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Brahms February 8, 2016

Posted by globejam in Childhood, Uncategorized.

clothTiedToTree2 Brahms couldn’t possibly be his real name, though that was how he was universally known.  When asked about the origin of his name, he would insist that Brahms was his given name – “This is how my parents named me and this is who I am” he would aver.  This was generally considered bunkum because he was an Indian from an orthodox brahmin family, living in India and Brahms was obviously a western name.  However, no amount of prodding or even threatening would make him change his story and this resulted in a lot of speculation among his friends.

His uncle Seshu knew the actual story behind the name of course and at every opportunity he would be pestered to divulge the details.  Usually, Seshu would just respond ambiguously with ” I don’t know…. Why don’t you ask him yourself?  I am sure he can explain better than I”.

But one rainy day, when we were all huddled up in his house drinking piping hot tea and bajjis, he seemed to be in a loquacious mood and upon mild encouragement and a brief nod from Brahms himself, he gave us his version.  This is what he had to say.

I guess I will have to take you back to the very early 60’s. Keshav Acharya, Brahms’ father, got married to his pretty wife Janaki -correct me if I am wrong, Brahms- in February 1961. Keshav, being the lone son among the 12 children in his family, the marriage was a very big function.  After all, Keshav was their only hope for the propagation of the Acharya lineage.

In those days, a typical wedding used to be 3 days long, but this being a special wedding, it stretched for nearly 5 days.  Friends and relatives came in hordes from all over the country, some of them it is said, from as far away as Rangoon.  A huge choultry was hired for the occasion and a team of 15 cooks were employed non-stop to provide feasts, 3 times a day.  The function is, I believe, still talked about among that generation.

There were great expectations among the people and even before the marriage was solemnized, Keshav’s relatives were heard speculating on the number of sons he would produce.  The anticipation for the first born son of Keshav was palpable – for would he not be the first born son of a first born son of a first born son?  Would such a son not bring glory to the Acharya clan?

And obviously everyone wanted in on it. Even before the marriage was solemnized, different factions started campaigning hard to ensure that their favourite forefather’s name would be chosen as the name for this as yet unborn, nay, as yet conceived son.  The virtues and exploits of the forefathers were bandied about and much heated discussions ensued.  By the third day of the wedding, things reached a head and there was open war among the various factions, punctuated only by feasting.

All this must have put serious pressure on Keshav and Janaki, the poor newly-marrieds.  On the last day of the ceremony, as the wedding couple were about to embark on the traditional 15-day pilgrimage to pay their respects to all the family deities, Keshav announced that he was disgusted with the behaviour of all the people present and hence had decided to postpone the planned birth of his first child by 2 years. And if they did not stop bickering immediately, he swore he would pray at every temple for the first born to be a girl! You should have been there to see the stunned silence that ensued.  Keshav’s father, even today attributes at least 3 heart-attacks among the people assembled there that day, to that incident.

After the couple departed, Keshav’s father was roundly admonished for having begotten an unruly, ill-mannered brat.  I am sure, had there been enough time, the mob would have thrashed the poor man. But there were trains and buses to be caught and hence the crowd dissipated quickly, leaving him to ponder over the future of his clan.

Keshav’s parents hoped and prayed that youth and libido would make him forget the threat soon.  But, Keshav seemed to be made of sterner stuff, as you shall soon see. Upon the newly weds’ return from the pilgrimage, the family allocated the young couple a large bedroom with an attached bathroom (not very common in those days mind you) and a lot of privacy in one corner of the sprawling house.  Everything appeared normal except that Keshav made a couple of visits to the Doctor’s.  On being queried, he brushed it off saying it was nothing, and since the Doctor was not the regular family Doctor, no one became any wiser.

However, from then on, every month, for about ten days, Keshav would sleep in the Verandah and not in his bedroom with his wife.  The first time, everyone assumed it was one of those tiffs between the couple and made it a point not to notice it.  When the same thing happened the next month and the next, Keshav’s parents cottoned on to the situation. Gentle prodding with “Why are you doing this, my son” was responded to with a gruff “you know why.  Don’t ask me”.  Much cajoling and crying took place, but to no avail and eventually the parents had to reconcile to the fact that their son was not going to be shaken in his resolve for the stipulated 2 years.

This went on for exactly 2 years, at the end of which Keshav quietly stopped sleeping in the verandah.  His parents breathed a collective sigh of relief and clandestinely [for who knew what Keshav would do if he were to find out] started praying for their much awaited grandson. Six months went by and there was no sign of any pregnancy despite strategically timed walk-bys by the parents confirming that there was frequent and feverish action behind closed doors.  While nobody was brave enough to question Keshav, his mother took Janaki aside and asked “Is everything going fine? why are you not in a state where you cannot have a head bath?” – a convoluted way of asking “why are you not pregnant yet?”.  Janaki, being unaware of such euphemisms, initially innocently responded with “why? why cannot I have a head bath?”.  Couple of more oblique tries to find out resulted in more confusion until, in exasperation, Keshav’s mother mustered up her courage and said “Despite all the noisy action at night, why are you not pregnant yet?”. Janaki apparently just turned beet red and shrugged her shoulders and not another word could be pried out of the shy lass’ mouth.

A year went by and other relatives started asking “yenna, oru puzhu, poochi kaanum?” – literally meaning “why is there no sign of any worms or insects” – again a euphemism for “Where’s the zygote?”.  By this time, Keshav and Janaki were also getting worried and you could see that on their faces.  Their nightly activities became more frenzied and noisier but the results remained unchanged.  Finally, Keshav suggested that they probably should see the Doctor.  So Janaki was promptly taken to the Doctor.  Keshav, of course, did not go, because in our chauvinistic society, there was no question of anything being wrong with the man. The Doctor took Janaki’s pulse and blood pressure and declared that there seemed nothing wrong with her and that they should continue to try and leave the rest to the almighty.  Janaki came back and conveyed the sage advice of the Doctor to Keshav and they went back to the bedroom with more vigour and resolve.

By now, it was nearly four years since their marriage and people started saying that it was all Keshav’s fault for having put silly conditions in the beginning and the only way out was to pray to their family deity for the boon of a bonny boy baby.  So started another four years of humping nights and prayerful days.  Keshav and Janaki visited the family deity regularly and when that did not bear fruit, no pun intended, they started casting their nets wider and started visiting other temples.  No Gods were spared – Ganesha, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu in every avatar were prayed to, even bachelor Gods Anjaneya, and Aiyappa were not left out.  In exasperation, they even approached Buddha, Mahaveera and Sai baba.  All to no avail. In the meantime, the advice and antics of the people in the house became more and more ludicrous.  On the advice of elders and priests, they started tying pieces of cloth on all the Bodhi trees around the city as this was supposed to be a sure route to successful procreation.  When even that did not change the situation, they started tying pieces of gold embroidered silk on Banyan trees, peepal trees and even neem trees. By the end of the eighth year, they had visited over 300 temples and trees.

Finally, when everyone had all but given up, Janaki became pregnant.  There was much rejoicing and telegrams were sent back and forth and the house started taking on a festive atmosphere.  It was like a veil of gloom had been suddenly lifted in a flash.

While usually, the girl is sent back to her parents’ house till the delivery, in this case, they did not want to take any chances and kept her where she was.  She was treated like a queen and fed milk and ghee, fine fruits and even saffron, said to make the baby fair and beautiful, not that you could ever guess seeing him now.  Eventually, some 9 years after marriage, Janaki gave birth to our man here.

A son.  All the prayers and strange antics had finally produced the best of results. Now came the tough decision – What to name the baby?  All thoughts of naming him after one of his illustrious ancestors were thrown out of the window.  “Was this baby not a boon of the Gods?  Therefore he should be rightly named after a God”, declare Keshav’s father.  But wait, which God?  Of all the Gods and demigods prayed to, who finally granted the boon?  How to find out?

No definitive answers were forthcoming and so the priest was consulted and, being politically savvy and diplomatic, he suggested “Why don’t you name the boy after all of them you prayed to”. Of course, this was impractical because then the boy would have a name that was hundreds of words long!

Keshav being fairly orderly in nature, decided that he would start with the complete list and based on various criteria would eliminate names until a reasonably sized list of, say, 5 Gods was arrived at.   The original list was really over 100 names long.  Many of the names were of different avatars of the same god, but even after eliminating duplicates the list still had over 50 names.

First the lesser know ammans (Goddesses) such as Peeli amman and Mundakanni amman were eliminated, probably with a quick prayer beseeching them not to take it too personally.   Brahma, though one of the all-powerful trinity and creator of all we see, has never held sway over the minds of people and no stories of curses and retribution are associated with him, so without too many worries his name was struck off the list.   Laxmi and Saraswathi, the Goddess for wealth and learning respectively, being obviously names for girls, those names were also eased out.  Ganesha, the elephant headed God was a great favourite of the entire acharya clan, but poor chap, being too lovable and nice cost him his place in the top five.

After further deliberations and taking into account the vengeful or benign nature of various remaining Gods, the final list was arrived at.  The Gods that made it were

Balaji, an avatar of Vishnu, headquartered in Tirupathi, Rama, again an avatar of Vishnu, but hey, one couldn’t go wrong with that, Maheshwara, another name for Shiva, pretty much selected himself, for who can leave the great linga or phallus out of any list instrumental in the birth of a baby, Aiyappa, supposedly the son of two men, Vishnu and Shiva (according to one version) known to be generous with his boons and more importantly given to fits of rage, and finally, Hanuman, again a fiery character.

In the honourable mention section remained Sai baba of Shiridi, a man revered as God by both Hindus and Muslims, and Keshav did not have the heart to leave him out of the final list as he, above all, deserved a place in the list.

Thus the baby was named Balaji Rama Aiyappa Hanumana Maheshwara Sai.

Not only was a broad cross-section of the Gods appeased, but naming a child after one or more Gods had other benefits.  As you all know, it is considered very good for one’s future lives if one were to call out Gods name many times each day. So every time the boy was called, God’s name was automatically invoked resulting in the constant ticking of the punya counter.  Thus all the family members made it a point to call the child by his various names thereby ensuring that all the Gods were evenly addressed.  This caused a lot of confusion among neighbours and strangers, but our boy here seemed unperturbed.  Like a puppy, he responded to all names, I guess, by the tone of voice rather than the actual name!

It was very happy times then and everyone was in the best of spirits.  Our man here, though late in arriving, grew up fast.  By the time he was two, he had become the most mischievous and precocious child in the entire neighbourhood.  Soon he became quite a handful and there was always trouble wherever he went.  Precious vases were broken, plants were uprooted and general mayhem reigned at home.  No amount of shouting and scolding seemed to affect his behavior.  In fact, it seemed like the more they shouted, the more boisterous he became.  Soon, you could hear “Balaji you dog, come here”, “Sai, you rascal, how many times have I told you not to do that” and much worse.

Time went by, as it is wont to, and on his 4th birthday, it was decided to conduct the sacred thread ceremony for the boy and at that time, the family priest was again called for.  He came and was quite shocked by the name calling going on that day.  He called Keshav and his father aside and said “I know it is good to invoke the names of Gods regularly, like you all are doing.  I am also sure that our Gods are omniscient and understand when you are addressing them and when you are referring to the boy, but do you think it is prudent to constantly juxtapose the names of Gods with names of animals and body parts? After all, you know how vengeful some of our Gods can be sometimes – God forgive me for saying this”.  This had a profound effect on everyone and after much turmoil, hand wringing and nearly non-stop obeisance in front of the deities in question, it was decided that along with the thread ceremony, a new naming ceremony would also be conducted wherein the boy’s name would be shortened to contain only the first letter of each of his names. And thus he was named Brahms that day and he has been called only by that name from that day on. And that’s that, ended Uncle Seshu.

Brahms said “I told you all so” and left the room.



1. S.satish Kumar - February 9, 2016

Wow,a chapter,a memory of a family and yet what a beautiful story it makes for reading.More please.Sanju,you should surely start publishing or at least begin to write a column for a newspaper.Be well.

globejam - February 9, 2016

thanks Satish!

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