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Madhu Nambiar

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A Tale of a tail
By Madhu Nambiar
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

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Intricacies of name


His full name with prefix and suffix was almost taller than him. The advantage was that it could easily be broken in to pieces or folded like a transistor aerial.

Among the pieces of his name, the two that he regularly used was stuck on him well before he made his own address.

Youth of his age those days were not using the caste name which was often sarcastically called “tail”. His tail remained stuck on him because he was with his maternal grandfather, who was respected by the villagers, until the grandfather’s demise.

In the second half of the seventies when he reached a north Indian city, he was almost tail-less. He was employed in a reputed manufacturing company. His present prefix was mentioned in his certificates as abbreviated suffix, under the cover of the term ‘initial after name’.

This initial is used after or before name, according to convenience, without change in name, without change in meaning, without change in identity.

Peons in the office used his name with reverence and he felt proud. Soon he realized that they were not referring to him. A few days later a peon told him that the saab was calling him.

The saab was the sales and development manager, a key figure in the organizational set-up. The saab’s name was his name. His name was the saab’s name. Their names were pronounced almost in the same way, but there were slight changes in the spellings. While he was from Kerala, the saab was from Karnataka. When he entered the saab’s cabin, the saab was holding an inland letter. It was for him, sent by one of his friends in Madras, written in ‘Manglish’ but received and opened by the saab!

Neither the peons nor any staff in the general office heard of him, the new recruit in the Plant Office where the timing was different from that of the general office. Those who heard of his appointment did not know the intricacies of the initials.

At the end of the meeting, the saab advised him to use some specific mention in his address so that there were no confusion. Accordingly, he shifted the abbreviated initial from after name to before name and hoisted his folded tail at the end of his name and also added ‘Plant Office’ in his address. Even after the saab was transferred, his name remained the same, although there were pressure on him from his well-wishers and friends to cut off the tail of conservatism.

He was confused. For a moment he thought of renaming him. The he feared that would ultimately lengthen his name by using alias, alias. For him, name in full or part, including the tail, was innocent. They were no decorations. They were almost lifeless. He got all these without his knowledge. He felt it was his identity and didn’t like to hide his identity by suppressing the facts.

When he shifted to another city, he once again abandoned his tail. In the new office there were some female staff for whom his short name was funny and feminine. Besides, the manager lengthened his name further by adding vowels in his name.

His present prefix and suffix formally stuck with his name when he applied for the passport. His prefix was of his mother’s surname and his suffix was of his father’s caste name, both his parents belonged to the same caste though. “If you want to get a visa to any Middle East country, you need three names in your passport”, his friends told him. So, he formally fixed the prefix and suffix with his name.

After all, Shakespeare is right: “what is in a name?”.

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