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Of Daak naams and bhalo naams

Picture courtesy: Taken from Google images. Image used for editorial purpose only.

Eons ago, on my first trip to Kolkata, our train, the slow Howrah express had come to a stop for a good two hours, right before entering the station. It was a frustrating wait what after 36 hours of a train journey from Mumbai to Howrah. It was a time when AC trains were a luxury and so everyone made peace with sweat odours mingled with food smells and what not. Long and arduous as it was, some stupid signal was inciting my restlessness even more. Nonetheless, we had to wait as there was no other option. The only thing that kept me going was that my then-favourite cousin was expecting to receive us on the platform.

On the journey, I had befriended a couple of kids who belonged to one of many many Bengali families travelling with us. The little boy was super cute but naughty. Like me, he too wanted to rush out of the compartment. So along with my sister, his older brother, he and I were hanging onto the window. Suddenly, he started to yell, “Pompa… O Pompa…” I was horrified. Whatever the hell was ‘Pompa’!

Unfortunately, I was uninformed as Pompa was a popular daak naam aka pet name for a girl. And for the record, the Pompa I met later was a beautiful girl whose real name was just as lovely as her - Sancharika. You see, I am a Probashi Bengali (pseudo-Bengali), and I felt so much more pseudo when I was in Kolkata. Back home in Mumbai, my sister and I had weird names too but they were limited to our parents or immediate family members. They weren’t anything like Pompa too. We were badki, chutki, Nikki, Manu, Mania, Mamoni, Nikku and so on…

My paternal aunts are called Bulu who is Shibani, Tultul, who is Sharbani and the late, Gopa, who is Shyamoli. Lovely first names, na? But why the funny daak naams? When I think of a Tultul or a Bulu, my mind conjures the image of a chubby dimwit, but my aunts are anything but that. My late aunt Gopa struggled with her pet name. As a kid she would be teased as Godha, meaning donkey. But it was her pet that stuck around.

My dad, a formidable man who is taller than six feet and can intimidate most people with his personality, was known as Lallu. But he never hated the name nor was he uncomfortable. Apparently, it was a twisted version of ‘Lalla’, an endearment reserved for him by my grandmother. All was well until a friend addressed him as ‘Lallu’ in between the pheras. My mother, the bride was mortified! Such a name for her tall, dark and handsome husband would never do! So that was the end of ‘Lallu’.

My eldest cousin brother, Samit, was known as Coco. No, he wasn’t chocolaty, but as the first born, he was too cute to resist, and so he was Coco. Growing up, I always knew his name to be Coco and never stopped to think if he had a real name. Many years later, I happened to pick up the phone on his behalf, and the caller asked for ‘Samit’. Confused, I told the caller they had the wrong number as no Samit existed. Many, many years passed and even as a married man, my brother had no qualms being Coco. It was only when his baby started yelling ‘toto-toto or toto-papa’ was when my brother decided, he was an adult and people, including family, had to call him by his first name.

As for Bhalo naams, I don’t have a Bengali name. Thankfully, as I mentioned before, I could be Nikki or Nikku as per my real name. On the other hand, my Punjabi husband too has a very reasonable name which can’t be broken down or twisted into a daak naam. He is simply Himanshu. People did try calling him ‘Manshu’, but only ‘Mote’ prevailed.

However, there is one name that was coined by my father for me – Munia. It never stuck around post my infancy, but once I got married and left the parents, he started calling me ‘Munna’ all over again. Whenever I called or messaged, or he called, I would be Munna to him. If my mom happened to use this name, he would reprimand her that I was Munna to him only and to no one else. While I never the one to gloat and enjoy the attention openly, this has always warmed me immensely.

Over the years, I have met my share of ‘Pompas, Shompas, one Jhumpa, Babla, Tubla, Gubla, Gubu, Tunia, Babua, Bulu, Tultul (not to be mistaken for Tuntun), Tuki, Tuktuki, Shinku, Pinku, Rinku and even Tinku.

I don’t know how most of these names were conjured, but I am sure the sentiments are pure love. Cringe-worthy they may be, but they do make you feel special.

Do you have a daak name? Please share!


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