Friday, May 20, 2005

Whatz in a name?

Got to office grinning from ear to ear... And herez why...
Was watching the morning news section on the bus and the female reader had a tough time pronouncing Srinivasan Balakrishnan Muthuswamy. She first did some breathing exercises (inhale-exhale-inhale...) and then gathered some courage and then faltered, and grimaced and went... "Sri-nni-vvva-san (audible sigh) Balaaa-kkrishhhh-naan (another phew) Mutt-hooo-samy" (phew! again). By this time my smile which had hinted around the corners was now a broad grin and a small cough (which in such situtations sounds suspiciously like the startings of a guffaw in my case).

But don't you just love it!!! The unpronounceable, 10 feet long names we Indians spring on the rest of the world. The Indian Prime Minister with the longest name is someone we all know merely as Deve Gowda but his complete name would fill up a few lines... It goes... Hardanahalli Dodde Gowda Deve Gowda, where Haradanahalli is the name of the village in Karnataka he comes from, Dodde Gowda is his father's name and Deve Gowda is his own, Gowda also being the family name. Traditionally names in India tend to pay homage to the person's father and the village. Alongwith is also attached the family name which is usually indicative of caste, community and at times even ancestral occupation. Some of us do love the long name which when translated to English almost sounds like a whole poem by itself. This guy from Andhra Pradesh named his daughter Sri Arunachala Kadambavana Sundari Prasunnamba Kanyaka (the blessed virgin who is beautiful and carries with her the radiance of sunshine, the fragrance of garden flowers, and the presence of God). And mind you, this is just the girl's own name. Added to this will be her village name, father's name and family name. If she goes to one of those schools which insist on calling every student by his/her complete name during roll call every morning, the recess bell will ring by the time the teacher manages to wade through her name. Anyways no self-respecting person in Andhra will sport a name shorter than 3 feet. So what would happen in this school which is full of kids from AP? Go figure.

And then there are those unpronounceable Keralite names and words which include syllables that are non-existent in any other existing language spoken on earth. Having grown up watching scores of Malayalam movies, I manage to pronounce these words correctly but have met numerous authentic malayalees who go through life grappling with words like ... Kozhikode, Pazham, Alapuzha, Nyazhaycha... mind you the 'zh' does not contain either 'zzzz' or 'hh'. It is this unique 'zhr' which sounds like a cough married to a deep throated, tongue twisting 'rh'.

My own name, Anupama, I have always considered a tad long but then easy on the tongue. Apparently not! It has been mauled badly through the years. Starting from our very own Mallu friend who insists on calling me 'Anubbama', which sounds convincingly like someone cussing me and calling me a bum! And then the American version which goes... Ey-nupaama. Also the British style of... Anu-pha-ama where the pha sounds as if, midway through calling out my name the person has taken to imitating a soda bottle 'pop'. So now I have learned my lesson and introduce myself as Anu for the sake of the severely phonetically challenged.

Why, I have heard of this German backpacker (Aren't they everywhere? and in that case are there any Germans left in Germany), whom someone I know met on the train to Delhi and who wanted to go to the beautiful town which he pronounced with... 'Aaa' followed by a mumble. In India when you meet any tourist who wants to go to a place which he can't manage to pronounce beyond the 1st syllable of 'Aa' you confidently send him on his way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Only in the case of our backpacker it went a bit off the mark. Turned out his 'Aaa-mumble mumble' was supposed to be a seaside town with many lagoons and Chinese fishing nets. I can only imagine how forlorn he must have looked when he was told that he was on his way to Delhi which is landlocked and his seaside town, which my friend rightly deduced to be Alaphuza, is at the other end of India and a great deal further south! My friend tells me he now knows how Colombus would have looked when he realized that the 'India' which he has discovered was a few latitudes and longitudes away from where it is supposed to be.