Thursday, November 10, 2016

Back to the roots.

In a nation that has innumerable conversations over trifling matters such as Arnab’s noisy exit and the return of ‘Koffee with Karan’, it helps to keep injecting more trivial topics for discussion just to keep the chattering classes busy.

So I’d like to formally table the need for toponymic surnames to the grand conveyor belt of inane national confabulations. Now, ‘Toponymic surnames’ may sound like a yawn-worthy dissertation topic but it’s actually far more interesting than you think. Simply put, these are last names derived from place names.

To give you a lightning speed crash course, let’s examine the name Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, as you know, is one of the greatest composers of classical music. His surname literally means ‘someone who lives by a stream’. Next, let’s put Quentin Tarantino under the microscope. Tarantino is an indication that Quentin’s forefathers might have been from Taranto, a city in South East Italy. Charles Lindbergh is another name worth exploring. Lindbergh, was the first person to do a transatlantic flight all by himself. His last name is European in origin. If one breaks it down, Lind in Swedish, is ‘lime’ and ‘Bergh’ is ‘mountain’. It’s a cue that he draws his roots from an area with a lime mountain.

That in a nutshell is a toponymic surname. Leonardo DiCaprio has it. So do Sachin Tendulkar, Jane Fonda and Bob Marley. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t overtly give the ears any inkling of gender. Nor does it drop a hint of the class or caste. Which is precisely why, I think it’ll make a fab master template for India.

For long, we’ve been stuck with surnames that have a caste overtone. A ‘Chaturvedi’ is an in-your-face assertion of punditry. While a ‘Chamar’ is a harsh daily reminder of social inequity. Given what we’ve gone through for centuries, it’s time to outgrow the narrow confines defined by surnames.

And it’s time we asked as to why an Agarwal should be perceived as a Bania all his life? Why must an Iyer always be viewed through the prism of his sacred thread? Isn’t there a way we could arrive at a surname without any social baggage and yet be rooted to our culture?

Place-based surnames offer that freedom. Some liberal poets discovered this secret way before us. That’s why you have a Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and a Hasrat Jaipuri. If you wish to carry on their tradition, perhaps you should start with your hometown and add it as your appellation.