I have a large number of very good Malayali friends, even though I've never lived in Kerala (nor have I really lived in a Persian Gulf country), and it must be said that some of them have the most imaginative (or bizarre) firstnames that baffle and amuse the rest of us Indians.
Of course, there are plenty of commonplace Ajays and Vinays and Krishnans, and plenty of motley Johns and Georges, but every now and then a Kurian or a Chandy or a Varghese (a Syrian-Christian name, which actually is George) peeps out, unique to Malluland. But these are the unfortunate Mallus christened without unique names. The rest of them have names unheard of anywhere else!
Take my friend Bobbilikumar for instance. Yes, Bobbilikumar! He used to come for cricket coaching/practice to the same place as me, and aspired to be a fast bowler. In practice matches, the batsman would ask the wicketkeeper what the bowler's name was, would hear the reply, watch poor Bobbili charge in, and get out purely due to weakness from laughing. I sometimes wonder why Kuruvilla didn't have the same effect in the Indian team. Or did he? And then, there were these two kids in my school, who always came with shoddy uniforms, only to be hauled up by me (during my prefect days). They were called Biju and Jiju, with Biju being a year older. Now, I'm willing to stretch my imagination and concede that Biju might be a name, but what on earth does Jiju mean? I mean, even names like Pinky mean something!
One of the reigning superstars of Malayalam cinema is called Mammooty. Does anyone wonder why, for all his superb acting skills, he never made it big in any other regional cinema? Even in Tamil cinema, he could never be the lead actor, because directors couldn't bear to see a name like that publicized.
While on a summer research project, I roomed with this delightful Mallu called Pradeep, and so got to meet his friends. One of them was this swarthy, bearded, macho individual who believed in chain smoking and hard drinking. He was called Saji. Now, honestly tell me, how do you inspire masculine awe with a name like that? Here I also met another gentleman called Modman. With a name like that, you know it's inevitably going to be reduced by everyone to Madman, don't you? And then there's this story I was telling my wife, about some trip my classmates and I had made in college. Somewhere in that story, the name of one of my classmates, Sheijoo, popped up. "Sheiju", said my wife. "I have a friend called Sheiju also. He used to work with me." Great! Only, my friend Sheijoo was a girl! Causes some confusion, what?
I'm not even going to get into the names of some Malayali literary giants (I've had the pleasure of reading a tiny number of some of their books in translation) like Kunnikuttan Tampuran, or Appan Tampuran, or the unpronounceable Tunchattu Ramanuja Ezhuttachchan! You can almost be sure to be entertained by names while in Kerala, but I guess you've got to name your kids something, and these names work!
I hope though that if my friends chance upon this blog they take this in good humor, and continue to supply me with delicious appams and ada pradhaman when I visit them.