Legend has it that Emperor Akbar found a community from Kashmir to be so astute that he decreed they would officially be known as ‘Pandits’ or the ‘learned ones’. Even if the story were untrue, it has a ring of truth. As no other group in India – except maybe the Parsis – has wielded as much clout as the Kashmiri Pandits, despite being a small population.To a naming buff like me, the stuff that I find most charming is their sophisticated surnames. Who wouldn’t mind swapping a plain ‘Kumar’ or ‘Narayan’ for the important sounding ‘Kaul’ or ‘Haksar’.
Interestingly, although the surnames carry the aura of a Brown Sahib, their origins are rather humble. ‘Nehru’ does not carry any blue blooded lineage. It simply means one who lives near the banks of a nehar or canal. ‘Kauls’ are simply the progeny of the Mahakauls who were devotees of Lord Shiva. The exotic ‘Zutshi’ is a derivation from jyotishi (astrologer). The ‘Haksars’ are apparently emigrants from the village Hakchar in Baramulla!
Many draw their roots from nicknames linked to physical attributes of a forefather. ‘Bambroo’, for example, is the nick for a guy with a complexion as dark as a black bee (remember the Mission Kashmir song: Bumbro, bumbro, shyam rang bumbro?). ‘Mushran’ is the stereotype big built ugly man. ‘Handoo’ is for the farmhand who is fat like a sheep. ‘Kachru’ is the red-haired chap. ‘Ganjoor’ is the bald-headed. And ‘Shangloo’ is for the six-fingered one. So if Hrithik were from the Valley, he’d be Hrithik Shangloo!
Others occupational. ‘Butt’ is the priestly class, ‘Munshi’ is an accountant, ‘Bhandari’ is a store manager, ‘Mattoo’ is one who manages a religious math and if you’re wondering about Anupam Kher, the Khers are basically ‘Khars’ – those who collect taxes from donkey drivers!