Thursday, July 17, 2014

Germane to Germans

Ever since that scandalously, shockingly, appallingly, dreadfully, outrageously, hideously, horribly-gone-wrong 7-1 humiliation of Brazil, the world has warmed up to the awesomeness of Germany.

Ergo, some familiar stereotypes have been dusted up, varnished and put back on the conveyor belt of circulation. Talk of ‘German precision’ abounds. And a veritable blitzkrieg of clichés is raining down from the skies.

It’s perhaps the right moment to learn something new about Deutschland just to improve the quality of your conversations in social media. Let’s start with the football team that’s making waves. You’re now familiar with Lahm, Muller, Klose, Kroos and Schweinsteiger. Have you ever paused to wonder about their surnames?

Muller actually means ‘miller’. Klose is a variation of ‘Nicholas’. Kroos decodes to ‘wine bottle’ and Schweinsteiger works out to ‘pig climber’! If the pedestrian nature of the meanings surprised you, let me usher you into the world of German surnames where deceptively simple monikers offer cultural clues into the genealogy of the fatherland.

Habitational surnames give us an inkling of the place of origin of the forefathers. ‘Einstein’ is a classic example. Literally interpreted, it translates to ‘one stone’. What it alludes to is the fact that one of the great grandfathers of the bad-haired genius used to live near a rock. ‘Eisenstein’ has similar roots. It means ‘iron stone’ and when you put it in context, it refers to someone located near an iron ore mine. Likewise, a mountain dweller would be a ‘Bergman’, a riverside resident would either be a ‘Bach’ or a ‘Becker’, and ‘Buchwald’ would be from a beech forest.

Occupational surnames give us a hint of the kind of professions the Germanic tribes used to dabble in. ‘Mahler’ meant ‘grinder’. ‘Beckenbauer’ would cue ‘basin maker’. ‘Jaeger’ would be a ‘hunter’. ‘Faber’ and ‘Schmidt’ would refer to ‘one who works on metal’. ‘Schumacher’ would connote ‘shoemaker’. ‘Schneider’ would imply ‘tailor’. ‘Zimmerman’ would signify a carpenter. ‘Kaufman’, a merchant. And ‘Kohler’, a charcoal maker.

Nicknames also offered fodder for surnames. For instance, black haired ones were called ‘Schwarzkopf’, brown haired ones ‘Braun’, white-haired people ‘Weisz’, the curly haired ‘Kraus’ and the bald folks ‘Kahl’.

Before I go ‘Auf Weidersehen!’ let me conclude with ‘Lahm’. It denotes a ‘lame’ person! Certainly not a name you’d associate with a champion footballer, right?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Tamil owes Hindi

A silly debate has reared its unseemly head, once again. There’s talk of language war if Hindi is used as the official language of communication. The Touchy Tamilian has woken up from deep slumber and is now hyper active on social media advocating the need for eternal vigilance against imposition. This is perhaps the right moment to record the scintillating contribution of the North Indian lingo to the Tamil milieu.

Let’s start with Churidars - the default ethnic office wear for women in Tamil Nadu. If you didn’t know, ‘Churidar’ is a Hindi word that alludes to the ‘bangle like’ wrinkle formation one can spot around the ankle area when one wears the attire!

Several culinary delights served by your neighbourhood Saravana Bhavan owe their origins to the world’s fourth most spoken language: be it the Puri (meaning ‘filled’ or ‘puffed’), Pulao (from the root word for ‘ball of rice’), Paneer (‘cheese’), Paratha (‘cooked dough’), Chapati (‘flattened out’), Ras malai (‘juicy cream’), Kesari (‘saffron’) or Beeda Paan (‘feather leaf’). Even Saravana Bhavan is an etymological derivative of the Hindi words Shravan (‘the 22nd nakshatra’) and Bhavan (‘home’).

Kollywood stars Kamal Haasan (‘happy lotus’), Rajinikant (‘tuberose’ flower), Ajith (‘invincible’), Vijay (‘victory), Arya (‘noble’), Dhanush (‘bow’), Trisha (‘desire’) and Nayantara (‘starry eyed’) wouldn’t have got their names had it not been for the munificence of Hindi.

Now, before you jump at me for mixing up Sanskrit and Hindi, allow me to point out that a large chunk of the vocabulary of Hindi is borrowed from two sources - Sanskrit and Urdu. So whether it’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ or ‘Biryani’, the attribution should be to that much reviled boli from the cow belt.

Purists would be amazed to know that Tamil and Hindi share at least 1000 words in common. All thanks to Hindi’s big daddy Sanskrit. Some quick words that spring to mind are: Anyaayam (‘unfair’), Seemai (‘boundary’), Aarambham (‘beginning’), Amavasai (‘no moon day’), Kavidhai (‘poetry’), Kadhai (‘story’), Natakam (‘drama’), Nayakan (‘hero’), Udayam (‘rise’), and Sooryian (‘sun’).

Ironically, when you club the last two words, you get the election symbol of the virulently anti-Hindi DMK!

Thankfully, the silent majority in Tamil Nadu is fully aware of the immense contribution of Hindi to our culture. Which is probably why the Kuppans and Suppans are happy jiving to ‘Saroja, saamaan nikalo’!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tango with Mango

It takes a lot to be the national fruit of India. To be precise: 5000 years of expertise in enchanting people into having a pulp-squishing, elbow-licking and mouth-watering time.

Truth be told, the mango is no ordinary creation. From Alexander the Great to Akbar the Great, everyone has surrendered to the charm of the aam.

So Wikipedia must surely be wrong. The word ‘mango’ cannot have originated from the Portuguese word ‘manga’. It has to have sprouted from our wet earth, we call bhoomi. My own theory is ‘mango’ draws its roots from the Tamil word ‘maan kaai’ – the fruit the deer feasted upon – a coinage perhaps minted when South India was one massive canopy of trees.

Etymology aside, the thing to marvel at, is our obsession with mangoes. We consume bazillion tonnes and export a gazillion tonnes. Last I checked, 65% of the world mango production was from India.

But the sweetest news is: like Kamal Hassan, our mangoes come in 500 different avatars. From Amrapali to Zardalu, we mass produce it all, with a liberal dash of Mother Nature’s ‘maa ka pyaar’.

The Alphonso is the mega star of our line up. Named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese warlord who’s supposed to have imported this luscious variety into Goa, the Alphonso or the mispronounced Haphus, is the marquee product of just three districts in our country – Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad.

The other cultivars are regional divas in their own right. From Andhra comes the voluptuous ‘Banganapalle’ (place of origin that literally means ‘golden village’), Varanasi has given us the delectable ‘Langda’ (a reference to the lame planter of the original tree in Malihabad), Gujarat has bestowed us with the saffron-hued ‘Kesar’ (this was long before NaMo arrived on the scene), while Tamil Nadu blessed our world with the tangy ‘Kili mooku’ (shaped like the parrot’s beak).

I was about to attribute the ‘Malgova’ to Goa, but something wasn’t adding up. I am now convinced that the milky taste of Malgova could have had a hand in the matter. In my view, Malgova probably owes ‘Malai Khoa’ (hilly milk treat) its name. Just like Palgoa came from Paal Khoa. If that sounds incredulous, may be I am barking up the wrong tree!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Boys From Brazil

When the entire world was losing sleep over whether Brazil will live up to the hype, I was busy wracking my brains about why footballers from that region have names longer than reticulated pythons. I mean, why on earth, would a mom give her child a 48-letter moniker like Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira.

I solved the puzzle when I discovered how Brazilians go about naming their offspring. Apparently, they follow the Portuguese tradition of handing out multiple surnames. So if your dad was a ‘de Caravaca’, your mom a ‘de Cruz’ and your husband a ‘de Vectores’ you might end up with a name like Julia de Caravaca de Cruz de Vectores. Got it?

Although saddled with a conveyor belt of letters, nearly all Brazilian players opt to flash only their first names or nicknames on their jersey. Understandable, no? Edson Arantes de Nascimento, for example, famously preferred to proclaim himself as ‘Pele’.

Analysing the nicknames of legends reveal the friendly nature of the largest Portuguese speaking country on the globe. In sharp contrast to India where demigods are given labels like ‘Master Blaster’ and ‘The Wall’, Brazil believes in light-hearted intimate names.

Midfielder Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri was referred to as ‘Dunga’ (the local equivalent of ‘Dopey’, a dwarf from the Snow White tale). His uncle had bestowed him the nick due to his short stature but the name was catchy and it stuck even as Carlos bloomed into a five foot nine incher!

The best dribbler in history - Manuel Francisco dos Santos – suffered a similar fate. He was the puniest looking child in his family. His sister used to make fun of him by calling him ‘Garrincha’ (the little wren). Pity, that’s how the football world remembers him, even today.

‘Careca’ (literally: bald head), the star of the 1986 World Cup, earned the name as he used to be a fan of the clown Carequinho.

Kaka’s real name was RiCArdo. His kid brother could never get it right. He kept muttering CA-CA. Hence the nickname. Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, the most capped Brazilian, was luckier. He was a livewire forcing his team mates to draw a parallel to another attacking player who went by the name Cafuringa. As a nod, they called him ‘Cafu’. He went on to be the game changer, we know.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Games People Play

Everyone has their own acid test to identify ‘nice’ people. For a lot of folks of my generation, it was Calvin & Hobbes. Declaration of fandom, invariably earned you brownies and a surprise 10-year visa to the united states of friendship.

Back in the eighties, Pac-Man did the job of Calvin & Hobbes. A simple proclamation of interest in the computer game earned you instant respect from fellow slackers. A quick discussion on high scores and levels of proficiency would ensue, followed by a mating call for a face-off.

The concept of gobbling dots in a maze while outrunning silly ghosts may look juvenile by today’s standards but in the era of the 386 (Pentium’s grandpa), it was as addictive as weed for millions of bored gamers.

For all the hoo-ha, not many know that Pac-Man was Japanese in origin. Designed by Toru Iwatani in 1980, he labelled it ‘Pakkuman’ after the onomatopoeic ‘pakku-pakku’ chomping sound made by the lead character. He tried to anglicise it as ‘Puckman’ for the overseas markets, but the possible confusion with a much censored four-letter word, veered the gaming company towards ‘Pac-Man’.

Tetris was another fixation for those who wished to swap precious office time for private pleasure. Steven Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, was rumoured to be a champ at it. Derived from Tetraminoes (the 4-square blocks) & Tennis (the founder Alexey Pajitnov’s favourite sport), the falling blocks puzzle is now the world’s most successful game having sold 150 million copies over 30 years!

Among the blood and gore games, Mortal Kombat was a universal favourite with those who got their kicks from violence. Originally planned as a gaming version of Jean Claude Van Damme movie ‘Blood Sport’, MK became a bigger brand within a few years of launch.

Single player shooter games Wolfenstein 3D (German for ‘Wolfstone’) and Doom (name borrowed from a Tom Cruise dialogue in ‘The Color of Money’) gave us wussies, the jollies of playing a rampaging hero in the virtual world.

The deprived goofballs who didn’t fit into any of the above slots usually sat in a lonesome corner plodding over ‘Solitaire’. But irrespective of whether one played ‘Prince of Persia’ or ‘PC Pool’, the fact remains that there’s nothing to beat the old charm of nostalgia!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Inner City Express

We are all frogs in our own shallow wells with little or no interest in what the other toads are up to. We show a semblance of interest in the rest of the world only if it fills our time or adds to our utility in any way. I am no exception. My universe begins at home and ends at office. Any place outside this radius is another galaxy.

So when somebody asked me, the other day, about the origins of the name Secunderabad, I just froze like a zombie. A little demon in my head whispered: make something up and sound knowledgeable. With all seriousness I could muster, I told my audience very authoritatively that since Secunderabad happens to be the twin city, they coined the term ‘Second-rabad’. And over time it became Secunderabad. My friends nodded wisely and left me in peace.

Ashamed at myself, I decided to atone for life by learning about as many cities as I can. I decided to start with India. And swore to figure out the etymology of all the places I’ve never been to. I call this mental journey the ‘Inner City Express’. Hop on and take the window seat to catch a glimpse of what I’ve picked so far.

Agartala is not an iffy lock. It’s a made up name from Agar (a perfume tree) & tala (a store house). Apparently, the capital city of Tripura was teeming with these trees once upon a time. That’s why!

Buxar has no connection with boxers. It’s a derivation from Bagh-Sar or Tiger Tank. The story goes that Rishi Vedshira who had been cursed by badass Durvasa to have a tiger face, got back his handsome looks when he took a dip in the tank.

Aizawl literally means a field of wild cardamoms. Warangal is from ‘orugallu’ or ‘the city built from one stone’. Cuttack is the anglicised version of the Sanskrit ‘Katak’ (fort). Gulbarga is Persian for ‘flower garden’. Ludhiana was originally called ‘Lodi-Ana’ (the Lodi’s Palace) - after the dynasty that established the city. Nainital got its name from the Naina Devi temple near the tal (lake). Likewise, Mangalore is named after the local deity Mangaladevi. I’ve got many more stories. Will share them the day you find out about Secunderabad!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Decoding the Gujjus.

Achche din aane wale hain. After being subjected to a mute prime minister for ten full years we’ve finally been delivered a 56-inch walkie-talkie, powered by Red Bull. The talkie has sworn to spice up our lives with dhoklas and khakras. In preparation for the impending Delhi dandiya, we thought it might help to bring you up to speed with Gujarati surnames and their malaidaar origins.

First up is ‘Shah’. Now famous as the adornment that accompanies Amitbhai Anilchandra aka the hatchet man of NaMo urf the man who won the Uttar Pradesh lottery for BJP. Shah is not what you think. It’s not Persian in origin and it doesn’t mean ‘emperor’. On the contrary, it’s of a more local vintage, derived from ‘sahukar’ (merchant).

‘What about the ‘Patel’ in Anandiben Patel?’ you may ask. Well, the 24th most common surname in Britain, actually means ‘land owner’. Its distinguished cousins in other parts of the country include Patil, Patwari and Patwardhan.

Another Gujju name doing the rounds is Deepak Parekh, touted to be a technocrat who’ll wield a lot of clout in the Modi regime. It might interest you to know that ‘Parekh’ comes from the Hindi root word ‘Parakhna’ (to examine). Parekhs by nature were assayers who analysed the quality of metals in jewellery. Given his pedigree, let’s hope Deepak is able to sniff out precious policies from the pedestrian.

Many people assume NaMo to be India’s first Gujarati PM. That credit goes to Morarji Desai, best remembered as the country’s most illustrious advocate for the quaint pleasures of urine drinking. His surname (also common in Maharashtra) was birthed by a fusion of the words Desh Sai or literally ‘land lord’.

Since you’re likely to encounter many more Amdavadis, here’s a quick primer on some other renowned surnames: Vaghela or Baghels are a ‘race of the tigers’; the exalted Mehtas get their name from ‘Mahita’ (Sanskrit for acclaimed); the imperial Gaekwads have a rather humble origin – their surname decodes to ‘cow herd’; The ubiquitous Doshis have something in common with the Kapadias – both refer to ‘seller of clothes’; Mistry is a foreman; and Sir Jadeja is the moustached offspring of Jadhav or Yadav. I haven’t covered the Ambanis and Adanis. Because they are among the nation’s best kept secrets :-)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ab Ki Baar, Khichdi Sarkar!

By the time you sit down to read this piece, some early trends would have emerged on who’s gonna form the next government in India. To many people, the answer is a no-brainer. If you’ve been watching TV, reading newspapers and living off twitter feeds, you’d assume that Narendra Modi will end up with 700 out of a possible 543 seats.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the truth is a bit more complicated as we are a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential republic. In all probability, the likes of Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik and Jagan might end up having a say in the government formation.

Let’s examine the possibilities using numerology. The results will be known on 16th May 2014. So there are two key numbers to bear in mind: 16 which works out to 7 (1+6) and 16/5/2014 which summates to 1. Usually, the one with a name number, birth number or fadic number (sum of all the digits of date of birth) that matches with 7 or 1, will have a fair shot at heading the government. That’s what happened with Manmohan Singh in 2009. His fadic number 5 resonated with the fadic number of 16/5/2009 (the date on which LS09 election results were announced).

The name number of NDA is 1. Which means, there’s a bright prospect of an NDA government. Curiously, Narendra Modi’s numbers are not aligned either to 1 or 7. On the contrary, Rajnath Singh’s is. So is Arun Jaitley’s. Does that mean that Rajnath or Arun might pip NaMo to the big post?

That’s what the numbers say. Such a scenario can only arise if the NDA falls short of majority by at least 40-50 seats. In which case new coalition partners would come into play.

Again a bit of number gazing throws potential partners. Jagan’s fadic number is 7. 1 is the fadic number of Mayawati and Naveen Patnaik. MK Stalin’s birth number is 1.Ditto with Nitish Kumar. Does that mean we are gonna end up with an NDA government backed by DMK, BSP, BJD, and YSR Congress? Seems highly unlikely, right? I hope so too. But numbers have an uncanny knack of ruling our lives. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a bumpy ride!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Many Names of Rajinikanth

The bus conductor on Route 10A that plied between Srinagar and Majestic in Bangalore, during the bell bottom days, is now 63 something. He’s the age-defying god of gods with over 170 films under his belt. Just the other day, he announced his umpteenth project titled ‘Lingaa’ looking not a day older than forty with a macho moustache attesting to his to virility. Apparently a nod to his grandson (Dhanush has two boys: Linga and Yatra), the title got me thinking about the Shaivite streak in Rajinikanth movies.

Kochadaiiyaan, the motion capture animation flick directed by his daughter Soundarya, is but a synonym of the matted god aka Lord Shiva. If one looks back, Annamalai and Arunachalam have a direct Thiruvannamalai connection that seems quite obvious. Beyond that I couldn’t find any direct evidence to back my hypothesis. Sivaji, the Shankar film, apparently flows from his birth name Shivaji Rao Gaikwad.

But if one probes deeper, the superstar’s spiritual side shows enough manifestations from the late eighties. In Mappillai, he played the role of a character named ‘Aarumugam’ (the man with six faces – a reference to Lord Muruga). Then came Padayappa (the General of six armies) which was again an allusion to the son of Shiva. Coincidentally, in Chandramukhi, Rajini went by the moniker ‘Dr. Saravanan’.

To give due credit to the man, he made his religious leanings well known by hand picking the tales Sri Raghavendra and Baba. Curiously, the name most often sported by Rajinikanth on silver screen is ‘Kali’. First portrayed in Mullum Malarum, Kali made a reappearance in various forms in Murattu Kaalai, Kai Kodukkum Kai, Kaali and Adhisiya Piravi.

Lest you wrongly accuse him of being a militant saffronite, let me clarify that some of the best known Christian character names in Tamil Cinema were played by Rajini - right from ‘Johnny’, ‘Alex Pandian’ to ‘Michael – a true Christian’. Even the best known Muslim character in Kollywood - Baasha - was thalaivar’s.

Having made his debut as the rapist ‘Kondaji’, and after essaying baddies such as ‘Parattai’ and ‘Abaswaram’, Rajinikanth must have had the last laugh when he effortlessly slipped into the role of Inspector Arjun Ramojirao Shivajirao Gaikwad Jagdish Mulk Tange in Farishtay. In true Rajini style, he must have quipped, ‘Idhu, eppidi irukku’!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Blue Waters & White Sand

You’ve done enough of keyboard crunching, facebook reading and selfie gaping for the year. It’s time you pulled the plug on Candy Crush Saga and gifted yourself a real sweet vacation where you can shoot the breeze over a tequila sunset in a blue lagoon with Pink Floyd for aural company.

You should try destinations that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. We recommend islands with interesting name histories. Maldives, for instance. Derived from Maalai Theevu (‘garland of islands’ in Tamil), Maldives is apparently the lowest country in the world with an average ground level that’s just 1.5 meters above sea level. A necklace of 1900 coral islands, it’s a great holiday spot for snorkelling, kayaking, windsurfing and by the way, coochie cooing.

If you’re a cultural gypsy, Bali might pique your curiosity. An ode to Vali, the vanara prince of Ramayana, who apparently moved to the island with his wife Tara and five hundred others, Bali is a predominantly Hindu region with over 20,000 temples. A volcano mountain, black sand beaches, dolphin tour, and the world’s most expensive coffee (made from cat poop) add to the Balinese charm.

If you’re the type who likes to mix business with pleasure, Canary Islands is the haven you must head to. Off the northwest coast of Africa, the Spanish archipelago inherited its name from Islas Canarias (Latin for ‘Island of the Dogs’) ostensibly because it contained ‘vast multitudes of dogs of very large size’. Ideal for some leisurely money laundering, Canary Islands also offers thrills such as designer-made salt water swimming pools, aquatic Thai-themed water park, diving trips to spot the endangered Loggerhead Turtle, and the third largest volcano.

For the well-heeled, we shall point you to the Venga Boys’ fantasy land ‘Ibiza’. Founded in 654 BC, and originally called ‘Ibossim’ as a dedication to Bes, the god of music and dance, the Mediterranean island in eastern Spain, is aptly the birth place of rave and the clubbing capital of the globe.

Then there’s Bahamas (Spanish for ‘low sea’), Madagascar (a corrupted form of Mogadishu as Marco Polo had confused it with the Somali port), and many more azure atolls. So set sail free spirit and come back with a catch of great memories.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Galeej Ways of G

If letters had personality types, the seventh alphabet would be ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. On the face of it, ‘G’ gushes with positivity. You think of Grace, Gentlemen, Grit, Guts, Glory, Goodness, Growth, Generosity, Genius and Godliness. Some of the world’s most desired brands begin with ‘g’. Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Google, Givenchy, Garnier, Gap, Guess and Gillette are as good as it gets. Even the celebrity line up looks eye-popping. You can’t better Gandhi, Groucho Marx, Ghalib, Grateful Dead, Gable, Garbo and Gavaskar, can you?

But there is another unseemly side to ‘G’ that no one has really cared to explore. It’s a streak that’ll make you think twice if you’re planning a sleepover with this character. G is Guy, Girl and Gay at the same time. If it’s Gandhi by day, it’s Godse by night. In appearance, it can be Garish, and Gaudy. In mannerisms, Goofy and Gauche. In moods, Grumpy and Grouchy. And in taste, Gory and Ghettoesque. Many people describe ‘G’ as a Goon, Gasbag, Goofball and Germ – all rolled into one!

The gawky aura that surrounds ‘G’ follows it in other cultures. In Hindi, the Gaali is the swear word, Galati is a mistake, Gadha is an ass, Gochi is a glaring error, Ghapla is a muddle, Gadbad is a messy situation, Ghar Jamaai is a wimpy husband, G*ndu is an oaf, Ghaati is a country bumpkin, Ghoos is a bribe and Ghotala is a scam. The profusion of G-words with a negative slant can even be felt in public discourse. High tech words like 2G and 3G are the most despised symbols of corruption in India.

The same trend can be spotted down south. Many slang words that border on the gross have a prominent touch of ‘G’. ‘Galeej’ is the downright dirty bloke, ‘Gilma’ is sexual pleasure, ‘Gabbu’ is stink, ‘Gujili’ is a smutty chick, and ‘Golti’ is the slur word for telugus.

Two of the most prominent baddies who symbolise gore and greed are Gabbar Singh and Gordon Gecko (of Wall Street). Also. Grim Reaper is the most dreaded figure in western folklore. Given this wealth of evidence, it’s silly to dismiss my theory as Gibberish, don’t you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Tamil Tongue Twisters

Shiva Ayyadurai is a Tamil-speaking Indian American. He invented the ‘Email’ that we all use today and he copyrighted it, way back in 1982. Logically speaking, he should either be a household name in the state of Tamil Nadu or the word ‘email’ should have been permanently enshrined in the Senthamizh Agarathi (Tamil dictionary).

Neither happened. Instead the purists continue to use ‘Min Anjal’ as the official term for ‘Email’ and Shiva Ayyadurai never made it to the Tamil pantheon of achievers. So much for local pride!

Anyways, the larger point of focus this week is the propensity of Tamil pundits to steadfastly stall any English influence on their lexicon. Perhaps, the irrational fear of being inundated by foreign words forces the lexicologists to shut the valve on cultural osmosis. The unfounded paranoia is the fuel for coining neologisms that nobody uses.

Let’s take the cell phone. Every Suppan and Kuppan on the street calls it the ‘cell’ or the ‘mobile’. What do the experts call it? Kai Pesi or Nadai Pesi! Can you imagine deploying it in a regular conversation? If you say, “Aiya, ungal nadai pesiyil oru kurum kadidham anuppa vendum, thaareergala?” every time you borrow a handset for sending an SMS, you will only get an ivan-oru-Kilpauk-case look from strangers. That’s what the puritans reduce you to.

I have never understood why the computer mouse needs another name in Tamil. Why would you use a ‘Chutti’ or a ‘Kaikaati’ as an option when you have the universally understood ‘mouse’? What’s the grand plan in educating people in Kannini Iyal (Computer Science) and filling their heads with esoteric terminology like Parimaari (Server), Pagir Menporul (Sharware), Visai Palagai (Keyboard) and Sol Seyalakki (Word Processor)? Do we want our Tamil educated software engineers to feel like Eskimos in Essaikimuthu land, when they do offshore projects?

Why can’t we let ‘browser’ be ‘browser’? Why insist on an ‘ulaavi’ as replacement? Which graphic designer on earth would prefer to call a font as ‘varivadivu’? Why would anyone choose a ‘valaipadhivu’ over a ‘blog’? Those who want to translate ‘selfie’ into ‘thannaithaaneypadam’ are clearly living in a world where ‘Facebook’ is ‘mugaputhagam’. Get over with it, thambi!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mirth in Meghalaya

If one were to handpick a namer’s paradise on earth, the hill state of Meghalaya should effortlessly make the cut even if the selection committee were high on hash and would be making their choice, blindfolded and all. The reason is charmingly simple: the citizens of Shillong and its sister cities have the funnest names ever.

Being a Christian majority state with a severe colonial hangover, Meghalayan parents apparently have a deep fascination for anything English. So, irrespective of whether a name has negative connotations or not, if the word is found appealing, the child is bestowed that name.

Blogger Rahul Karmakar recounts the curious case of a Gonghlah family where three girls were named ‘Institute’, ‘Constitute’ and ‘Prostitute’ simply because there was a rhyme to it! One has also read of a Khasi mom opting for ‘Million’, ‘Billion’ and ‘Trillion’ for her daughters. Perhaps she was into lottery tickets?

Six years ago, several international dailies went to town about how ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Hitler’, ‘Carter’ and ‘Kennedy’ were in the fray for the Meghalaya Assembly Polls. Some attribute this to the Meghalayan streak to bequeath famous names. Personally, I love the trend as it spices up the otherwise bland legislative experience. I’d rather be watching ‘Billy Kid A. Sangma’ firing away questions at ‘Frankenstein W. Momin’ than be subjected to the boring zombies we call MLAs.

A telephone directory in ‘the abode of the clouds’ could provide you as much levity as a joke book. In it you’re likely to discover: a rich man named ‘Hilarious Dhkar’ who is taken rather seriously in politics; the soccer player ‘Fullmoon Mukhim’ who waxes and wanes on the field; a priest called ‘Helpme Mohrmen’ who’s handily available for a confession; the motor mouth ‘Oral Syngkli’ who possibly had a dentist dad; the struggler ‘Laborious Manik S. Syiem’ who’s destined to never have it easy; the bloke ‘Shitlang Pale’ whose very presence raises a stink; the very lost ‘Dunno Nongpluh’ who doesn’t know if he’s coming or going; and the poor chap ‘Rockfeller Ymbon’ who has a wealth of experience in penury!

There are others with equally outrageous first names ranging from ‘Latrine’, ‘Submarine’, ‘New York’, ‘Thailand’, ‘Kilometer’ to the downright nerdy ‘Friction’ and ‘Process’. But the one that I like the most is the humbly modest ‘Clever Marak’!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nattering About Nasranis

My first ever exposure to a Nasrani (the colloquial term for a Kerala Syrian Christian, derived from ‘Nazarene’ which means the ‘one from Nazareth’) was in primary school. I had a maths teacher named ‘Eliamma’. When she walked in and introduced her sweet self, the entire class was tickled. Being hard core Tamils, we were all wondering as to how anyone could name themselves after a lowly rat. Years later, I was pretty embarrassed at my ignorance when I found out that the ‘Eli’ in ‘Eliamma’ was simply a diminutive of ‘Elizabeth’!

So, recently, when someone made fun of the Kerala Chief Minister with a sly “How can a man be called Women Chandy?” I had to explain the cultural nuance to that oaf. He didn’t know Oommen Chandy was a common Syrian Christian name. Had he been told that ‘Oommen’ was a localised version of ‘Thomman’ or ‘Thomas’ and ‘Chandy’ was a Mallu way of communicating ‘Sandy’ or ‘Alexander’, he would have probably cocked up.

Come to think of it, even several hard core Keralites aren’t aware of the etymology of their neighbour’s surnames. I knew a guy called Eapen. I used to tell him his name sounded similar to ‘Aiyappan’. I hypothesised that perhaps both had the same roots. He nodded wisely. The fact is we were wrong. Apparently, Eapen and Esthappan draw their roots from ‘Stephen’.

There’s a wealth of material on the internet on the origin of Nasrani surnames. I wish to share a few pearls that caught my fancy. Are you aware that ‘Chacko’ is a distant cousin of Yakub that later became Jacob? Bangaloreans who are in awe of Koshy’s may not even have a clue that ‘Koshy’ is etymologically related to Joshua. I was equally bemused when I learnt that Varghese owed its existence to George. If that’s true then how come there are guys with the name ‘George Varghese’?

‘Kurien’, ‘Kuriakose’ and ‘Kuruvilla’ are, ostensibly, fruits from the family tree of Cyriac. ‘Mathai’ flows from Mathew. And surprise, surprise: ‘Ninan’ is a derivative of ‘John’; ‘Cherian’ - a descendant of ‘Zacharias’; while ‘Pothen’ is a by-product of ‘Philip’. Somehow I would have imagined ‘Pothen’ to be connected to ‘Botham’ or ‘Bodin’. I jimbly can’t figure out the Mallus, I say!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trolls on a roll.

Three jokes exemplify the true nature of the Twitter troll: #YoKejriwalSoHonest that he got his 4GB memory card arrested when it got corrupt! #YoNamoSoFeku that he claims to have created a solar plant in Gujarat to power the sun! #YoRahulSoDumb that he’s asking why the missing plane MH370 has a Maharashtra number plate!

Being mean, witty, obnoxious, and acerbic, are trademark traits of trolls. Punching below the belt comes naturally to them. They are judged not by the number of arguments they won but by the number of people they ridiculed and bullied with their barbs. Political parties of all hues have pressed an army of cyber warriors into service to max the electoral match on the internet. The strategy is to silence the opponent with relentless name calling.

Which is why, one gets to see a profusion of synonyms for Kejriwal on twitter. Right from ‘Tragedywal’, ‘Dramewal’, ‘Khujliwal’, ‘Muffler Don’, ‘Paltu’, ‘Anarchist’ to ‘AK 49’. In contrast, Narendra Modi has fewer monikers. He’s sometimes called ‘Feku’ (Hindi for Mr.Bombastic), ‘Maha Feku’, ‘Feku Express’ or ‘Bluff Master’. Rahul Gandhi is universally panned as ‘Buddhu’ and ‘Pappu’. Poor chap!

Subramanian Swamy could legitimately claim to be the granddaddy of trolls as he started the practice of running down rivals by liberally spewing vitriol. Sonia Gandhi was the first recipient of Swamy’s unrequited love. At different points in time, she’s been vilified as ‘TDK’ (after Tadaka, a demoness), ‘Putana’ (another demoness) and ‘Vishkanya’ by the patron saint of insults.

Taking Swamy’s cue, legions of trolls have dished out slanderous nicknames to the ones they presumably hate. Barkha Dutt has been spoofed as ‘Burkha Dutt’ by the saffron chaddiwalas, Rahul Kanwal has been scoffed at as ‘Rahul Kamal’ by AAPtards who assume all journalists to be BJP stooges, Rajdeep Sardesai has been unfairly caricatured as Mr Chordesai and Chetan Bhagat excoriated as ‘Satan Bhagat’.

Scurrilous as these may sound, the only way to keep the pesky trolls out of your timeline is to ‘report tweet’ when you find something objectionable. Some with a sense of humour and a thick hide, don’t take such extreme measures. Instead they hit back by trolling the trolls!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jumbo sized mystery

The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight is fast turning into a whodunit mystery from a whathappened thriller. Everyone is bandying about a homespun hypothesis. My inner Agatha Christie believes that it could be an Orient Express like crime where everyone on the coach were complicit in the plot. All I am speculating is, there could be a substantial number of hijackers (assuming it’s a hijack) because it’s near impossible for two or three people to steal a plane in the sky by eluding radars, satellites and Rajnikanth’s hawk eye.

However, there’s a bigger puzzle that needs to be solved: Why on earth is the aircraft called MH370 instead of MA370? I got the answer when I looked up the IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes assigned to airline companies. Given IATA’s penchant for illogical nomenclature - 9W for Jet Airways, 6E for IndiGo - I wasn’t exactly shocked to discover that MA stands for ‘Malev Hungarian Airlines’ and MH for ‘Malaysia Airlines’. Shouldn’t the abbreviations have been the other way around? May be, the airheads at IATA think and talk in Klingon!

Talking of aircrafts, have you ever wondered why Boeing gives its fleet, names such as 707, 717, or 777? It can’t be numerology as the numbers keep changing from model to model. One fascinating theory that keeps popping up speculates that the angle of the wing sweep with the plane is about 45 degrees. And sine of 45 degrees happens to be 0.707. Hence the designation ‘707’. Unfortunately, like all clever theories, it’s too good to be true. The truth is that the wing sweep angle is 35 degrees and it has no connection whatsoever with the name.

Boeing chose the 700 series as the previous numbers had been used up for other models. For example, the 600 series was reserved for missiles and 500s for gas turbine engines. But the company admits that the choice of 707 was entirely the call of marketing mavens who felt that the repetition of ‘7’ made the model more memorable. As regards Airbus and its obsession for labeling aircrafts after the 300 series, well, they say it all started when they began making planes that could seat 300 passengers or more. Sounds like a flight of fancy, no?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pandits from paradise

Legend has it that Emperor Akbar found a community from Kashmir to be so astute that he decreed that henceforth they would officially be known as ‘Pandits’ or the ‘learned ones’. Even if the story were untrue, it has a ring of truth. As no other group in India – except may be, for the Parsis – has wielded as much clout as the Kashmiri Pandits, despite having a piffling population of less than a million.

The fascinating thing about them is not their good looks, cuisine, culture or famed administrative skills. To a naming buff like me, the stuff that I find most charming is their sophisticated surnames. I mean, who wouldn’t mind swapping their plain vanilla ‘Kumar’ or ‘Narayan’ for the important sounding ‘Kaul’ or ‘Haksar’.

Interestingly, although the surnames carry the aura of a Brown Sahib, their origins are rather humble. ‘Nehru’ does not carry any blue blooded lineage. It simply means one who lives near the banks of a nehar (Kashmiri for ‘canal’). ‘Kauls’ are simply the progeny of the Mahakauls who were devotees of Lord Shiva. The exotic ‘Zutshi’ is a derivation from ‘jyotishi’ (astrologer). The ‘Haksars’ are apparently emigrants from the village Hakchar in Baramulla!

The amusing part about Pandit surnames is that many draw their roots from nicknames linked to physical attributes of a forefather from the distant past. ‘Bambroo’, for example, is the nick for a guy with a complexion as dark as a black bee (remember the Mission Kashmir song: Bumbro, bumbro, shyam rang bumbro?). ‘Mushran’ is the stereotype big built ugly man. ‘Handoo’ is the farmhand who is fat like a sheep. ‘Hakhoo’ is thin and frail. ‘Kichloo’ is the bearded bloke. ‘Kachru’ is the red-haired chap. ‘Ganjoor’ is the bald-headed. And ‘Shangloo’ is for the six-fingered one. So if Hrithik were from the Valley, he’d be Hrithik Shangloo instead of I-Can-Dance Roshan!

Like in the rest of the country, some surnames are occupational in nature. ‘Butt’ is the priestly class, ‘Munshi’ is an accountant, ‘Bhandari’ is a store manager, ‘Mattoo’ is one who manages a religious math and if you’re wondering about Anupam Kher, the Khers are basically ‘Khars’ – those who collect taxes from donkey drivers!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Learning Urdu Made Easier

The itch to learn Urdu is often switched on by a beautiful song wafting through the air. What does ‘tasavvur-e-jaana’ mean in Gulzar’s 'Dil dhoondta hai’? What was Sahir alluding to when he wrote ‘muhafiz khudi ke’ in ‘Jinhe naaz hai’? Why did Anand Bakshi use ‘justajoo’ in the same sentence as ‘arzoo’ in ‘Dil-e-nadaan’? To an ‘Ek gaon mein ek kisan raghu thatha’ spouting Tamilian like me it really hurts to be reminded often of how little one knows. So I discovered a way to beat the system.

I started understanding the shaayar’s lingo through celebrity names. For a start, I chose cricketers. I figured Wasim is ‘good looking’ and Waqar is ‘dignity’. Javed is ‘bright’, Misbah is ‘lamp’, Azhar is ‘famous’ and Mohsin is ‘attractive’. It all seemed to fit, as actress Reena Roy once flipped for the handsome Mohsin Khan. And come to think of it, Misbah ul Haq is indeed the lone shining light in his current team (Afridi fans may disagree though).

Then I explored the world of Bollywood. I was curious to know the subtle shades of differences between the Khans. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that Aamir means ‘civilised’, Shahrukh is the ‘rook in a chess board’, Salman cues ‘protector’, Saif is ‘sword’, Irfan is ‘wisdom’ and Imran is ‘prosperity’. How appropriate considering, everyone leans on Salman for protection and everyone expects intelligent stuff from Aamir and Irfan!

What about the actresses? Well, Zeenat stands for ‘beauty’, Mumtaz for ‘distinguished’, Nargis for ‘daffodils’, Aalia for ‘exalted’, Shabana for ‘famous’, Tamanna for ‘wish’ and Soha for ‘star’.

If you’re the type who roots for the offbeat guys, you’d perhaps be thrilled to note that Farhan Akthar is ‘joyful star’, Farrukh Sheikh is ‘happy leader’, Farida Jalal is ‘matchless grandeur’, Iftikhar is ‘proud’ and Tabassum is ‘smiling’. Those who’ve seen ‘Phool khile hain gulshan gulshan’ in the Doordarshan days will vouch for the last bit.

For the historically minded, Babar signifies the ‘lion’, Humayun connotes ‘fortunate’, Jehangir is ‘world conqueror’, Shahjahan is the ‘king of the world’, while Aurangzeb translates to ‘adorner of the throne’. Before you go haiyo rabba, let me round off with the poetic Mirza Ghalib. His name simply means ‘victorious prince’.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Every Wife's Dilemma

It’s not easy for married men to understand what married women go through. Sharing the bed with a jerk like you and signing a treaty to share the TV remote is the least of their worries. They have bigger issues to grapple with. Stuff like giving up on their family, quitting on their childhood friends, scaling down their ambitions, relocating to a strange new home and donning your surname just because you happen to wear the pants in the society, weigh heavily on their heads.

Most men can relate to everything but the name change. ‘What’s the big deal about giving up a maiden name?’ you may ask. Well, try renaming yourself post wedding and you’ll understand. Imagine Rajiv Gandhi marrying Sonia Maino and changing his name to Rajiv Maino. Do you think he would have become the Prime Minister? That’s the point I am making. Every surname comes with its own destiny and by forcing women to surrender theirs, you’re actually tinkering with their future.

Unfortunately, the practice of taking a man’s name is the norm in large parts of the world. In the USA, 65% of married women confessed to have opted for a new surname. That includes stars such as Jessica Biel (now Jessica Timberlake), Salma Hayek (Salma Pinault), Eva Longoria (Eva Parker) and Jennifer Garner (Jennifer Affleck). But the silver lining is that for every Garner there’s an Aniston who refuses to forego her identity even she finds a Brad Pitt.

The trouble with adorning the hubby’s surname is most apparent after a divorce. Demi Moore learnt this the hard way when she became @MrsKutcher on twitter. After the break up with young Ashton, her twitter handle now reads as @JustDemi.

That’s one of the reasons why celebs are opting for unhyphenated double-barrelled surnames. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Malaika Arora Khan, and Kim Kardashian West are some examples of this genre.

The visionary ‘Beatle’ John Lennon tried something different. When he married Yoko Ono, he became John Winston Ono Lennon and she became Yoko Ono Lennon. In my book, it’s always better to be retain your identity à la Vidya Balan, Gauri Shinde, Kiran Rao or Sania Mirza, as it gives your child an option to choose another surname.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Different Kind of Beast

Any man who wears cow dung and fish glue as perfume to impress his chick must be really wacked out. And if Salvador Dali happened to be that guy, you’d expect nothing lesser. Talking of Mr. Dali, the story goes that, one day, he walked into a restaurant in Manhattan with his pet in tow. A lady seated nearby panicked as it looked like a real leopard. Dali soothed her frayed nerves by informing her that he had done some optical art on his cat to make it look like a leopard. She was gullible enough to buy his yarn. Little did she know that his pet ‘Babou’ was an ocelot or a dwarf leopard from Colombia!

The surrealist painter was neither the first nor the last chap to pet a bizarre animal. A few years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio zapped everyone by showing up at the American Reptile Breeders Conference and Trade Show. He had hopped over to buy ‘Jack’, a 10-year-old tortoise that weighed 17 Kgs. Wonder if the tort is now playing ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with Leo.

In comparison, George Clooney went the whole hog when he shared his bed, home and life for 18 full years with a Vietnamese black bristled potbellied pig called ‘Max the Star’. David Beckham is another superstar with a fascination for the swine. He has two micro-pigs sportingly named after his family friends Elton John and David Furnish. Joining the pig-heads is Miley Cyrus. She was gifted ‘Nora’ by PETA on her 20th birthday. Ever since our lady has been ‘wrecking balls’ either twerking or booty shaking.

Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson were made of sterner stuff. At different points in time, they had tigers as pals when the world preferred pooches. Michael Jackson’s Bengal tigress was ‘Thriller’ and Tyson’s went by the name ‘Kenya’.

‘Legally Blonde’ starlet Reese Witherspoon’s best buddies are donkeys ‘Honky’ and ‘Tonk’, and goats ‘Booker T Washington’ and ‘Lavender Valentine’. Charlie Sheen, in contrast, has a lizard as his pal that goes by the name ‘Hopper Jr’. While Kirsten Stewart spends all her twilights with her wolf dogs ‘Jack’, ‘Lily’, ‘Tommy’ and ‘Lola’. If dinosaurs had been around, I bet, someone would have petted them too.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Going with the flow

If nations were living, breathing creatures, rivers would be the arteries that carry the oxygen-rich liquid of life to the remotest corners of the body. By meandering hither and thither, and snaking its way through steep canyons, the average rivulet slakes the thirst of the parched earth, irrigates vast deserts and creates cosy coastlines for civilisations to bloom, all while breaking rocks, busting boulders and flowing against all odds.

To the rather impressive résumé of rivers, add the not-so-measly achievement of changing the destiny of billions by lending their names to things you can’t even imagine.

Very many countries owe their venerable names to the ebb and flow of serpentine water bodies. There would be no ‘India’ had it not been for the River Indus. ‘Bosnia’ wouldn’t have made it to the maps, if not for Bosna. ‘The Gambia’ owes its existence to a watery namesake in West Africa. Ditto with Uruguay, Paraguay, Nigeria, Moldova, Jordan, and Zambia.

Even states like Mississippi, Missouri, Minnesota, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Iowa and Ohio; cities like Moscow, Amsterdam, Des Moines, and Minsk; towns like Cambridge, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Arundel, Ashbourne; and locales like Adyar and Kabini, owe their names to rivers.

If that were not enough, Indian Railways has Jhelum, Godavari, Brahmaputra, Vaigai, Gomti, Indrayani, Ganga-Kaveri, Tapti-Ganga, Ganga-Jamuna and Ganga-Sutlej Expresses chugging along the length and breadth of our country.

You might be surprised to know that many leading brands have profited by trademarking creeks and estuaries. Finnish telecom giant Nokia is a derivation from the Nokianvirta that connects the Lake Pyhajarvi to Lake Kulovesi. American computer software company Adobe got its label from the Adobe Creek that ran behind the houses of founders John Warnock and Chuck Geschke. Commercial Trucks major Isuzu Motors gets its moniker from River Isuzu in Mie Prefecture, Japan. World’s largest online retailer Amazon.com is perhaps the best known advertisement for river-themed names.

Back in India, the Nyle shampoo from Cavin Kare, the Ganga sabun from Godrej, and the Goa-based Zuari Agro Chemicals are tiny tributaries of the urge to tap the power of rivers. Wonder if the technique will ever wash with our hard nosed customers.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Raining cats and kitties.

To most nerds of my generation, CAT conjures up imagery of a much reviled entrance exam that decides whether you’re IIM-material or not. To civil and sometimes uncivil engineers, Cat is a pet name for dozers, loaders, pavers and excavators. And to a few kind souls, it’s a meowing and purring furry little thing with more oomph and charm than a mere doggie.

The essayist and poet, TS Eliot, was a legendary cat person. Among his greatest works was ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ – an anthology of humorous verses that dishes out practical wisdom on the feline species on a range of topics including naming. He’s of the view that every pussy must have three names: ‘Tiger’, ‘Oscar’, ‘Jasper’ and ‘Felix’ kind of trite monikers he’s often bestowed; ‘Jellylorum’, ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Monkustrap’ type of quirky names that cats react and respond to; and a mystic name that no one but the cat knows to be true.

Eliot put his naming wisdom to use when he picked ‘George Pushdragon’, ‘Pettipaws’, ‘Wiscus’, ‘Mungojerrie’ and ‘Rumpelteazer’ as his pets. Ernest Hemingway (the writer who lived with 30 cats) was far more adventurous with his nomenclature. ‘Crazy Christian’, and ‘Friendless Brother’ were among his favourite ones. Relatively speaking, Mark Twain was a little inventive. He didn’t settle for anything lesser than ‘Satan’, ‘Beelzebub’, ‘Sin’, ‘Pestilence’ and ‘Famine’.

Charles Dickens was easily the most unimaginative author. He named his kitty as ‘William’ and then abruptly changed it to ‘Williamina’ when it gave birth to kittens. Wonder why he didn’t better it. Cat got his tongue?

The best bunch of cat names, that I’ve come across, is from America’s business magnate Martha Stewart. ‘Beethoven’, ‘Mozart’, ‘Vivaldi’, and ‘Verdi’ make up her clowder. The names are so musical, it befits a Cat Stevens instead of Martha Stewart. Anyways, her inspiration could have been ‘The Great Gatsby’ novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. He apparently had a cat called ‘Chopin’.

Among politicos, George Bush’s ‘India’ and Bill Clinton’s ‘Socks’ are fairly popular. What’s less known is the fact that Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith’s cat was originally named Ahmedabad. When he shortened it to ‘Ahmed’ there was a ruckus. So he renamed ‘Ahmedabad’ to ‘Gujarat’! Now that I’ve let enough cats out of the bag, I shall vamoose.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Healthy Dose of Trivia

We, the people, have an intimate relationship with our medicines. Some of us share our beds with the blue Vicks bottle. Many folks, I know, spend their quality time in the loo with a tube of Volini. The women of the house in several cities wear a perfume called Amrutanjan. Crocin is the 3 AM friend that a lot of families turn to when a crisis strikes. Despite being such thick pals, we know very little about these guys. Let me lift the veil once for all and reveal a few nuggets about them.

The sore throat reliever ‘Strepsils’ has been around since 1958. Those with a secret crush on Doordarshan will remember how the lozenges have the power to turn even a meow into a roar. But have you ever wondered why it’s called Strepsils? The name is derived from Streptococcus (the bacteria that causes throat infections) and Pastille (the word for a flavoured tablet). I bet you didn’t know that.

Another story you may not be aware of, involves a Burmese gentleman named Aw Chu Kin. On his deathbed in the 1870s, he’s said to have asked his two sons Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par to improve his herbal formulation that provided external pain relief. The product was apparently named after Aw Boon Haw which translates to ‘Gentle Tiger’. Today, we know the brand as ‘Tiger Balm’.

One more surprising fact: ‘Eno’, the antacid, was invented in the 1850s by James Crossley Eno. Hence the name.

And ‘Vicks’ owes its moniker to Dr. Joshua Vicks, the brother-in-law of Lunsford Richardson, the genius behind the Vick’s Vaporub. Richardshon chose Vicks as it fit neatly into the packaging label on the now famous bottle. Incidentally, Vicks was dropped in Germany as the Germans pronounced it as Ficks which happens to be an embarrassing four-letter word. To save the blushes, Vicks assumed the avatar of Wick over there.

More often than not, active ingredients have a major say in medication naming. Headache cure ‘Anacin’ is a conflation of Analgesic and Caffeine. ‘Botox’ is a derivation from Botulism Toxin. And ‘Iodex’ is but an ointment made from Iodine Extract. Now that you know more about your pain killers, you will hopefully raise a toast in their honour.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mirthful Mergers

Have you heard of the 2.5 billion dollar blooper? It was committed recently by Gazprom, the largest natural gas extractor in the world. It all happened when the Russian giant signed a joint venture with Nigerian state enterprise NNPC. The new company was called ‘Nigaz’ – a seemingly harmless portmanteau crafted from Nigeria and Gazprom.

Now, anyone with some sense will tell you that Nigaz sounds suspiciously close to the racist pejorative ‘Niggas’. Somehow Gazprom never saw it coming. The result was severe embarrassment. The Guardian billed it as the ‘branding disaster of all time’.

If super rich conglomerates can act super stupid, I wouldn’t put it past mid-sized enterprises to commit bigger goof-ups. Anyways, Gazprom’s costly mistake has put the spotlight back on funny merger names.

Old jokes are being dusted up and packaged as new. The classic of course is: ‘What happens when FedEx merges with UPS?’ The answer, dear Einstein, is FedUp. Another pearl: If Swiss Air and Cheeseborough-Ponds were to tie the knot, will the new company be christened, ‘Swiss Cheese’? The gold standard among the merger jokes is ‘What happens when Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush and WR Grace Co become one? You get Hale Mary Fuller Grace!’

Instead of recycling the same stale ale, I was thinking why not pour some fresh juice into your empty glass. So here goes: Standard Chartered should consider taking over Subway Sandwiches. That way we all can munch into ‘Sub Standard’ junk food!

The next one is not exactly family-friendly. Shut your eyes, oh Victorian prudes! Okay, what do you get when Blowplast decides to acquire Times Jobs? Yeah, it’s exactly what you thought. It’s the unpleasant euphemism for the job that sucks.

Let’s get more desi. Let’s say, Sahara takes over Oyzterbay. Will the resulting outfit be named ‘Bay Sahara’? One more. If and when Richard Branson buys out Marie biscuits, will he re-launch it as ‘Virgin Marie’?

Or for that matter, when Yahoo takes a stake in Vodafone, will they insist on renaming the brand as ‘Yodafone’? And when Blackstone buys out Sharon Plywood, will they make it sexier by calling it ‘Sharon Stone’? Whatever the mash up, make sure it doesn’t become the butt of all ridicule.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Alphabet People

The first time I read about U Thant was in my history class. What fascinated me about him was not his Burmese origin or the fact that he happened to be the third Secretary General of the United Nations. The most intriguing aspect about the man was clearly his quirky first name.

When I probed deeper, I discovered he had three brothers: U Khant, U Thaung and U Tin Maung. U must be kidding me, I thought to myself. But then I calmed down when I discovered that U was no initial or name. It was just the Burmese equivalent of ‘Mister’!

Despite my obvious disappointment, my quest for one-letter names continued. Every time I read newspapers, watched movies or browsed like hell, I was always on the lookout for this rare breed. I was totally chuffed when I uncovered the Korean surname ‘O’. Apparently 7 lakh people in the world carry it on their passport.

A Bengali director who goes by the mystery moniker ‘Q’, recently caught my eye. My interest in him waned when I found out that it was his way of drawing attention to his rather contrived name: Qaushiq Mukherjee.

Just when I had given up hope, some severely pithy movie titles saved the day. ‘Robot’ director Shankar is currently shooting ‘I’ a film starring Vikram. ‘I’ has inspired newbie Ashik into launching ‘Vu’ (pronounced as ‘oo’ - the Tamil letter used as a surrogate Ganesha squiggle when you put pen to paper). But much before these blokes, we had SP Jananathan’s ‘E’ – the Jeeva starrer about a character named Easwaran.

In Bollywood, we’ve had two such instances so far: ‘D’, the Ram Gopal Varma release about Dawood Ibrahim and the soon-to-be premiered ‘X’ – an experimental flick about the ten ex-girlfriends of the protagonist.

The earliest gentleman to realise the potential of the one-letter name was Fritz Lang. He had originally titled his 1931 film as ‘The Murderers Are Among Us’. He had a hunch that if he shortened it to ‘M’, the movie would fare better. It did. His gut feel led to a rash of films with titles ranging from A to Z. Since there are just 26 possibilities, there’s still scope for 24 new blockbusters from Bollywood!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The One That Won

Everyone and their grandma are now busy tracing the rise and rise and rise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A year ago, the same political pundits were scornfully equating AAP with failed fringe experiments like Lok Satta. What exactly has changed in 12 months? Nothing at all.

Arvind Kejriwal still wears untucked shirts. Yogendra Yadav continues to talk in the measured tones of Mr. Know All. Manish Sisodia is yet to make that leap from the backstage. And Anna Hazare is very much playing the part of the jealous friend. The only visible difference is in how the mass media views the AAP.

The party is no longer accorded the ‘also-ran’ status. Instead the honeymoon phase of courtship is on. A large part of the credit for the perception change goes to the Delhi Election success which in turn was fuelled by truth, purpose, hard work, idealism, audacity, leadership and a liberal dose of disgust with the establishment. I, for one, feel numbers had a small say in the unfolding of history.

Numerologically, AAP is associated with two name numbers: six and one. 6 is the sum total of Aam Aadmi Party and 1 is the numeric count of letters AAP. Since AAP is the commonly used moniker in the election campaign, it had a larger say in influencing the course of events.

Take the final tally of AAP in the Delhi Assembly. The cap-wearing dudes who chant ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ with equal relish, bagged 28 seats. 28 is 2+8 which works out to one!

You’d be surprised to know that the words ‘Government’, ‘Power’, ‘Throne’, and ‘Leadership’ add up to numeral one. Mega brands such as Google, Tata, Citibank, Garnier, Marlboro, Disney, Gillette and Coca Cola have the name number 1.

Someone at AAP obviously knows the power of one. Otherwise, the swearing in ceremony of Kejriwal & Co wouldn’t have been held on 28th December 2013. Twenty Eight as you know is but a reflection of numero uno. What’s impressive is the whole date 28/12/2013 also summates to one. Only time will tell if AAP will ever emerge as the Party No.1. When it does, just remind yourself that you read it here, first.

Footnote: The AAP government won its trust vote on 2/1/2014. 2+1+2+0+1+4 = 10 = 1. I rest my case.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Name Oscars

BEST BOOK TITLE: Worst.Person.Ever
Nominees
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
The Day The Crayon Quit
12th Of Never
At Night We Walk In Circles
Worst.Person.Ever

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE TITLE: John Dies At The End
Nominees
Sharknado
John Dies At The End
Now You See Me
A Good Day To Die Hard
Blue Is The Warmest Colour

BEST BOLLYWOOD MOVIE TITLE: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola
Nominees
What The Fish
Sooper Se Ooper
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola
Phata Poster Nikla Hero

BEST KOLLYWOOD MOVIE TITLE: Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga
Nominees
Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru
Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya
Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam
Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga
Madha Yaanai Kootam

BEST NEW BAND NAME: Diarrhea Planet
Nominees
The Underachievers
Diarrhea Planet
Young Scooter
Whales In Cubicles
Post War Glamour Girls

BEST ALBUM NAME: 21st Century Loser
Nominees
Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner's Daughter
Bye-Bye Borderline
Pedestrian Verse
21st Century Loser
Twelve Reasons To Die

BEST BRAND NAME: Oddka Vodka
Nominees
Yoga from Lenovo Ideapad
Oddka Vodka
Pebble Watch
Dead Crow Beer
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BEST CELEB BABY NAME: Milan
Nominees
Milan (Shakira's)
North West (Kanye West's)
Bear (Kate Winslet's)
Klay (Wayne Rooney's)
Autumn (Jennifer Love Hewitt's)

Best Names of 2013

Mediocrity is easily the most infectious disease in the world. The reason no one talks about it is because it’s so commonplace that our eyes and ears stopped taking note long, long ago. Which is why the mind sends 99.99% of the things it sees into the recycle bin folder and stores only the truly remarkable.

Names are no different. Much of what is created is muck. A select few, however, shimmer through like a distant star in an ocean of darkness. We’ve got to celebrate the brilliant ones or else, we’ll be encircled by a sea of ordinariness.

Douglas Coupland’s satirical novel ‘Worst.Person.Ever’ is a twinkling example of genius nomenclature. The title will beguile you into reading the book whether you’re in a bordello, bathroom, or bookstore. I can’t think of any other tome with an equally arresting name.

Among Hollywood movies, three titles caught my fancy: ‘Sharknado’, ‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’ and ‘John Dies at the End’. While I liked the fresh bite of the shark flick, I loved the audacity of the deliberate ploy to reveal the plot with ‘John Dies’. Why would they do that? The itch to solve the puzzle would make anyone take the DVD home. And that’s what great film titles do.

The mesmeric cadence of ‘Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola’ and the overt projection of cheeky protagonists with ‘Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga’ also appealed to my senses.

Relatively speaking, bands didn’t have such a good year. I had to really dive deep to fish out a few pearls from among the new kids on the block. ‘Diarrhea Planet’, the Nashville-based rock and roll band that dreams of being the worst group ever, won the sweepstakes for the most oustanding name by besting the proudly uncool hip-hop duo ‘The Underachievers’.

The celeb baby name of the year, in my book, is Shakira’s ‘Milan’. Her nod to the Italian fashion capital sounds way hipper than Kim Kardashian’s baffling choice, ‘North West’.

And finally, ‘The Brand of 2013’ is, without a peg of doubt: ‘Oddka Vodka’, the spirited drink from Wyborowa Company in bizarre flavours such as Caramel Popcorn, Fresh Cut Grass, Apple Pie and even Electricity! With a name like Oddka, your year is bound to end on a guaranteed high, doncha’ think?

A more detailed list of nominees here

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jeez, look at those brands!

If a self-styled Hindu fundamentalist like Praveen Togadia were called on a quiz show and asked to name four brands funded by the Vatican, his fertile mind is likely to spout: Christian Dior, Cross, Virgin and Old Monk. Such is the profound knowledge of the saffron conspiracy theorist that he might even assume Nazareth and Judas Priest to be bands peddling Gospel music!

Jokes apart, are there brands that milk the religious equity of Christian icons? Oh yeah, there are plenty. But the funny thing is none of these have any connection whatsoever with the church.

‘Jesus Jeans’ is a stellar example. Made in Italy, since 1971, the denim brand raised the hackles of the clergy by channeling the divine carpenter for selling its wares. Ostensibly inspired by the rock opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Jesus Jeans pushed the limits of provocation by featuring the generous rear of a woman wearing denim shorts with a strategically placed headline that read: “He who loves me follows me”. With time, the brand-named-after-the-lord somehow managed a trademark in the USA. And now, it’s busy issuing notices to anyone who uses the good shepherd’s name to sell anything. Can you beat that?

Then there’s JCLU (Jesus Christ Loves You), a women’s t-shirt brand that proudly plugs lines like: ‘PTL (Praise The Lord)’, ‘Keep Calm & Pray On’ and ‘Jesus is my saviour, not my religion’.

If others were blissfully spinning a yarn around Christ, sandwich chain Pret A Manager went a step ahead and put out tomato crisps under the ‘Virgin Mary’ label. Their logic being: if Bloody Mary were okay, so was Virgin Mary. Unfortunately for them, the religious lobby raised hell and Pret A Manager had to find a thick shroud to bury the crunchy Virgin Mary.

Despite the protests, many companies still continue to exploit biblical iconography thanks to the ready-made recognition enjoyed among 2.2 billion Christians. Perhaps that’s why, you have a Taiwanese E-commerce chain calling itself ‘Buyble’, a European food and beer chain opting for ‘Holy Grail Pub’, a German start-up choosing ‘Amen’ as its name, a New Zealand shirt brand picking ‘3 Wise Men’ and a cheese grater giving itself the cheesy moniker ‘Cheesus Christ’. One wonders how these brands will fare on Judgement Day.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Burden of Taint

Let’s start with a thought experiment. You’re a young, eligible lady. You’ve got two job offers. The job description is more or less the same. The pay packet is almost identical. You hear that your boss in Company X is going to be Tarun Tejpal. And in Company Y, it’s Alexander Wilberforce. Which offer are you likely to take up?

Your answer is a no-brainer. 11 out of 10 people would pick Alexander Wilberforce over Tarun Tejpal because somehow being stuck in a lift with Mr. A sounds so much safer than hanging out with Mr. T.

You may not change your mind even if you were told that this Tarun Tejpal is no way related to that Tarun Tejpal. The ‘why take a chance?’ mindset is at play here. It’s the same stupid mindset that makes many Americans suspect all men with turbans!

Another little game. You flip for a stranger. She’s good looking, smart, witty and is everything you imagined. You don’t care about her religion, caste, language or nationality. You just feel like going across and proposing to her. Just when you’re about to go down on your knees, she tells you that her name is Shakeela. Would the name affect your decision or would you still be head over heels?

To many South Indians, Shakeela is a B-grade actress best remembered for movies you can’t watch with your family. Marrying a Shakeela would mean opening yourself to taunts from everyone. The last thing you want from your friends is Shakeela DVDs as your wedding gift. So what would you do?

Bold men would just brush aside the jibes and get on with life. But not all of us are bold. In a conservative society, names develop their own reputations. And namesakes have to live with those reputations, whether they like it or not.

The Aarushis of the world will have to bear with jerks who keep recounting the murder of Aarushi Talwar. Your friendly neighbourhood Smitha has to put up with the ‘Silk’ Smitha nickname all her life. Every Nathuram will have to live with the ghost of Nathuram Godse. There’s no escape for Sheelas from ‘Sheela ki jawani’. The only way out is to either change your setting or name.