Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | March 11, 2010


Bengali daknaams (or nicknames) – it has almost been a rule that every Bengali has to have one – have been the subject of much wonder. I mean, who in their right minds would name their kid Bhondu or Topshe?

Worse, daknaams can actually have meanings. If your daknaam is Buri, it makes you an old woman from the day you are born. If it is Khuku, you remain juvenile till the day you die. A niece once asked me- if you are so grown-up, why do I call you Khuku–maashi?

Which makes me wonder, what conceivable purpose could the daknaam serve? If you have a bhalonaam (or “good” name) as prayerful as Devangana, why should you be known as Dulai? One reason of course is that a nickname is the logistical solution to having to say names complicated bhalonaam’s every time you want to call your child for dinner.
And then again, your daknaam can hold in its fold, all that was special about your babyhood. There is something very endearing about being called Laltu because your face turned red when you cried as a baby. Who can argue against the mother who calls her daughter Mithu, because she thinks her little girl has the most toothlessly sweet smile in all the world?
The daknaam is also the sum-total of our parents’ hopes and apprehensions for us. It is their way of telling us that yes, our prayers for you are that you will be an Amartya or a Sourav. But when you are done doing “immortal” things or leading the Indian cricket team, when you are overwhelmed with what goes with your bhalonaam, you can come home and be a Bubai or a Shontoo. You can leave all that behind and be human again and we still love you. Our nicknames bear on them our parents’ promise of unconditional love.
Sadly (or not), daknaams are on their way out. Today’s Bong kids have bhalonaams-cum-daknaams all in the same name. Requirements of convenient verbalization and internationalization have converged into shorter bhalonaams than can double up as agreeable daknaams. Oh well. I, however find it comforting to keep to the daknaam principle. I like to think that it is our link to things that brought us into this world in the first place. It connects us to our filial web of dadu’s, dida’s, mama’s, maashi’s, pishi’s and cousins, and tells us in some strange and reassuring way that no matter how far away we are from where we started, we still belong and we aren’t all that different from that which forged us .
When my mother calls at night to ask “Khuku – kemon achhish baba?”, every single good and bad and difficult thing that happened during the day fades away. I stop being grown-up- I go back to a world completely un-convoluted and free. In that instant and for that moment, I am again my Ma and Baba’s little girl.
There is something to be said for that, isn’t there?
I wrote a version of this post for the online portal of the Times of India

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