. Our lacks feudal nature, their lacks a sense of humor.
Having a Ravan is a village is optional. Our Ravan (or Ravania) got this name because of his childhood fantasy to act ‘Ravan’ in village ‘Ramayan’. Since he was a child, he could not perform as a full grown Ravan. So he decided that he must make his own theater. He, his brothers, and some of his friends decided to play Ramayan. He declared himself Ravan and went to the roof of his house, a cottage. From there, he ordered that he must be killed by Ram now. Ram (being acted by his younger brother) started shooting arrows. Suddenly he remembered that Ravana should be killed by agni baan (the firing arrow). So he ordered that He must be fired upon by Ram an agni baan. They prepared an agni baan and shot him while he was making Ravan like evil laugh. The arrow missed him for Ram was not a good shooter and landed on the cottage (chappar) and caught fire. Ram and co. ran away leaving Ravana behind (that make sense since there was no danger of loosing Sita in their act). Somehow Ravan jumped from the roof escaped and ran away to escape the wrath of his father Moolchand (popularly known as Mooli (the Radishfinger)). There was trouble afterward.
After some year, he again got whimsical to act like Ravan. This time he thought that he shouldn’t play with fire and decided to act some other part of Ramayan in a quiet place where there could be nothing to burn – even if he wish to. His father, the radishfinger Mooli, was in a mood to go to market and had to leave his musk-melon field at the mercy of his sons – he had no other option. He ordered them to take care of the field till he returns. This was the awesome opportunity to do their grand act. When the old guy went to the town ‘Seohara’, He and his theater team decided that they will perform it in the field. He agreed. He took his mother’s sari with him since they were planning to bring Sita into their play – to give it more charms. The team had a significant number of actors since they were going to a tasty musk-melon field. There, the team decided that there must be some ‘pet pooja’ before they start any acting. An agreement was reached in record time. There was disaster in the field of musk-melon. Some they eat, mostly wasted. If one melon was not tasty they dump it in the ground so that Mooli can not find it. After an hour of ruthless killing of musk-melons they were all set to act.
Things were getting fine and Sita was successfully kidapped by the Ravan. But then Mooli came back. He saw and wonder,”What the hell this lady is doing on my farm? And why so many kids and one lady?” A lone lady could have been a pleasant surprise but a lady with so many kids were of no use to him. He started cursing from distance. When the team realised who is coming back, they vanished! Sita, was a very fast runner. Our small guy, our Ravan, could not run that fast and captured by his father and was beaten badly. He was a tiny kid. He can not be named Ravan. For being Ravan, one must be big enough. So he became Ravaniya – a childish Ravan. Since then he is known as Ravaniya.
Some names are given just opposite to what they do or look like. Like our pahalwan weigh 50 K.g. while Sukhkhe is over 100.
Not every village have the same standards of naming. Another Ravan in another village is named Ravan because he does odd things like carrying a bundle of load on his cycle upside down tied with a bamboo-pole rather than keeping it flat. While being a Bakeel in my village means someone who talk a lot like a lawyer, Bekeel in some other village could be the one who is deaf and mute. Our master-ji must be an schoolteacher, others masterji may be the one whose seven generation haven’t seen the backyard of a school. Most oddly, while our ‘Gunda’ is the most polite person in the village, theirs is a really a ‘Gunda’. Villages are factory where names are produced as well as a graveyard where they are buried.