The Name Game
Columns, In Black & White, Top Stories

The Name Game

December 2, 2023

As I read the paper on Thursday, I was upset with a particular news. The headline read “Forest personnel raid Snake Shyam’s house”! 

Why did they have to raid his home? What did he do that was so wrong?

Shyam was nursing two Bonnet monkeys and three Indian black turtles back to health at home. He had forgotten to inform the Forest Department that he had rescued them and was nursing them back to health in his house. That was his mistake.

Snake Shyam may not be a trained herpetologist but he has been rescuing, rehabilitating and educating the public about snakes for 41 years! And he has been doing it for FREE!

Shyam’s work with animals and his service to the city has culminated in our city naming a street after him. The city has even named the first ‘urban forest’ after him.

Why, then, did the Forest Department have to embarrass this man? Why couldn’t they call him or drop into his place and do him the courtesy of asking him what was going on?

The cynical me assumed that the snake catchers’ lobby was targeting Shyam. Snake catchers charge Rs. 250 – Rs.500 to catch a snake in a house, but Shyam does it for free, so my suspicion was legit.

When I enquired, it turned out the issue was with his name!

The Forest Department officials, like most Mysureans, know Snake Shyam, but they do not know Mirle Subbarao Balasubramaniam, which is Snake Shyam’s official name.

Someone reportedly informed the Forest Department that one Balasubramaniam had turtles and monkeys at home. The Department raided the place only to realise it was Snake Shyam’s house.

Life can be confusing and problematic when nicknames become more popular than real names. Sometimes, they are misleading, too. I had written about this a decade ago. Here is an excerpt.

There was a infamous young man named ‘Choori Loki’ (dagger Lokesh) in Mysuru in the mid-1990s. How he got this fierce and fear-inducing name is an interesting story.

When in college, all of us had heard of this supposedly rowdy named ‘Choori Loki’. He had a Marvel comics villain vibe to him. After all, he had ‘Choori’ (dagger) as his first name. Years later, we heard of his ‘origin story’.

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Lokesh used to hang around with rowdy-type characters but was never one himself. One evening, a fight broke out between two groups, and Lokesh was caught in the crossfire. In the melee, by mistake, his rowdy friend knifed Lokesh’s buttocks.

Lokesh was rushed to the hospital with a bleeding bum. As he walked out of the hospital with bandages on his buttocks, he became the ‘butt’ of ‘buttock jokes’. Because he was stabbed with a dagger (choori), his friends named him ‘Choori Loki.’

So, ‘Choori Loki’ wasn’t the perpetrator of pain like his name suggested but, the victim! ‘Choori Loki’ also noticed the new-found respect the nickname had bestowed upon him and moved around like a cool, quiet assassin who could pull out his Choori and reign pain upon thee. He basked in that glory for a long time until the real story came out. By that time, he had left Mysuru.

There are numerous such names, from ‘Chirathe’ (leopard) Manju to ‘Kardi’ (bear) Balu from ‘Tiger’ Ramesh to ‘Cat’ Babu. All nicknames created in their younger days have now become their unofficially-official names.

They believe their name helps increase their recall value. Some of them are in politics and when their real names are published, they call our paper office the next day and request that their ‘business’ name be used.

Even our Kannada film stars have interesting prefixes to their names. There is the ‘Rebel Star’ Ambarish, his son Abhishek is now called the ‘Junior Rebel Star’. Then we have ‘Golden Star’ Ganesh, ‘Challenging Star’ Darshan and ‘Power Star’ Puneeth Rajkumar.

Additionally, some people are given their physical attributes as prefixes before their name, such as ‘Dhadiya’ Lokesh (giant Lokesh) or ‘Kari’ Naga (dark Nagesh). It may sound derogatory, but it’s just a name created for “recognisability.”

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Once they are recognised, they want luck to be an add-on. So, many politicians have begun changing the spelling of their names to change their luck.

In Mysuru, the first popular name change story was that of the Chamaraja Constituency MLA, the late Harsha Kumar Gowda. It is said that when he was initially just Harsha Kumar, he contested the MLA election twice and lost. Then, he was advised to add ‘Gowda’ for luck. It worked and he                     won the third time.

More than numerology, maybe the ‘Gowda’ add-on helped affirm his allegiance to a community and get him the votes because, after the first term, this name-change strategy never worked because another man with the ‘Gowda’ suffix came into the fray — Shankaralingegowda.

Recently, one of the Congress aspirants for the Mysuru-Kodagu Lok Sabha Constituency, Dr. H.V. Shushrutha Hedna, changed his name to Dr. H.V. Shushrutha Gowda.

 The other famous name change in the past was that of former MLA S.A. Ramdas; he found it unlucky being just an A. Ramdas.

Then, our former Chief Minister became B.S. Yeddyurappa from B.S. Yediyurappa (he changed back again to Yediyurappa before the oath taking ceremony in 2019) and our former MP Vishwanath became Adagur H. Vishwanath from being  just  H. Vishwanath.

More recently, our MP Prathap Simha became Pratap Simmha. Well, how much does this work? Ramdas became an MLA, Vishwanath became a Minister and Yediyurappa came out of jail. Pratap Simmha has done a lot of work, but there is no harm in getting a little push from lady luck.

The same trend exists among ordinary citizens of India. Numerology is a science. Maybe it is not. But while everyone is changing their names to get ahead in life, has anyone thought of our country?

Ever since independence, we have been ‘forever a developing’ nation but never getting to be a ‘developed’ one. Could this streak of ‘dosha’ (bad luck) be ended with a name change? How about India to Bharat? Could this change our nation’s fortunes?

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