Calling babies by pet names comes naturally to me. I am not sure how it happens or what makes me decide on a particular pet name but I end up with one pet name per baby after spending some time with her (or him, as the case may be).
Some of the pet names I have given to my younger cousins are Koli (mid 1990s), Pammu (late 1990s), Kuttamma (mid 2000s) [yes, there was one new cousin every once in few years!] and most recently, Gundamma (2010) for my neighbour. Now these pet names are despite these little wonders having a name of their own. Somehow, just spending some time with these bundles of joy, leads me to a name which sticks to my mind and I can’t help calling them the same.
When my daughter was born, I hadn’t thought of a pet name for her. My mother-in-law started from day one to call her as Sonu. She informed that Sonu means gold and hence she equated my daughter to the value of gold. But in my case, the pet names did not have meanings. It just was a free expression, a name that had no meaning and yet contained pots of love.
It was only after a month or so that I accidentally hit onto my daughter’s pet name. It just so happens that infants need talking to which mothers and the mothers-in-law are good at but the fathers are not so. Give an infant a silent father and it starts shrieking to glory. But make the father speak and the infant starts getting interested and listens to the strange sound.
On one fine morning in November 2010, when my daughter was about one month old, I was watching the TV and my mother-in-law was handling her and my wife was trying to catch up on lost sleep of the previous night. My MIL got busy and hence deposited the baby on my lap and went to attend her chores. Within a minute or so, the baby started crying (while heretofore she was fine with the MIL). So my MIL asked me to talk to her and keep her engaged.
Now, this is not an easy task – to talk to a person who does not understand a thing you are saying, and also not to expect back a response. So, you got to keep rambling on and kind of speak out loud whatever is in your mind on a real-time basis just so that sound waves get transmitted from your mouth to the person’s ears which stop the person from crying out loud out of pure ennui.
It was at this juncture – when I was babbling some gibberish much to my MIL’s silent laughter - that I looked at her cheeks and uttered the words Tontu Moli (pronounced with a drag of the second ‘o’).
This Tontu Moli ended up being my pet name for my daughter. And now, 5 months later, I can’t help calling her Tontu over a hundred times a day and I love it every time I do!