His name is Kovid... and he's going viral

How a Bengaluru-based techie’s dark humour and cool quotient is preventing him from becoming a subject of ridicule



Kovid Kapoor
Kovid Kapoor
by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Wed 12 Jan 2022, 7:51 PM

Last updated: Wed 12 Jan 2022, 7:54 PM

What’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” English playwright William Shakespeare used this line in his play Romeo and Juliet in 1597 to convey that the naming of things is all but irrelevant. But Shakespeare’s moral aphorism appears to be anachronistic.

Look no further than 31-year-old techie Kovid Kapoor, who was born in Allahabad and is now based in Bengaluru, India, as his name has become a subject of multiple memes on social media.

Kapoor, an alumnus of India’s premier Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, holds a bachelor’s degree in technology in computer science (he belongs to the class of 2012) and has been wearing a self-deprecating humour in his sleeve ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus: Covid-19 in February 2020.

He had tweeted wryly on February 12, 2020: “My name is Kovid and I’m not a virus.” But the moniker did not strike an instant chord. Kapoor, a co-founder of the trip-planning portal holidify.com, has been parrying off the jokes and memes with light-hearted banter, as his daily life has gone for a toss, thanks to the viral outbreak that echoes his name. His tweet on January 4, 2022, went viral: “Went outside India for the first time since Covid and got a bunch of people amused by my name… Future foreign trips are going to be fun!”

“My mother had selected my name before I was born,” says Kapoor. “Kovid is a word that traces its origin to Vedic literature and a Hindu religious poem, Hanuman Chalisa, in Sanskrit as kavi kovida kahi sake kaha te. Etymologically speaking, it means scholar or a learned person,” he says.

He is quick to point out how the “d” at the end of his name is meant to be pronounced and cites his linguist friend to illustrate the point. “The Hindi alphabet () in my name is a dental stop as in when the tongue presses against the upper teeth. The () sound is made further back in the mouth — somewhere between the ridge above the teeth and the palate — and typically involves some curling of the tongue, which is known as retroflex consonant,” he explains. “Kovid-dah”, unlike the viral disease that has a ring of hard stop to it, is how Kapoor’s name should be pronounced.

“I always loved my name, its meaning and how it sounded. In retrospect, I thought I had justified my name when I got an all-India rank of 76 for the IIT entrance examination (out of 450,000 candidates that year). However, my name has assumed an entirely different meaning since February 2020,” he says impishly.

Kapoor, who is quick on the uptake, “instantly realised the pun potential of the name after the WHO announced the pandemic in February 2020”. However, contrary to the popular perception, “honestly, I was not bugged by it”. “I took it as an opportunity to create a bunch of jokes and introduce myself with a bit of dark humour while meeting new people. I’ve felt that it makes for a great first impression!

It also helped me keep my mood on the lighter side during the initial few months of the pandemic. I tried to ‘spread’ the Kovid jokes among my friends during those days,” he adds. Fortunately, Kapoor did not have a brush with “any negative incidents, but a lot of small, funny micro-interactions”.

“One recent funny incident was at the immigration counter in Bengaluru (I was on my way to Sri Lanka) where the official at the counter saw my name on the passport, smiled at me, and said, ‘Kovid is going to Sri Lanka now’,” he recounts.

The confusion over his name had reached a crescendo when his tweet went viral recently. “Truth be told, I had never expected that I’d get so much media attention in my life! But I’m loving every bit of it,” he says.

Kapoor has become an overnight media sensation. “I’ve recorded over 20 radio interviews in India, Europe and New Zealand. I’ve done five live TV interviews in India and also some more in Israel and France,” he rattles off.

“It’s been an absolutely thrilling ride, and I’d be dishonest to myself if I say I’m not liking it. I’m kind of just floating through it, collecting more jokes and memes. I’m having a whale of a time. There has been so much media attention that the only crazy thing that can now happen is Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan recording a short video clip teaching me how to say my line ‘My name is Kovid and I’m not a virus’,” he grins.

Amid the all-round banter and silly jokes and some vile comments, Kapoor’s startup, holidify.com, which he had cofounded in 2012, has been hit hard by the pandemic. He narrates the downturn matter-of-factly. “Though we’re not a well-funded startup, we were doing quite well before the pandemic struck. We had a team of 25 people in Bengaluru and were certain to scale up to about 60 in the next two years. We had also taken a new office space on a two-year lease on March 1, 2020. In hindsight, it was the worst time to upgrade office space,” he says.

Trouble started, Kapoor recollects, from February 2020 onwards. “Our travel revenue slumped to almost nil around that time. To make matters worse, a couple of our clients defaulted on significant payments that we had been expecting. We had no option but to drastically reduce the salaries and rightsize our staff strength. In the meanwhile, we also picked up a few consulting projects with other startups in India and the US. These projects helped us ride out the financial storm and sustain amid those hard times. Holidify.com has managed to hold off because of our collective grit and perseverance. I’m certain we’ll come up on top soon,” says the confident techie, as he sees green shoots in the business venture.

However, it’s the jokes and memes that he “created for myself” that got him going. “I often make cool jokes about me in a bid to pre-empt others from passing silly and mean comments,” he explains.

Kapoor gives a sneak peek into his wry sense of humour: ‘Kovid positive, since 1990 (the year he was born)’; ‘Kovid’s 2022 resolution is to be positive in all directions’; ‘Kovid, officially the most ‘sick’ dude on the Internet right now’; ‘Kovid is currently riding the ‘wave’ and spreading all over the world’; and ‘the only kind of Kovid you want to be ‘positive’ with’.

But jokes apart, there have been times when he has been concealing his identity to escape ridicule. “Sometimes when I’m in a bit of a rush and not in the mood for an extended interaction, I use a fake name to get through ordinary situations such as at a coffee shop or at a restaurant,” he says. “I started using the name of one of my friends that I was with, but I’ve recently tended to use the name ‘Kabir Kapoor’ quite often. Kabir just because it rhymes a little bit with Kapoor... and sounds cool as well,” he adds.

It’s his cool quotient and dark humour that appear to have come in handy to keep the carpers at bay.

joydeep@khaleejtimes.com


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