Anyone who has been to a college or a school will testify that at least a handful of his classmates and teachers had nicknames. It is no secret that it is the teaching fraternity that falls victim to the ‘name-game’ oftener than the taught. In fact, a few of the victims, whether teachers or students, would be known better by the monickers assigned to them than what the fond parents had christened the cherubs as!
To differentiate me from the lanky ‘Bamboo Rajan’, everyone in school referred to me as ‘Unda (Rotund) Rajan’, a tribute to the short and stocky figure that I was in my schooldays. Though I have shed a lot of my puppy fat and stand a good 5’ 10” tall, I am still ‘Unda Rajan’ to my classmates, teachers and villagers!
One of my classmates was Govindankutty who later rose to become a senior bureaucrat authorised to speak from the South Block on behalf of one ministry or another. Known in official circles as Mr Nair, he had three initials before the surname and three appended to indicate his cadre. Govindankutty, the only child of a Colonel, had been named after the grandfather, a famous ayurvedic physician in Malabar.
When Govindankutty joined us in Class VII in the school in Calicut, we were already two weeks into the academic year. Most of us had been classmates from earlier years and a few were seniors who had failed. All of us classmates knew each other by name.
Govindankutty was the ‘new kid on the block’. Very much unlike us who came from middleclass homes, in wrinkled shirts, fraying knickers and carrying a schoolbag made of the old canvas of the grandpa’s easychair. He had a duckback waterproof schoolbag and was turned out in smart starched white shirt and navy blue trousers. At first sight, we did develop a secret jealousy for him which we nursed.
He had already studied in several schools from Chennai to Meerut to Chandimandir to Mhow. It was the last lap of his father’s career and he had opted for a posting in the NCC so that the family which had moved with him due to frequent transfers could finally settle down.
Exposure to varied environs had had their impact on young Govindankutty. He was more comfortable in English and Hindi and spoke Malayalam haltingly. He was perhaps not too happy about his conventional name amid scores of ‘modern’ ones like Ashok, Sunil, Vinod, Suresh and Manoj. (This was before the advent of the post-modern era with names like Baiju, Siji, Linto, Prijesh and Shinu.)
As the newcomer, Govindankutty had to introduce himself. He did so, with an affable, “Hi! I am Govindankutty. Drop the Kutty, you can call me Govind!”
And sure as death, the nickname ‘Drop the Kutty’ stuck! He might be ‘Dash Dash Dash Nair IAS’ to others, but to us, he is still ‘Drop the Kutty’.