Social Signs

by sidin in

Ugh. A day of terrible weather in Mumbai again.

Well not terrible as much as temperamental perhaps. The morning was cool and dark. Then a steady drizzle began, quickly turned into a downpour that sufficiently screwed up traffic everywhere and then, just when you thought offices were going to close and it was going to be a day for much sitcom viewing, the rain petered away and the blazing sun came out.

Dammit. Sweat. Sigh.

Anyways. Of late I have been trying to grapple with a certain social situation. An issue of nomenclature.

I know lots of friends who have nicknames. (It's something most people from my business school go out into the world with by default. For instance I have been told that the Vindi in 'Vindi Banga' of the HLL fame is a product of the compulsory nicknaming convention we have out at Ahmedabad.)

In such an environment you just called people by their nicknames. For instance the missus is named after a character in Sholay (of Sippy). (FYI not Jai, Veeru, Thakur, Basanti or Gabbar.) Everyone I know calls her that even now. And so do I.

Fungus' parents call him Fungus.

So a healthy proportion of the people I know are exclusively referred to by their nicknames.

Do keep in mind that not all these nicknames are cool and trendy. Some are downright scandalous. For instance a male junior of mine was christened 'Dildo'. Few will forget the uproar that was caused during our annual arts festival when one of the ladies in Logistics send out an emergency summons message over the PA system for Dildo who was required at the registration desk immediately as "the girls from SP Jain have been looking for Dildo for sometime now and are in a hurry..."

My recent dilemma is because of such a genre of nicknames.

Now suppose a friend of yours, let's call her Saudamini, introduces you to another friend of her's. Someone you have never met before. For the sake of argument let us assume he is a medium sized retailer of cellphones somewhere in a market in Andheri and his real name is Kumaramangalam Irla.

(Been carrying that one around for months now. That's a load off my jest!)

Over the course of the evening's conversation you learn that Saudamini repeatedly addresses Kumaramangalam by a most scandalous/revolting nickname. Something that has roots in an incident both of them are well aware of but you have no clue about.

I am talking about a nickname like 'Hernia', 'Eczema' or maybe just plain 'Shorty' or 'Ugly'. Or even 'Khujli' which people will tell you was my nick in Ahmedabad but they ARE ALL LYING!

Now my question is when during the course of your friendship with Kumar (which is so much better a nick) do you decide to commence calling him by his nickname? You can't just start calling him Hernia or Eczema right-away can you? You've only just met them and don't want to come across as too fresh or clingy. And besides it is only polite to ask him why he is addressed so.

But maybe I don't want to know:

Sidin: "So they call you some nickname Kumaramanagalam...?" Kumaramangalam: "Hernia..." Sidin: "Oh and why is that..." Kumaramnagalam: "Just a sec... see? And here too... Looks a little like Italy if you look at it from here..." Sidin: "Interesting... Back in a sec..."

But even if the nickname is something like Shorty or Ugly you can't just start calling them that right away can you? Coming from a stranger Kumaramangalam might think we are being judgmental right away even if he does look like an Uday Chopra walking on his knees when you come to think of it.

Kumaramangalam: "Hi, I am Kumaramangalam, but people call me Ugly!" Sidin: "No shit!"

So when do you know if its the right time to address someone by their nickname? Do you just decide after a certain number of meetings to call them 'Skunk' or 'Kakkoos' or whatever? Or do you decide to not take the risk at all and keep calling them Kumaramangalam all the time including at their Birthday parties when the song always ends in widespread dissaray?

I don't know. It is bothering me. What do you guys do?


p.s. Today's extremely important advice for marital success: Never have an argument with the missus while you are wearing only thin cotton bermuda shorts made of remarkably breathable material, and she is using the Japanese-imported molten-lava spewing wedding- gift blow-dryer.