Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/27/04 9:11 AM

Humour: It`s all in the name

It`s all in the name

What’s in a name, asks someone who just cannot remember monikers. 

In anyone else it would have been advance notification of the onset of senility.

In my family, in the greater clan, it just reaffirms the passage of a tradition we aren’t too thrilled about.

The thing is, we aren’t too good with names. Let me not prevaricate or try to cover up, we are abysmal with names. Faces, we place instantly and correctly. People we know are quick to decipher that we know them. But names, that’s where we trip up.

It’s not a simple forgetfulness thing.

Family members can recall and recount, in excruciating detail, happenings of two decades ago, of this morning, what they were doing the morning the Twin Towers fell.

The feminine section of
the clan will tell you, again in excruciating detail, about the clothes they wore to their graduation ceremony, to their wedding, to others’ weddings and to the première of ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’.

The moment family members set eyes on each other after a time, it’s out with the hoary anecdotes. All, as I keep saying, in excruciating detail.

When it comes to naming names, though, all these men and women of great intelligence are reduced to stammering ingénues.

A maternal uncle of mine once hailed a passing friend, called him onto the verandah, plied him with tea, and convivially shot the breeze. In the course of the evening, he introduced us to the gent, saying, “This is my very good friend, Verghese.” A spasm crossed the man’s face and he said in a strangled tone, “But my name is Thomas.” We kept a tactful silence but neither Thomas nor
Verghese were ever mentioned by my uncle again.

As a family, we fall back on the age-old hailing mechanisms of ‘Hey’; ‘Hey you’; ‘You there’ and in
extreme cases, ‘Oy!’

My mother has been known, in times of great agitation, to forget the names of her children and substitute, “You, my second-born” or “Whatsyourname, the youngest” and I have to tell you, it works just fine. Many- a- time, the dog responds to ‘Dog’, the cook to, what else but ‘Cook’.

It crept up on me so stealthily, it took a while for me to realise the baton had indeed, been passed onto me.

We have acquaintances in my neighbourhood who rejoice in the name of Nandal, a name that refuses to stick in my mind. What comes to the tip of the tongue and is often uttered instead, is ‘Nalla Sopara’, to the utter stupefaction of those present.

The carpenter’s name is Lohar, the easiest name in the world for a carpenter, as anyone will tell you. I cannot but help calling him Solar. At first inclined to be offended, he now responds happily to Solar, under the impression that the name confers the title of Sun God on him.

The other day, I saw old rocker Brian Ferry singing on television and began to tell my daughter about the wonderful group he helmed… only, I’d clean forgotten the name of the group. As usual, a substitute slid into my mind and refused to leave. The substitute was ‘Ice Station Zebra’, which
of course, was the name of a book by Alistair Maclean, not a rock band. I had to Google to find out
that the band was named … there, I’ve forgotten it again! Er, let me think: did it have Ice in the name?

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 27 March 2004.


Sheila Kumar • March 27, 2004

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