By Debu Majumdar
May 18, 2011: During the announcement of publication of my children’s story, “Viku and the Elephant,” at the Idaho Falls Public Library, Matthew, a 4th grader, asked me how I came up with the name Viku. It was a very good question. I was surprised by his wonderful courage at a gathering where there were many adults: teachers, a principal of an elementary school, the librarian, several writers, parents, friends, even my aquatic aerobics instructor, and a few other children and grandchildren that accompanied them. I have known Matthew for two years; he is a quiet, intelligent boy with large dreamy eyes. His question was a true delight.
In India, most people have two names – one is called the good name, a name they get when they have their first solid-food, which is eaten during a special ceremony (Annaprasan) at the age of nine months to a year old. This name becomes their official name. Traditionally, Indians do not give an official name to a child when born, as is done in the West. This is because in the olden days many children died early in life. All children, however, get a nickname, and often are called by that name for the rest of their lives. My twin sister’s nickname is Chhobi (“picture”), because she was a beautiful baby, and I was called Lattu (“spinning top”). You can imagine why they called me “spinning top”, something that goes round and round – I must have been a very busy little boy. The formal names – the good names – are often big, heavy, serious, and difficult to pronounce and used mostly in official papers, and, for many, not so much in everyday life.
Viku didn’t have a good name. I didn’t even imagine a good name for him. He was Viku as soon as he was born in my mind and remained so.
Matthew sent me back to my childhood when I first heard about a legendary King named Vikram. Vikram is a Sanskrit word, meaning “brave.” He was a wise king – valorous and magnanimous, and he willingly faced dangers in order to save his subjects. You may have read or heard of the book Vikram and the Vampire, which describes many of his adventures.
Like Jeffrey becomes Jeff, Viku is a nickname that comes from Vikram. In India the “u” sound serves the same purpose as the ee or y sound serves in the west (Cathy, Scotty, etc.). Vik could also be his name from Vikram, but that does not sound Indian and to me, Viku is more affectionate.
So, Viku in the story got his name from Vikram, the great king. Therefore, expect Viku to be brave and a very good person like King Vikram. Now you read the story and tell me if he is.