A NOTE ON NAMES
While reading the following chapters, you’re likely to notice several unusual names, and I don’t mean the traditional Khasi titles. In Meghalaya, it’s common practice to give one’s children ‘English’ or ‘foreign’ names which can strike those uninitiated with the region’s nomenclature as a bit unusual. For example, the Khasi name ‘Pynbait’ might not be common in the rest of the world, but if I was walking down the street in my hometown and met a person named Pynbait, I would be less surprised than if I was walking down the same street and bumped into Mussolini.
But you can meet Mussolini in Meghalaya, and Hitler also. While I’ve never personally had the dubious honor of an encounter with either of those 20th century despots, I can proudly brag that I’ve met Hercules in the flesh. In fact, I’ve met him twice, at two different roadside shops. Once he was a kid and the other time he was a thirty-year-old man.
Except for a few notable exceptions, in this work I’ve made it my policy not to use the names of the persons involved. However, the names below are all ones I’ve actually encountered over the course of my travels in the region.
In Meghalaya, there are plenty of families that have opted to stick with traditional Khasi and Jaintia names, but for every Pynshailem or Dapbor, there is a ‘Fenderstrong’, ‘Nietzsche’, ‘Precious’, or ‘Panty’, not to mention a ‘Shiningstar’, ‘Reform’ or ‘Brassiere’. I asked a friend once whether ‘Panty’ was a man or a woman, and why his/her parents had settled on women’s underwear as a name for their child. My friend’s answer was that the parents didn’t even know what panties were, they just thought the English word ‘Panty’ sounded pleasant, so they stuck their son with it. Of course, sometimes parents in Meghalaya will take the middle route and name their kids something English but less striking, such as ‘Jessica’, or ‘George’, but when all is said and done, in the Khasi Hills one is just as likely to be taking tea and betel nut with Mandrake as with Jonathan.