Home Columns Anantha Narayan Decoding the Gujjus

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    Achche din aane wale hain. After being subjected to a mute prime minister for 10 full years, we’ve finally been delivered a 56-inch walkie-talkie, powered by Red Bull. The talkie has sworn to spice up our lives with dhoklas and khakras. In preparation for the impending Delhi dandiya, we thought it might help to bring you up to speed with Gujarati surnames and their malaidaar origins.

    First up is ‘Shah’, now famous as the adornment that accompanies Amitbhai Anilchandra aka the hatchet man of NaMo urf the man who won the Uttar Pradesh lottery for the BJP. Shah is not what you think. It’s not Persian in origin and it doesn’t mean ‘emperor’. On the contrary, it’s of a more local vintage, derived from ‘sahukar’ (merchant).

    ‘What about the ‘Patel’ in Anandiben Patel you may ask. Well, the 24th most common surname in Britain, actually means ‘land owner’. Its distinguished cousins in other parts of the country include Patil, Patwari and Patwardhan.

    Another Gujju name doing the rounds is Deepak Parekh, touted to be a technocrat who’ll wield a lot of clout in the Modi regime. It might interest you to know that ‘Parekh’ comes from the Hindi root word ‘parakhna’ (to examine). Parekhs by nature were assayers who analysed the quality of metals in jewellery. Given his pedigree, let’s hope Deepak is able to sniff out precious policies from the pedestrian.

    Many people assume NaMo will be India’s first Gujarati prime minister. That credit goes to Morarji Desai, best remembered as the country’s most illustrious advocate for the quaint pleasures of urine drinking. His surname (also common in Maharashtra) was birthed by a fusion of the words Desh Sai or literally ‘land lord’.

    Since you’re likely to encounter many more Amdavadis, here’s a quick primer on some other renowned surnames: Vaghela or Baghels are a ‘race of the tigers’; the exalted Mehtas get their name from ‘mahita’ (Sanskrit for acclaimed); the imperial Gaekwads have a rather humble origin – their surname decodes as ‘cow herd’; the ubiquitous Doshis have something in common with the Kapadias—both refer to ‘seller of clothes’; Mistry is a foreman; and Sir Jadeja is the moustachioed offspring of Jadhav or Yadav. I haven’t covered the Ambanis and Adanis because they are among the nation’s best kept secrets.

    -Anantha Narayan

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