LONE VOICE AT DELHI PROTEST VENUE DRAGGED AWAY BY COPS
Residents submit their NRC forms at a seva kendra in Guwahati on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos
Gerela is in abundance, the sons of Boloram, Malbhog, Phojorot, Bihguti, Sakola...in villages in Jorhat, Golaghat, Sivasagar. He's there in Morigaon and Nagaon, all over in Assam's National Register of Citizens of 1951, the electoral rolls of 1966 and '70, he's there in Karbi Anglong...
And he wouldn't possibly be the stumpy, malnourished kid with a protruding belly and peeking navel who is made to stand in the corner of a stereotyping, scratchy documentary clip on sub-Saharan Africa, asking the rich for aid ("That's not Africa!!" says stand-up comedian Trevor Noah, that region's best known export ever).
In the atypical context of the Assam of the 1950s, he could be expected instead to be well-fed, fat and rotund -hence the name Gerela, which means just that.
Etymologically, that of his father's in this case, would mean Balaram (the tough young brother of Krishna in the Mahabharat), Malbhog was, and is, still a readily available, delicious variety of banana found here ( senisompa, bhorotmuni, athiya and jahaji being some others as opposed to the one long, green variety of the mainland), Phojorot the Assamese for Arabic fazrat meaning morning, Bihguti, the chosen label for life for the "poisonous seed" truant, and Sakola, the lame.
Beyond the rigours of the enumeration of identity and nation, the moth-eaten pages of the NRC are a history of the Assamese people.
National award-winning Assamese filmmaker Sanjeev Hazorika couldn't have called his tall, handsome son a Gerela (and, of course, it would just be the wrong age to do so), and chose the colloquially classy Rongmon for him. "I thought we'd have a daughter and wanted to call her Rangdhali (feisty). When we had a boy, my wife suggested we call him Rongmon (the happy one)," he tells The Telegraph. "Back in the '50s and those days, people chose the easiest names for their children; the names of flowers for girls for example. And then there'd be the physical attributes to name by."
So there was a roly-poly Gereli, one seemingly for every Gerela ever, who nudged her way through to the pages of the fountain-pen-scribed NRC that is now old Assam's newly dusted treasure trove of human nomenclature. Equally in bloom were scores of Golapis (named after the rose, golap the Assamese equivalent for Hindi gulab), Togors (crep jasmines), and Podumis (lotuses)... Life, as it was, in what was perhaps a fertile, laid-back land of food and flowers (per capita income four per cent above the national average in 1951 - the year of the last NRC - says the Planning Commission, 102 people per square kilometre as opposed to the country's 117).
‘I haven’t come across a barbed-wire fence,’ says a T-shirt available in Assam. With the NRC update in full swing, it’s a dig at the illegal migrant. Telegraph picture
But then there are also the registered Jolokias (chillies), Jaluk (pepper), Bogori (the berry), Paikari (wholesale), even Pokor (the fundament of the human anatomy), Kukurekhoa (one bitten by a dog) and Kekora (the crab), one belief then, it is said, being that in the days when cholera was an epidemic, a name that could test the limits of human nomenclature could ward off the evil eye - and the Grim Reaper. "I don't know if there is any historical substance to this but I, too, have heard of the belief," says Sheila Bora, former head of the department of history in the Gauhati and Dibrugarh universities.
"Those days a lot of the rural folk gave names like these to their children," says Hazorika, whose Facebook posts are mostly in Assamese. "To my mind, things slowly changed after people like litterateur Lakshminath Bezbaroa went to Calcutta to study. He himself was called Lakshminath, but then he was of the elite. For my part, I simply wanted an Assamese name for my kid."
As did bureaucrat Bhaskar Jyoti Baruah who has named his daughter Alful (Assamese for dainty). "For me it's back to the roots," he says.
Flautist Dipak Sarma has named his son Disang, after the river that flows through the Mising lands of Upper Assam, while lawyer Neelotpal Deka has named his son Jonaak (moonlight).
"There is an unease growing in the Assamese psyche. They want to get their roots back and name their children with their native realities. After all, to name is to possess," says Pradip Acharya, translator and teacher of English.
Gerela and Podumi, meanwhile, are home, safe and dry.