January 06, 2005

Nonsense by any other name

Some years ago, I went searching for a man in a small town in Maharashtra. He went by the name of Manjur Lafangya Shinde.

"Lafangya", as you Indians will have gathered, comes from "lafanga", meaning "good-for-nothing". This man's father was called that. Which is not so much a comment on him as a giveaway of what kind of men these are: Pardhis, one of our denotified, or once-"criminal", tribes. People looked at with scorn and suspicion all over our country.

You are most welcome to read more about them, and about my search for Lafangya's son Manjur, and about what happened when I went asking for him, in my book Branded By Law.

But today, near a railway crossing south of Cuddalore, that encounter with a strange name came back to mind.

We meet a young couple who lives with their three kids and his father in a hut that stands by itself, overlooking fields of freshly planted paddy. While the tidal wave did not overwhelm them, it still took away their nets and boat, which they used to fish with on the nearby river Uppannar. Yet nobody has stopped to offer them any aid; like the Irulas I mentioned before, they don't figure on Government lists of the affected.

What's your name, we ask the father. Before he can reply, the son says: Manangatti. If you know your Tamil, that means "clump of mud", but is more usually used to mean nonsense. Or used as an insult.

The father quickly said his real name, "Jagannathan". But we understand. The name he is best known by, even by his son, is a scornful epithet.

What does it do to you to be known as "good-for-nothing", or "nonsense", all your life? Even by your son?


Shobha said...

Hehehee! Mannangatti and a name! I would have cracked up there only! :)

wise donkey said...

whats in a name?? a lot.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 'atracus' (see comments above) completely. What he explains is the reason for such names, especially in TN. I hope Dilip does not intepret these names as a social curse.

Of course, lot of other things that he talks abt are social curses. Some might even call this set of belief of naming as 'superstitions'. But then even the top scientists of the West had 'beliefs', like Einstien.

When a person 'seems' higher up when compared to us, we will call it 'belief' and when something we dont believe is believed by poor ppl, we snub that as 'superstition'.