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Names, Nicknames & Pet-Names

(A Memory graph for my children) 


I remember a quotation that I read somewhere, probably by Ambrose Bierce or Oscar Wilde, that said: For every man there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it. His friends know it like their own second skin.”

 Well, I had no way to give myself a name. My father gave me one soon after my birth. He told me that he had named me after Dr. Satya Pal, a leader of India’s freedom struggle and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre fame in Amritsar. He was a co-patriot of Lala Lajpat Rai, I later learned. 

I was given another opportunity to re-name myself when I started writing poetry in Urdu. All poets in this language had their pennames called تخلص. At age 13, I chose شائق Shayok that meant one who is fond of (What? I did not know. May be, Love, Beauty or Art.…Later my sister Shanta chose شام sham for me. In Urdu it meant “the evening” but in Hindi, it meant “black” or “swarthy or “dark brown”. I discarded it for my own complexion was very fair.

Damn it, Finally, I told myself, my own name is good enough for new as a pen name as well. Satya Pal Anand. There was a little oversight here. Satya + Chit + Anand, in Hinduism are the sum- total of all that is godly. It can be abbreviated to “Sachidanand” also. In the case of my name, however, “Pal” standing lopsided between Satyaand Anand was an anomaly. It seemed an intruder. How do I get rid of it? I asked myself and then wrote a poem in Urdu titled مجھ کو اپنے نام سے چِڑ ہے۔   I am irked by my name.

 Yet another opportunity came my way when I took up US citizenship. I was asked point-blank by the officer if I wanted to change my name there and then and it would be accepted as my new name in all official records. I thought for a moment and then, lo and behold, I could not get rid of Pal (The one who keeps the Truth)

It is a different story that I am not a stickler for truth and truth alone. I do tell lies and never feel the dichotomy that my name is just the opposite of what I am doing. I have written about 70     short stories in Urdu and a story is but a concocted lie. Thus, when all is said and done, I hardly ever prove myself to be ä keeper of truth”, as defined in the Upanishads.

 Pramod was named by his mom. I wasn’t consulted because the P sound was the first syllable of the word from Guru Granth Sahib, and my mom, i.e. the baby’s grandma being of Sikh faith wanted the name to begin with the letter “P”. How did she hit upon the word “Pramod”? I really don’t know, but we all called him, Babbu, bobby, Bob, Bub, Bubby…and never much thought of his real name.

Who christened Daisy? Well, when she was born in Sector 21 Chandigarh, a house rented by me, my wife’s nephew Surinder Sethi, from Ghaziabad, was staying with us as a guest for a few months. The purpose? Taking tutorial help from me for his   Matriculation examination that he had failed a couple of times. 

There was another young man named Mr. Diwedi who shared the accommodation in the extra room, Diwedi and I both taught Surinder English which was a compulsory subject and which the young man never could learn. The textbook of poetry had a poem in which there was a line 

          “Daisies are scattered far and near…” 

Now as an Indian born in a metropolitan city like Delhi, Surinder had no idea of what a Daisy flower looked like. Diwedi, with his limited knowledge, explained to him that Daisy was a fresh flower known for its charm and that in English speaking world it was a common name for girls. They started calling her Daisy and when she was taken for admission to the Christ School, we filled her admission form as Daisy Anand for this name was so well known around our house and in her playmates that no one ever thought of giving her a Hindu name. 

Sharpy was born when we had moved to a rented house in Sector15, within walking distance of the University campus where I had to teach 15 hours a week. Mom gave the name Sharpy to the baby for she had probably remembered having heard the baby being called “very sharp” by a nurse examining him at birth. Theshloka from Guru Grant h Sahib also had come with “S” as its initial sound. Well, my mother, the baby’s grandma also said that Sachin would be an echo, both in sound and meaning of the sound Satya, i.e. my name.

“For every man, there is something in the vocabulary that would stick to him like a second skin. His enemies have only to find it.” (Ambrose Bierce: Oleaginous: The Devil’s Dictionary. 1881-1911. 

“Don’t take action because of a name! A name is an uncertain thing. You can’t count on it. (Bertolt Brecht, IA Man is a Man (1927).

Names are but noise and smoke. Obscuring heavenly light (Goethe. “Martha’s Garden).

Of all eloquence, a nickname is the most concise, of all arguments, the most unanswerable. (William Hazlitt. “On Nicknames” Sketches and Essays (1839) .

What is in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet/. (Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.  (2.2.43.) 

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