The Pappus of India have often got a raw deal

Pappu, for me, first became a derogatory name after Purnea’s baahubali (strong man) Pappu Yadav killed CPI(M)’s peasant leader Ajit Sarkar in 1998.

Pappu is a common pet name in North India and Pakistan. Wikipedia says: It conjures up the image of a common man who is full of innocence and simplicity. ’Pappu' is a derogatory colloquial Hindi word meaning "dumb kid".

I shared this pet name with many of my friends in Ranchi, then a part of Bihar. Irrespective of what our given names were, on the playground we were all Pappus, Babloos, Guddus and Chintus. I shifted to Jamshedpur, a more urbane place, in 1996. Over there too such nicknames existed, but they were not as common. In fact, only first-generation city dwellers had such names. At the age of 10, I was no longer comfortable with my pet name.

But it was Ajit Sarkar’s murder that sounded the death knell for my name and social standing. At the time it was alleged, and later proven, that former Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav had planned Sarkar’s assassination. The majority of Jamshedpur’s urban middle classes were definitely not communist, but were not too fond of the RJD either. The name Pappu soon became a term of ridicule used by office-going English speaking upper castes for unlettered cowherds— those whom they thought didn’t deserve to stand for public office.

Life became hard for me after Sarkar’s death. I moved down the batting order in cricket matches and was only allowed to play football as a defender, colloquially called “backie.” I was, after all, a Pappu and not a Vicky or even a Sonu. I would fight with my parents if they called me Pappu in public. How horrible it was to be the namesake of a communist-killer. Gradually people forgot my pet name as did they forget Pappu Yadav and Ajit Sarkar.

But a decade later, Pappu came back to haunt me in the film Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na. The most popular song in the film was Pappu Can’t Dance Saala. A. R. Rahman was the music director and sung by, among others, Benny Dayal- a senior from college, whose election posters I had to paste as a junior.

I had just enrolled in a journalism course and none of my classmates were from Jamshedpur or Ranchi. I prayed that nobody would discover my Pappu identity. Alas, a cousin remembered that I used to be called Pappu. The Pappu jokes started again. The Election Commission made things worse by starting a campaign called “Pappu can’t vote.” Ironically, it was only Pappu who took leave from college to vote in his village in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district, every election.

Pappu surfaced again when I became a journalist in Delhi. On the eve of the first joint-drafting committee meeting for the Lokpal bill, two years back, a controversial CD fell in the hands of the press. It allegedly had taped conversations between committee members Shanti Bhushan and politicians Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh.

Referring to the CD as “Pappu”, Amar asked in a press conference, "Iss Pappu ke papa kaun hain?" (Who has fathered this CD). This became a subject of editorial jest and tea-stall gossip. Who is Pappu’s daddy, they asked.

Wisecracks on Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s “beehive” speech at the Confederation of Indian Industry meet in New Delhi yesterday, trended on twitter as #PappuCII. He was ridiculed for not having a concrete vision and jeopardising his party’s electoral prospects with his unusual metaphors.

Don’t worry Rahul. It took me three years to progress from backie to mid-fielder. You’re a party vice president, so you can’t fall too far down the order.