Name and fame

There was once a finance minister, from non-South Indian State I might add, who used to call me Mr Alphabet because of the length of my name. His own name was a ­poverty-stricken two-word thing. Worse, both words were of two syllables. But I shan’t be churlish because he was right.
My name is simply too long, all of 49 letters. In my first year at college, much of the ragging I underwent consisted of having to repeat my name forwards, backwards, spelling and permutations of the five words.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its advantages, few and far between though they might be. For example, at immigration at Delhi airport one officer once told me he was thrilled to see me. Since I had never met him before, and nor was I a Bollywood or sports celebrity, I asked why. He said when he tapped my name into the computer, only around 18 other names popped up unlike, say, if your name was some two-word ­abomination like, well, Ashok Mitra. The officer then asked me if all those people on his screen were related to me. I said probably, and he said it was a pleasure to clear me through as he didn’t have to scroll through 10,000 Suresh Kohlis or 5,000 Virat Rainas. “Phataphat ho gaya, Sir, aap ka case” he beamed.

In my first year at college, much of the ragging I underwent consisted of having to repeat my name forwards, backwards, spelling and permutations of the five words.

I can understand his happiness. Immigration officers spend 6–8 hours staring at screens peering at names. Short names like Anand Desai appear in their thousands and after that he has to match them to the passport number. Can you imagine any drearier job than this? No wonder when a ­Tirumalai Cunnavam Anandanpillai pops up, his eyes light up. Add Srinivasa ­Raghavan and, oh joy! There is only one name left on the list.

But so far, I must confess, that is the only advantage that I have come across. One problem is that since everyone in the family has chosen to shorten the initials to TCA, people think we are perfectly fungible. But now that the fourth generation has arrived, you can imagine how annoying that is. “Are you the TCA who writes for The Hindu,” I am asked. “No, Sir”, I say about five times a month, “that is my son”. No, no, they say, he looks very old in the photo. “Oh, him”, I reply, “that’s my uncle.” I shudder to think what will happen when the fifth generation turns up.

The Iyengar community seems to have decided that it will offer a choice of around 12 names only, which can then be placed in any combination.

It doesn’t stop there. I don’t know when — or why — but the Iyengar community seems to have decided that it will offer a choice of around 12 names only, which can then be placed in any combination. Thus we have Srinivasan, Ramanujam, Varadan, Raghavan, Ranganathan, Rangachari, Krishnan and six or eight more. The main problem arises when two brothers — like my father and uncle — decide on the same, or nearly the same name. Thus my brother is Rangachari and my cousin is ­Ranganathan — which was also the name of my late brother-in-law. Another brother-in-law is called Varadakrishnan. How inventive can you be?

But without any question, another cousin and I are the worst off: he is called Raghavan, and used to work for the government. Often during his career, he was hauled up by his superiors because I had written an article criticising it. Poor fellow had to keep explaining it wasn’t him. But the boot is now squarely on the other foot. In recent times, he has become a very famous writer and I keep getting invited to speak and dine — not to mention the fat cheques for articles that he writes. One of these days I am going to accept the speaking and dining invitations just to see the look on the organisers’ faces!

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