When all is said and done a nickname is a name, a concrete appellation standing
like an unshakable rock in an angry ocean which demolishes and engulfs
reputations. Think of such names as William Rufus or Single Speech Hamilton!
The nickname enables us not only to pin-point the particular man from among
the billions of the dead but also unrolls for our perusal the whole record
of his character. What a great boon it, therefore, is for the unknowing!
had a glorious career in Kashmir. They were invented and applied owing
to an inherent necessity of spotting out men and women, or families. With
the exception of a few cases what are family names today were but nicknames
once. These nicknames have gradually come into their own and attained respectability
quite at par with the original family surnames. Surnames like Trambhu (meaning
pock marked), Braru (a cat), Dand (a bull), Tak (an earthenware plate),
Alma (unbaked), Kotru (pigeon), Kantru (a male sparrow), Khar (an ass),
are proudly professed by hundreds of families today. The list could be
multiplied a thousand fold. Human deformities like Loung (lame), Shanglu
(with six fingers), Kana (with a deformed ear) give rise to many family
names today, while other bodily characteristics are responsible for many
more like Mota (corpulent one), Nika (a slender one) Chhot (a pygmy), Dandan
(one with teeth dropped), Khosa (a beardless one), Khor (one with scabies).
These families are regarded to be as proud and good as any, and yet nicknames
have made many a person miserable.
There was once
a peasant in a Kashmir village. He had not much of land and was obliged
to spend several months of the year in the city as a domestic servant in
one family or another. It was by no means a pleasant experience for him
to be at the mercy of his employer and his numerous encumbrances including
an aunt, two wives i. and an indistinguishable brood of children. Getting
up early in the morning he, to use his own words, would "get . into the
harness like the pony dragging a cart." Sweeping the house, several speedy
trips to the market, the usual drudgery in the scullery, tending the children,
cleaning utensils, washing clothes, making beds, and quite a good deal
more was his usual routine. And all the time he had had no tidings from
his wife and children throughout the long winter months.
Is it surprising
that he complained of his unenviable lot to many? Among these latter was
a shopkeeper from whom this peasant-cum-domestic servant would make purchases
for the household of his master. He seemed to be a sympathetic man and
offered the other the tube of his bubble bubble at which he would give
a few pulls with his ample lungs. "Will you take my advice if I place an
inexpensive plan before you of supplementing your meagre income?" said
the shopkeeper once. The other jumped at the idea as he was in need of
nothing else more earnestly than the means to get rid of the drudgery of
domestic service. "All that you need do," said the shopkeeper, "is to buy
a hen. She can be fed with a few crumbs and will lay eggs. I undertake
to make the sale of your eggs for a nominal commission."
The idea of
raising poultry was nothing novel for the peasant but he always found it
difficult to negotiate a.: price for the produce. The village shopkeeper
got eggs almost for nothing from unsophisticated peasants. Therefore, though
rearing of poultry did not cost anything, it meant a lot of bother for
little gain, and hence the hesitation in the mind of the peasant to undertake
As the shopkeeper
promised the peasant to arrange the sale of the produce, the biggest stile
in the way of this new undertaking was overcome. Though he had no ready
cash he managed to borrow some money to purchase a hen. In due course of
time the hen laid eggs and brought a little sum to the peasant. The peasant
invested the proceeds in the same business and added to his stock of poultry.
His business expanded steadily till by the next fall of winter the peasant
felt that he could manage to live without having to go to the city in search
of service. It was such a blessing to be spared the drudgery of a domestic
servant and the shame of it. The peasant was grateful to his stock of poultry
and particularly the first hen with which he made a start.
The first hen
happened to be whitish in colour. It was not bright dazzling white but
rather the faint pale white left after the other colours had been washed
out. The peasant regarded this hen as the harbinger of good fortune to
him and wherever he went or whomever he talked to, he had something to
say about his white hen, how it started crowing early in the morning, how
it would sometimes strut or cut a graceful caper.... Never did he miss
an occasion to say something about the white hen. In course of time the
white hen became the talk of the village and the surrounding ones too.
The next stage
was to identify the peasant as the owner of the white hen: "M --- has been
responsible for such and such an act."
"Which M ---
"The one who
owns the white hen."
Not long after,
however, they omitted to mention the ownership entirely and called him
by this very name, the "white hen." This name spread like wild fire in
the manner of all nicknames which are always catching. Urchins in the streets
and old men near the bank of the stream began to call him by this very
name, and this was very irritating. Every time he heard the urchins shouting"white
hen" he felt provoked and angry. He was easily put out and wished to crush
them to a jelly and retorted with abuse and vituperation. This tickled
the urchins and encouraged them to further fire works. Even the grown-ups
felt a peculiar pleasure in provoking him.
to excitement on account of the nickname increased tenfold. If he saw two
men talking together he suspected that they were plotting to shout "the
white hen" behind his back. If he saw people smiling he ran to the conclusion
that they were doing so at his expense. This gave people opportunities
more and more to fling the nickname at him either in his face or behind
affected his nerves. "They are bent upon driving me mad," he would blurt
out now and then.
a good friend would tell him, "you are a grown-up man, you should exercise
self-restraint and not get upset like a girl of sixteen."
Do you talk of self-restraint? Who can exercise it to a greater degree
than I do? But how long can I exercise self-restraint when they are bent
upon downright abuse? Didn't your hear them shouting 'the white hen'? Rascals.
I'll make an example of them," and down he would rush with a stone in his
hand against an imaginary foe raising the provocative slogan.
A simple matter
took thus a grave and tragic turn. Several times in the day he would imagine
people shouting the nickname and out of his house he rushed, set upon "teaching
the rogues a lesson." Physicians and sane men came to only one conclusion
and that was that a change in the environment alone could save him. He
was advised to go out of the village again for some time.
He could have
gone to the city to his former employer. But he preferred to go to the
plains beyond the mountain walls encircling the valley. He joined one of
the gangs of peasants who go out to the plains in the winter to supplement
their earning on their lands. He earned a pretty little sum everyday which
pleased his heart. But, above all, he was happy because no one in the plains
knew the nickname which had almost driven him mad. Those terrible moods
of excitement, moments of temporary insanity or depression became a matter
of the past and he came almost to believe that life was not so bad.
passed. In the plains the idea of his former nickname had practically disappeared
from his mind, what with the change in the environment and the savings
from his wages which had accumulated. The thought of returning home began
to stir his heart. This craving became stronger every day till he could
no longer resist it. He decided to visit home.
journey was quicker and easier, for he could afford to come in a bus. Money
was jingling in his pockets. He came to the road crossing whence his village
was but a couple of miles distant. He saw several men going to the surrounding
villages and they fell a talking.
"Hello! I seem
to have seen you and known you but can't place you," said one.
do I. But methinks I saw him several years back," joined another.
for I am coming from the plains after several years."
"I used to
know a fellow who couldn't stand a nickname and left the village. Your
face very much reminds me of him. .... Are you by any means the same fellow
whom they nicknamed 'The white hen'? He has been missing for many a year
are starting it with a vengeance," he thought "Good friends," he told them,
"yes, I am the man who could not stand the nickname 'the white hen' and
slipped out to the plains. The craving for my home brought me back. You
have restarted the game right now when I have not even stepped into my
village. I will go back to the plains and I wish you joy of your homes.
Such a place is not for me."
his steps right then and came back to the plains. And the nickname "the
white hen" languished and died.