An Ode To Funny Nicknames

Gullan! Gullan!

My mother bellowed at the top of her voice in my direction at my cousin sister’s wedding.

I froze as the pretty sisters of the groom standing in front of me laughed. The brother of the bride is by convention a man in the limelight in a traditional Hindu wedding, and I was dressed up to the occasion. Everything was going according to plan, the attention was being enjoyed, the tie had been pulled up more than once to ensure perfection and the smile was just perfect until my nickname was declared to the world.

Why did I have to be nicknamed named Gullan? Why? My brain asked itself as the girls disappeared into the crowd, giggling to themselves and eager to spread the newly acquired piece of information to the world.

A man was named Siddharth Mathur, after the founder of Buddhism Gautam Buddha himself, and that ought to be enough shouldn’t it?  For the sake of convenience, my family could have chosen to shorten it to Sid like my friends had been doing for the past 25 years. But then Indian parents (and in my case grandparents) are not very bothered about convenience when it comes to nicknaming their children, are they?

My mind snapped back into the present as my mother walked up to me, but her shrieks of ‘Gullan!’ continued. I was certain that the 1000-strong crowd at the wedding was now aware of the ‘guy with the funny nickname’ and mechanisms to cope with the incoming jokes had to be put in place.

‘Mumma! Public Place! Please call me Siddharth here.’

‘Stop bothering about your names and go help your father over negotiations with the dholwala. They are demanding extra payment and creating a ruckus.’

No Indian wedding is complete without a scene overpayment negotiations with the dholwala or the bandwala or the ghodiwala, however, my mind refused to contemplate negotiation tactics as it was busy putting nickname-coping mechanisms in place.

As I walked to the gates, I thought of my grandfather and the origins of my nickname’s nomenclature. He was responsible for literally everything in my life including my nickname, owing to his act of being responsible for the birth of my father and finding for him my mother. My father was the youngest of three children (elder daughter and two subsequent boys) and I was born in October 1992, a year and a half after my cousin sister was born to my uncle. I was the first male heir born to my grandfather and needless to say, I was the apple of everyone’s eye.

My grandfather had a career in the Border Roads Organization (BRO) and had been a man of routine. There was a declared routine at home too, but it was simple. It was expected that I was to be cleaned and fed and handed over to him as soon as he finished his breakfast. Unfortunately, the genes for routine were dominant in me too, and invariably as I was handed over to him, cleaned and bathed, the call of nature would get itself answered, almost always staining his clothes.

My continued penchant for defecating in his lap led him to fondly coin the term ‘Guababu’. (Gu = shit/feces. Babu= Desi version of the English ‘Cutie Pie’)

The grandson kept on shitting and the grandfather kept on loving. The name stuck and as all words evolve, evolved itself into the contemporary ‘Gullan’.

I was literally named after my shit.

As I walked further and saw my father, my grandfather’s face flashed in front of my eyes.

I remembered his love. I remembered my grandmother.

What are we, but the reflections of the thoughts and outlooks and opinions of our parents and grandparents? Everything they do and believe manifests into all facets of our being, from our personalities to our names and to our choices. Our very existence is the proof of their existence on the planet, I realized. And by carrying a unique nickname, I carried with me a part of my grandfather’s absolute unadulterated love for me.

‘Gullan, this man isn’t agreeing to take less than double of what was agreed upon. What should we do?’ my father asked my opinion. The angry dholwala managed a laugh. Apparently even he was surprised that a man could be named Gullan.

But this time, I smiled. I was proud. Gullan wasn’t so bad after all. I could have been stuck at Guababu.

‘Let me speak to him. After I am done with him, he will never dare to fleece a customer again’. I declared right before the emotions were kept aside and I allowed the dilliwala to come out, preparing myself for a heated round of negotiations.

Siddharth Mathur

The author is a student of HRM at XLRI Jamshedpur and is an architect. He loves to write, analyse chess games and play Stop-humping-me-Scooby with his dog. You may write to him at siddharthmathur92@gmail.com

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