Onomatophobia- Ram ka Naam

For most Indians, the earliest memories of the name Ram are from Bollywood.

The good hero was invariably named Ram in almost every other movie during 1940–70. Villians were never named Ram.

As a child, Ram was synonymous with “good”, “hero” and “evil basher”.

Then came the mega serial Ramayan on Doordarshan in the 1980s. Now, for India, Arun Govil was Ram. Sweet, Charming, Chivalrous, ever-smiling and soft-spoken. The epitome of goodness and sacrifice. Yes, Ram was always associated with sacrifice besides goodness.

In school, almost every third student had Ram either as a first name or surname. They were not pious like the Ram of the serial or the movies but were good in their own way and fun to be friends with.

Come the 90s, the hero in the movies moved on from names like Shyam, Ramu and Ram to Rahul, Rajiv, Raj. However, the good old servant was still called Ramu. In the last 10 years, there had been very few movies where the main character was named Ram. Not even the servant.

And then 1992 happened. Bloodshed.

The vocabulary of the society expanded. Words like Kar Seva, Ayodhya, Demolition, Janambhoomi, Babar, Ram etc were being spoken, discussed and debated. Sometimes with reverence, sometimes with caution but mostly in hushed voices and with passion.

The discussion invariably always left a bitter taste in the mouth, more often than not, with fractured relationships.

This was followed by a period in which Ram meant election and elections meant Ram.

The name was only heard from politicians and mainly during election time.

Suddenly, there came the time when maniac mobs were hounding people from a certain minority community and killing them before mercilessly beating them to the pulp. But it was not the images of the violence that were disturbing but what they were chanting. Of course, the violence was numbing, as violence always is.

The chants of “Jai Sri Ram” as they inflicted unspeakable violence on a fellow human being, evoked fear and contempt.

A name, which for centuries evoked Kama Muta had metamorphosized into Onomatophobia.

There is this old man from the village nearby who walks past my house around the same time when I return from work. The moment he sees me he joins his hand and utters probably the only greetings he knows “Ram Ram” and gets the same response from me. A polite & respectful “Ram Ram” from him always cheers me up after a stressful day at work.

This has been our ritual for years.

A few days back, I didn’t see him in the darkness of a foggy winter evening. He shouted his customary greetings “Ram Ram” from behind me, precipitating a mini panic attack. With my heart pounding and pulse racing, I was sure they have come for me and it was my turn to be lynched, in front of my own house.

It must have been a very sad day for Ram. Even in his wildest imagination, Lord Ram would have never thought that one day his name will evoke fear and contempt, not love.

In a short span of 4 decades, Ram has surely come a long way from being the righteous bollywood hero to the protagonist of a serial to an election mascot and finally a symbol of majoritarian hatred and violence.

Wonder how the generations couple of decades down the line would remember Ram.

Perhaps, it is time to dig out the popular but underrated song of Kishore Kumar from the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna. The song goes something like this — “Dekho O diwano tum yeh kaam na karo, Ram ka naam badnaam na karo.”