Why do we insult people we honour?
Some decades ago, during my second year in college, I came across this fresher being ragged by a group of hostelers.
"Where are you from?" he was asked.
"G...G...Goa, sir," replied this hulk of a guy.
"Oh, Goa? Do you have any Ps there," he was asked.
"No sir, we don't grow peas in Goa," was his reply.
Bam! He was promptly named "Mutterhead" and carries the name till this day. (If you haven't yet figured what was meant by Ps, well that's just too bad for you.)
To go back a little more, there was this guy in my boarding school dormitory who was called "Rhino Nose". Why so? Because, when looked at from a particular angle, his nose seemed to be growing a horn.
Take my own case. Somewhere in class four or five, my mates decided that "Makhi" was a more apt name for me, perhaps on the specious plea that one shall not take the name of the lord in vain. The name stuck right till the time I finished college, when I began to be addressed by one of the two components of my name -- or sometimes, both.
But, then, given names stick. A couple of months ago, a classmate whose daughter is a colleague dropped in at the office. "Saale, Makhi, you might have grown a beard but you haven't changed a bit," was his opener and about half-a-dozen people who were in hearing range wondered what the dickens he was talking about.
Then, for the first 11 years of my working life I was with the UNI news agency, where everyone had to put their initials at the end of the copy they wrote or edited. I was the only one with a four-letter initial since VM had already been claimed by our venerable defence correspondent.
There was this Gujju colleague of mine who decided to go one step further and began calling me "Vishy" which soon became "Vishy Washy" but what the hell, it was all in good fun.
Or take the names of inanimate objects.
Bombay's Flora Fountain has been called that for as long as I can remember. In 1960, it was renamed Hutatma Chowk in memory of agitationists demanding a separate Maharashtra who were killed in police firing. The destination boards of BEST buses declared 'Hutatma Chowk' but drivers, conductors, commuters and just about everyone still referred to the place as Flora Fountain.
Then during my last visit to Mumbai a year ago I noticed this compromise on the destination boards: Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain). Talk about the clock coming full circle!
Two other quick examples, also from Bombay/Mumbai should suffice: Opera House is still Opera House in spite of the official name being Pandit Paluskar Chowk. Ditto for Gowalia Tank, now August Kranti Maidan.
So, what's the point I'm trying to make? If the names we acquire stick to us for the rest of our lives, why do we go around corrupting the names of people who are honoured with buildings, roads and other objects named after them?
Many years ago, while in the Sports Authority of India, I remember Indira Gandhi, who as prime minister was also the SAI chairperson, sending back a communication because the address of the organisation read "JLN Stadium". It had to be "Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium" she insisted and it was a poor assistant director who got it in the neck as a whole lot of stationary had to be reprinted.
Okay, so Indira Gandhi could stand up for her illustrious father, but who's going to stand up for an equally illustrious MG?
Okay, so how many signages have you come across proclaiming "Mahatma Gandhi Road"? Nine out of 10 times, chances are you would come across "MG Road".
Mid- and old-timers might make the connect but what about today's tweens, teens, young adults and the not-so-young? Would they be able to relate? Chances are they won't. So, are we honouring or dishonouring the Father of the Nation?
More so, when there is an MG Road in south Delhi that translates into Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road!
Or, take this tongue-twister of an acronym: NSNIS, Patiala. Foxed? Gotcha!
It's Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports, Patiala. I bet you my last rupee that the majority of trainees and coaches at the establishment would not know this.
Remember the valiant Rani of Jhansi? Won't she be squirming at LNCPE, or its new avatar LNIPE? That's shorthand for Laxmibai National College for Physical Education/Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education.
Poor Swami Vivekananda. For all the veneration with which he is held in the world, an arterial road in suburban Mumbai is just "SV Road".
Then, there's Hyderabad's PVNR Expressway. It's named after P.V. Narasimha Rao, the first non-member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to head a Congress government at the centre.
And, at the risk of annoying my Maharashtrian friends, I ask: "It was understandable you wanted Victoria Terminus renamed after Chhatrapati Shivaji but why have you accepted CST Terminus?"
One could go on and on, but let me once again state my case: If an individual is to be honoured, do so with all due respect. Don't end up insulting that person.
Is anyone listening?
(27.04.2014 - Vishnu Makhijani is an Assistant Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 27-04-2014)