Sunday, October 05, 2014

Of Monickers and Distortions

My final years of schooling were in Cochin (now Kochi). Hajee Essa Hajee Moosa Memorial High School, Mattancherry, to be exact. My favourite teacher was Venceslaus. He was very proud of his name and would announce the fact very often. I have not met a man bearing that name before or after him. And I am prepared to wager ten to one that you too have not.

'One of the few things that you can call your own, something nobody can take away from you, is your name,' he would say. True to his word, he was fiercely protective about his name. He would react quite strongly to people who misspelt, mispronounced (Ven-slaus) or abbreviated his name (Venchy).

Perhaps some of this trait has rubbed off on me too. After all, he was my hero of the time. And that is the reason why I am a stickler when it comes to names. When a stranger is introduced to me, I make it a point to commit his name, complete with initials, to my memory. Often I find out what the initials stand for and remember that as well. 

This habit of mine has helped me, a former banker, professionally. The way the face of a stray customer lights up when he realises that the Branch Manager recognises him (not forgetting the mandatory 'her') by name has to be seen to be believed. Countless are the times when a former junior colleague phones me up years later and the dialogue goes something like this

'Sir, I am Desai speaking. H G Desai of Veraval (South) Branch.'

'Yes, Hasmukhbhai Govardhandas Desai, how are you?' 

'Sir, you remember my FULL name! You served State Bank of Saurashtra for hardly one year and yet! I was reporting to the Regional Manager who was reporting to the Zonal Manager who in turn was reporting to you. Still you remember my name!'

Perhaps because of this, I expect people to remember my name. And remember it correctly. Failure to do so upsets me no end. (My friend Manimury used to say that half the problems in the world would get resolved if you do not expect others to behave the way you would have behaved  in a similar situation, but his advice has not chastened me one bit - at least in this matter.)

We were in a conference of  senior Branch Managers. Among those present was my colleague Guruswamy with whom I had worked in the Head Office for about three years. We were now heading  branches in two district headquarters. I had just made a point and sat down when Guruswamy got up and remarked, 'There is merit in what Rajasekhar has stated, but I beg to differ with him when he says that ...'

It was my turn to respond. I concluded my response with, '... To this limited extent, I would agree with Ramaswamy.' Whereupon Guruswamy leapt to his feet and corrected me, 'My name is GURUswamy!' and I replied, 'And mine is RajaGOPALAN!' I rested my case.

It was when I was working in State Bank of Patiala that my son recited a new doggerel he had learnt from his friends in the school. It went thus: ' Nattha Singh and Buta Singh, One and the same thing!' There I had a boss there who seemed to believe in this dictum. I had a colleague there by the name Balagopal and when the boss wanted to meet one of us, he would often send word for the other. On discovering that he had the wrong General Manager before him, he would say, 'Rajgopal, Balgopal, sab ek hi baat hai.' I have not forgiven him for the number of times he had made me get up from my seat, interrupting the work on hand, and walk to his chamber.

It was widely reported that our Prime Minister, during his recent US visit, said Mohanlal Karamchand Gandhi when referring to the Father of the Nation, but can one buy the excuse that it was a slip of the tongue? 

This disdain for the names of people gets my goat. I have my own views about the RSS supermo Mohan Bhagwat being given airtime by Doordarshan, the government-owned television channel. I did not watch the programme, but later read the full text (or what is purported to be the full text). I found it quite inclusive and, shall we say, cosmopolitan, despite the RSS credentials. He certainly did not spew venom harboured in several hate speeches by political bigwigs and practitioners of several religions I have heard. In fact, I did not find anything that would offend one's sensibility except for the ban on beef. He can eat the food of his choice, but how can he decide what others should ingest?

But what I found difficult to stomach was the utter disregard for accuracy that he has displayed when referring to the erstwhile kings of certain parts of the present Tamil Nadu. He referred to a king called Rajrajinder Chol. My history books tell me that during the last part of the 10th and the early part of the 11th centuries, a king called Raja Raja Chozhan (changed to Cholan by the English) reigned over the kingdom for nearly three decades and that he was succeeded by his son Rajendra Chozhan/Cholan. What the RSS chief did was, I think, to combine the two names into Rajarajendra Chozhan/Cholan, thus creating a fictional character. Then he distorted the resultant name by 'Hindi-izing' it into 'Rajrajinder Chol'!

How would he like it if the thorough-bred Mallu that I am were, like my friend Hari Prahlad, to refer to him as Mohanan Bhagavathar? (For the non-Mallus, I will give a rough translation: it would mean Mohanan, the exponent of classical music.) 


Joseph V Mathew said...

I will be the one to make the first comment on your return!
I read your blog in one breath.Knowing you well, I know you have taken pains to chisel each word and expression so well that there are no sharp edges to your narration.And how I enjoyed it!Keep writing,my gifted friend!

Jojo George Abraham said...

Touche. But I am more glad that you have re-started to pen your random thoughts, which I relish so much.

Little People & their greatest achievements said...

As a colleague of KTR, I used to be amazed by his ability to remember names of even a not well known colleague meeting after a long time. He was very particular to spell it correctly. I have always admired this
quality, among many other exceptional traits of KTR.