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Give the headline here

When someone asks  your name, I am sure, you have no problem saying what it is. But all the simple self-assuredness and poise, I am equally sure, will quickly vanish when you are filling up the ‘name’ column in one of the many applications that you, as a modern-day individual, encounter in your day-to-day life.

I don’t blame you for the fiasco.  It is actually the fault of the application forms with all those hideous blank squares on them. And these boxed demons confront you whenever you seek to apply for whatever. Only a sociopath, with a deep-seated instinct to violently take it out on fellow human beings, could have designed the application forms in their present-day format. When these application forms, as we know them now, came around we were told that the boxes were put up to enable machines to read them.

First of all, it was plain bad manners to let an unthinking machine read a form that had been painstakingly filled out by a human. Secondly, with all those grotesque grids around, even the most persevering of machines would have straightaway opted for VRS.  I bet you would have struggled to read the headline in this article (all the individual letters are supposed to be in a box, which I couldn’t replicate on the blog page). You are a sixth-sense possessing human. So just imagine the plight of an uncomplaining machine!

But tell me, when humankind has grown smart enough to put people in atmosphere for weeks together in machines that don’t have a loo or has found contraptions that dispense money without smirking like the bank accountants, can’t it think up a machine that can ‘read’  from an application that does not sport those horrid and squiggly squares?

When confronted with wads and wads of blank boxes, a normal human mind loses all its ability for cogent thinking. And that is why many of us end up attempting to write our residence address in the square that is under the heading ‘sex’, and in the process look in the eyes of the world as a rabid pervert.

And these blighted boxes also compel us to peddle untruths. In the passport forms, no less mind you, we are explicitly told to tailor the information we furnish to fit in the given grids. If this is not an open order to lie, I don’t know what is. For instance, if I am living in the seventyseventh street, and there are not enough boxes to accommodate all those syllables that constitute seventyseven, I have no option but to substitute seventyseven with, say, a compact and conveniently rounded sixty or forty that can doubtless snugly settle in the squares.

Then there is the issue of names. No application form simply asks for your name. It usually demands to know your ‘given name’. This plants the first seed of doubt in your mind as to what is the difference between a name and a ‘given name’.  Is it as different as dosai is from rava dosai?  If so then the difference is enormous. Then comes the ‘surname’ conundrum. Now, no matter which dictionary you read or which expert you consult, there can never be consensus on what constitutes this surname. A classmate of mine actually believed this to be a misspelling of ‘sirname’, and actually wrote his English sir’s name whenever he had the occasion to fill out a form.

Most forms sternly warn you: ‘name only’. At those moments your chief worry would be ‘what do I with the initial’. So most of you end up expanding the initial and filling them in the box given for surname.  Or worse, you put your normal name in the surname slot and expand the initial (which is normally your dad’s name) to go into the ‘given name’ grid. At least, that is what I did, and so I now have a bank account, an email address, a house loan and unpaid subscription demand for a news magazine all in the name of my father!

The confusion of the application is further compounded by the way the names are given or taken, or whatever they do to call a person.

You can have a single letter initial or at best two letter initial if you want to include your native town to be followed by a name which will doubtless be a combination of all the gods in the Hindu pantheon. But I am forever puzzled by all those who have multiple initials. For instance, how on earth can a person sport a name like V V S K U P Vijayakrishnamoorthy-sambhasivam. And what do those V V S K U P stand for? Do they all stand for his parents in different towns? Sounds like a one huge promiscuous family. And the name itself is big enough to cover a family of four.

Then there are those who have an inexplicable fetish for putting unpronounceable town names behind their equally unpronounceable names. Abhiroop Pottlamadi or Akshamala  Kottankuchi or Nileena Kandhuvatti are good examples from Kerala. In Andhra, they are prone to use all the letters of alphabet to include all the ancestors since the earth came into being. G H A B C D X Y Z Ramapalli Gadothgaja is the smallest name that I have come across. North Indians are a people in a hurry and hence have no time to include the initials upfront. That is why you have names like Sudip K L Chopra or Pramila X Y Gupta. If initials are not initially, can they be called initials?

With such complications, no application in India is ever filled with any conviction. That reminds me, I have to fill the boxes for a headline for this piece. Wanna help? What goes first, surname or given name?

(This is a column written for the publication several months ago)

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