Jan 14, 2003

Everyone usually has got a claim to fame. Not "fame" as in the one that induces the popping of a thousand flashbulbs, but the one thing that can be used to distinguish you from the rest of the human race, your very own primary key, your social spotting attribute. It is usually evident like this: You see somebody at a distance or you've been introduced to someone you're supposed to have met earlier. When that person is out of hearing range, you ask your companion hurriedly, "Who was that?". The answer, if the occasion was some marriage in the family, would invariably be "He is the husband of my aunt's cousin's daughter." Having met two more "husbands of my aunt's cousin's daughter" in the last 8 minutes, you respond with a quizzical look. This would elicit, "ok, you remember XYZ who had got whacked for chewing gum in Singapore? That's his father". At which point, a mental reference has triggered some vague memory which is sufficient. Claims to fame can vary from breakers-of-family-tradition ("He married a Sardarni, would u believe, in 1945!) to occupational-hazards ("you know, the one who went bankrupt in his poultry business because he put the sack of potatoes on top of the eggs") to exciting personal achievements ("she had triplets and called them Teena, Moon-Moon and Trisha") and so on. Sometimes nicknames parading as prefixes help, with "Tiger", "Andiyappan", "Okkalai", "Kolathur", "Cotton" helping to distinguish various "Mani"s (one school in Madras has a class with 13 Manis in it, thus entering its name in the Limca Book Records).

Whatever be the case, the growing life expectancy and improved medical care have placed a great deal of strain on the creative nomenclatural talents of people as more people are hanging on, not releasing their names for reuse. Especially with the lamentable tendency of modern parents to go back to simple names (that don't have to be changed for the sake of American tongues when the child turns 24), the people with large social networks have been forced to be more creative at their nicknames. But hopefully, we shall have better outcomes than "Duggu" & "Lolo" & "Bebo". Definitely a "No-No". O Munna, Bunty, Pinky!: where art thou?

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