New Delhi: As a boy in Class 3 or maybe 4, Pranab Mukherjee, on rainy mornings, would bundle his clothes in paper, tuck them under an arm and march off to school bare feet through the fields of his village in West Bengal. It was perhaps because the schoolboy's mannerisms resembled that of a marching platoon ('polton' in Bengali) that India's outgoing president came to be fondly known as 'Poltu'.
"His father and elder sister Annapurna Devi started calling him Poltu," recalls journalist and long-time friend Jayanta Ghosal, who has known President Mukherjee since 1985. As India elects a new president today to replace Mr Mukherjee, the Poltu story is one that will strike a chord with families across the country as Indians have a special fondness for them.
Bengalis, in particular, love their pet names, or daak naam. Rabindranath Tagore, for instance, was fondly called Robi, Satyajit Ray was widely known as Manik or Manik da, while Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee is called Bumba. The late West Bengal chief minister, Siddharth Shankar Ray -- said to be one of the architects of the Emergency -- was called Manu.
Bollywood actress Karisma Kapoor, for instance, is known as Lolo by friends, family apparently after her mother's favourite, Italian star Gina Lollobrigida. Her uncle, actor Rishi Kapoor, is called Chintu, and that is an interesting tale too. He revealed in an interview that Chintu came from a poem his elder brother Randhir had recited at school -- "Chote Se Chintu Miya, Lambi Si Pooch... Jaha Jaye Chintu Miya, Waha". Chintu it was, and Chintu it still is.
Then, there's former cricketer Rahul Dravid who was affectionately named "Jammy" by friends and colleagues, because his father worked in the Kissan Jam factory.