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 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
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
The Day The Crayon Quit
12th Of Never
At Night We Walk In Circles

John Dies At The End
Now You See Me
A Good Day To Die Hard
Blue Is The Warmest Colour

What The Fish
Sooper Se Ooper
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola
Phata Poster Nikla Hero

Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru
Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya
Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam
Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga
Madha Yaanai Kootam

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

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

Yoga from Lenovo Ideapad
Oddka Vodka
Pebble Watch
Dead Crow Beer
Stingray from Maruti Suzuki

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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Home Tweet Home

Twitter is no level playing field. There’s an invisible poverty line that runs through the cacophonous pyramid of the twitterverse. Those below the line are tagged as ‘low life’ while the rest, walk with the swagger of the blue-blooded. ‘Low life’ are by definition, social lepers like me, with less than 200 followers in their kitty.

To escape the label, you either need to create fake accounts and follow your good self or implore your fourth grade classmate’s third rate friend’s second cousin’s first love to do you a resounding favour. Since both the options look ridiculous, a simpler way out is to have a hypnotic twitter handle.

Karachi-born entrepreneur Abu Ibrahim Muhammad Aly Balagamwala may not exactly tickle your fancy but his twitter avatar @discomaulvi kind of intrigues you into shedding your pouch of Pakistani prejudices and adding him to the list of people you’d like to know.

Sarah Ruth Lucy may not mean much to you. She’s a renowned journalist in Silicon Valley running the technology news site PandoDaily. Nothing may interest a stranger about her. But when you notice her twitter handle @sarahcuda, things change. Her word play catches your eye and you feel like adding her to your social circle.

Sonal Dabral is a mini-legend in advertising circles in India. But not many outside the profession may have heard of him. He spent much of his early years in Agra. His twitter identity @agracadabra is a tribute to his hometown. The magical fusion of his surname with the city he loves, evokes an instant empathy.

Gauri Kamath is an avid healthcare blogger. Like all of us, she could have used her personal name as her handle but instead she opted for the charming @apothecurry. The Indian ‘curry’ spin to the archaic word for a pharmacist certainly makes her more eligible for attracting followers than us low life.

When Mira Nair becomes @MiraPagliNair you expect to discover her crazy side. When tennis ace Djokovic chooses @djokernole, he becomes more likeable for laughing at himself. So to sum up: if you want to reveal your character with 140 characters, you could make a start by having a twitter handle that’s too hot to handle.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On a historical track.

The good citizens of Bangalore were zapped out of their wits when they made the rude discovery that their city railway station had been rechristened into ‘Krantiveera Sangoli Rayanna’ railway station. The historically challenged went: ‘Krantiveera, who?’ The socially hyperactive ranted that the name was way too uncool. They would have perhaps preferred Deepika Padukone Junction or Rahul Dravid Pavilion!

The fact is, Sangolli Rayana, has done far more for posterity than Deepika or Jammie. An 18th century warlord, he was one of the first southerners to take on the might of the British even before the First War of Independence.

That’s why, in my book, the renaming gesture is highly laudable. The trend of celebrating people who created history started in the 1950s when Nasser labelled the Cairo Railway Station as Ramases Station (after King Ramases II, the greatest pharaoh of Egypt). In our country, Kolkata took the lead by naming several metro stations after Bengali heroes like actor Uttam Kumar, painter Jatin Das, poet Nazrul Islam, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the revolutionary Khudiram Bose.

In times when public memory is really short, the idea of immortalizing national icons seems irresistible. Had Maharashtra not named the Kurla station as Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, I am not sure how many people would care to remember him. At least this way there’s a remote chance of someone googling the old man’s name while surfing possibly on a Shatabdi Express.

To Maharashtra also goes the credit of keeping the hallowed names of Chhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria Terminus in Mumbai) and Chattrapati Shaju Maharaj (Kolhapur station) alive. Bihar is another state that remembers its illustrious sons through railway stations. Passengers to Aurangabad will recollect Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Bihar’s first deputy chief minister and visitors to Patna cannot forget that the city’s main terminal is dedicated to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of the Republic of India.

Goa holds the credit of naming a station after traveler Vasco da Gama. While Delhi has the only one named after a Sufi saint – Hazrat Nizamuddin. Thankfully, the Gandhi family hasn’t yet woken up to the possibilities offered by central stations. Else they would have hitched their dynasty wagon to that branding possibility long, long ago.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Sixty Fifth Square

There are not too many people who respect chess players. Consider this: after the fourth move on a chess board, more than 288 billion positions are possible. That’s as many as the total number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy! For a mind to see through these many permutations and combinations, you either need to be Vishy Anand or Magnus Carlsen. So they deserve at least 22 yards of more adoration than your over hyped master blasters.

Now that we’ve drawn your attention to the duo battling for the FIDE world chess championship, it’s perhaps the right moment to reflect on what it takes to be the king of kings. It’s certainly not skill. Vishy and Magnus have oodles of it. It can’t be knowledge as both players have access to more information than Deep Blue or Deep Thought. Experience, obviously cannot be the telling difference, as Anand is learning it the hard way.

So what is the X-factor that decides who will wear the crown? I have a theory. I call it the 65th square. And it’s got a lot to do with the names of the players.

Allow me to amplify my thoughts. The chess world has always been dominated by people with names that have a direct link to the game. The champion from 1921 to 1927 was Jose Raul Capablanca. His Spanish name translates to ‘Powerful god with the white cape’. The key words of note are ‘white’ and ‘power’. Bobby Fischer (considered by many to be the greatest chess player) literally works out to ‘the fisherman who will shine’. His legendary track record of fame corroborates the name meaning.

Garry Kasparov decodes to ‘speared wiseman’. Veselin Topalov aka ‘cheerful rook’ has an even closer connection. Likewise Vladimir Kramnik is ‘the shopkeeper ruler’, Ruslan Ponomariov is ‘Lion of the Sea’, Rustam Kasimdhzanov is ‘generous warrior’, Alexander Khalifman is ‘the defender who leads’, Boris Gelfand is ‘fighter elephant’ and Vasily Ivanchuk, ‘the king who believes’!

Going by this, Viswanathan Anand (‘blissful lord of the universe’) holds a significant advantage over Magnus Carlsen (‘the great independent man’). Only time will tell if that's good enough to checkmate the Norwegian Harry Potter.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Politically Incorrect Indian

In kala namak country, where even money is segregated into black and white, it is but natural for armchair analysts to brand India as a racist state.

There is some superficial truth to the accusation. As a country we do seem to have a congenital fascination for the ‘Fair and Lovely’. The dark and not-so-handsome have to somehow justify their existence with the Mehmoodian ‘Hum kalein hain to kya dilwalein hain’ (I may be sooty, but my heart is a beauty) kind of warped logic.

To be fair, we as a culture, are equally nasty to anyone with a deviant physical trait. Aren’t you guilty of calling your generously endowed neighbourhood aunty, ‘moti’? In Tamil films, till recently, it was the norm to have lyrics that poked fun at corpulent heroines using euphemisms such as ‘bamblimas’ (derived from pamplemousse, the big fat grapefruit) and ‘gundu pooshnika’ (plump pumpkin).

Even at school, no one finds it inappropriate to label ‘that dark kid’ as ‘blackie’. Grownups at office think that it’s funny to lampoon a bald colleague as ‘taklu’. The list of insensitive and downright pejorative nicknames in circulation include langda (for the lame), soda buddi (for the spectacled), damaaram (for the hard of hearing), tube light (for the dim-witted), chotu (for the shortish types) and otra kutchi (for the thin and tall).

My surmise is that Indians were not always this offensive. Yes, they did name names that bordered on racism but it was never with an intent to run down the person. On the contrary, the idea was to identify a person using his or her most visible trait.

For example, ‘Krishna’ is a Sanskrit synonym for ‘black’. He was called so because of his melanin-rich skin tone. Goddess Kali had a similar shade, hence her name. Ditto with Shyama. Likewise Shweta and Shukla are names that cue ‘whiteness’ and Neelkant stands for ‘blue throat’. So, what began as an attribute descriptor degenerated over centuries into pseudo-expressions of scorn!

It’s time we put an end to the debased tradition of name-calling. Else we’ll all end up looking like the Ku Klux Klanners who couldn’t think beyond their white supremacist noses.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Bewakoof Brands

Gopi Ram used to run a small eatery in Giridih (now in Jharkhand), in the year when an unknown batsman named Sunil Gavaskar, made his test debut. The food was good but still, not many were trooping in to grab a bite. A worried Gopi channelled his inner Philip Kotler and announced a discount on all items on the menu.

The move had an unintended consequence. More people walked in and ate heartily but everyone called him a bewakoof (Hindi for fool) for pricing his food so low.

Peeved, Gopi decided to publicly chide himself, by rebranding his restaurant as the ‘Bewakoof Restaurant’. The bizarre new naming worked. Overnight, it became the go-to destination for honest food. Today, around 11 restaurants in Giridih, are raking in the moolah using the same trick!

If you really analyse, the success of Bewakoof lay not in its catchiness but in the act of self-deprecation. Several rock bands have been using this strategy for years. Before Kurt Cobain hit upon Nirvana, he ran a punk rock band called Faecal Matter. The idea behind the crappy name was to lower the bar of expectations. Just when you’d expect trash, they’d wow you with their songs.

Rap metal band Limp Bizkit took a similar approach. After wrestling with more honourable options like Blood Fart and Bitch Piglet, frontman Fred Durst chose Limp Bizkit as a pre-emptive strike on those who could label their numbers as ‘lame’.

The rewards reaped by the ones who belittle themselves has inspired a spate of names that reek of false modesty. David Bryne, Will Oldham and Michael Brunnock have just formed a rather offensive band called ‘The Pieces of Shit’. No matter how bad their creations, the critics would be at a severe loss for words while panning them. Then there is this Chicago-based theatre group, ‘Nothing Special Productions’. They focus on bringing new works and artistes to light. NSP makes you abandon your baggage of biases and forces you to see the plays with a totally open mind. The t-shirt brand ‘Ordinary Clothing’ exploits the same sympathy-for-the-underdog feeling. So the lesson to learn is: when beautiful doesn’t sell, brand it as ‘Ugly’.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Celebrating with a six.

If you were a luxury lifestyle tabloid would you even think of publishing a weekly column on names? Especially when you have other weighty choices like carrying eruditely written tattle on who is sleeping around with whom in the higher circles of excitement-starved Chennai!

Indulge from The New Indian Express, didn’t even hesitate for a moment, in deciding to run with Nama Sutra. On behalf of millions of my imaginative and imaginary readers I’d like to thank the lovely folks at Indulge for indulging us.

To commemorate the sixth anniversary of their Chennai edition, we shall raise a toast to six sparkling names birthed by the city in the last one year or so. In times like these, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ingenuity of the immaculately engineered names.

‘Sumar Moonji Kumar’ is our first awardee. Vijay Sethupathi played that character in the just-released Tamil comedy ‘Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara’. Sumar Moonji aka ‘Average Looker’ is not your usual lead character name. It’s quirky, in-your-face, very anti-hero and surprise, surprise, it creates instant viewer empathy for Vijay Sethupathi. To transplant a side-kick appellation to your trump card, requires audacity. And that chutzpah made us flip for it.

‘Kaapi Cheenu’ is another underdog we love. A home-grown play on ‘Capuccino’, the teensy little filter coffee kadai in Alwarpet also cleverly embeds the nickname of its founder Manu Srinivas.

‘Fishwaroopam’ is perhaps the best named pizza doing the rounds. Spawned during the Vishwaroopam controversy, the fish-laced pizza is a product of the much-adored Pizza Republic who to their credit have been consistently putting out tongue-in-cheek names including Vegabond, Mushmellow and Prawnography.

For giving wings to a raunchy Madras slang word, the drink ‘Jalabulajungs’ at Zha Cafe gets my vote for pushing the spiciness quotient up by a notch or two.

‘Acoustic Rascals’ is the one local band name that caught our fancy. It’s irreverent, intriguing and fits into the ‘rascala’ stereotype that many Northies carry in their head about Southies.

Among start-ups, ’85 AD’ is the one that gets our golden spoon. Simply because it offers the scope to tell a story that the company is a collective of 85 Architects and Designers. That’s it, guys. Time you cheered Indulge and the Super Six.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pun on a platter.

Pun is like pizza. The cheesier it gets, the yummier it appears for connoisseurs of bad taste. Long before us numbskulls could figure it out, some smart minds in the food industry decided to milk the possibilities of this idea.

Restaurants began to mushroom with seemingly dim-witted names. If a pizzeria tried ‘Basic Kneads’, a fish and chips store experimented with ‘Frying Nemo’. If a Thai eatery chose ‘Thai Tanic’, an Irish kebab chain floated ‘Abrakebabra’. If a Norwegian coffee shop flirted with ‘Coffee Annan’, a mom and pop beverage joint explored ‘Has Beans’. In short, pun inspired pun, and takeaways started courting fame by feeding off each other.

The proliferation of puntastic names was so rampant that at one point, food lover Ben Brusey was actually tempted to put out a book titled ‘Pu Pu Hot Pot: The World’s Best Restaurant Names’. His personal favourite was the rather obscenely named ‘Phat Phuc Noodle Bar’ near South Kensington. Apparently ‘Phat Phuc’ in Vietnamese means ‘Happy Buddha’. So much for your smutty thoughts!

The choicest sizzlers from his compilation include: ‘A Salt & Battery’ in New York, ‘The Meat’In Place’ in Kent, the hot dog outlet ‘Award Wieners in a Supporting Roll’, the Middle Eastern Toronto take-out ‘Syriandipity’, the French fry heaven ‘Lord of the Fries’, the bagel house ‘Lox, Stock & Bagel’, the clever cocktail bar ‘Tequila Mockingbird’, and the sandwich house ‘Pita Pan’.

Surprisingly many not-so-flattering puns made it to his list. Like the food & fuel station ‘Eat Here and Get Gas, the knuckleheaded ‘Nim Com Soup’, and the unappetising ‘Pee & Poo Steakhouse’. His logic: even a self-deprecatory name works, as customers get a hearty laugh without paying a penny.

I don’t buy the lousy name theory. Why would anyone invite ridicule by visiting ‘Pu Pu Hot Pot’ when all it does is to remind you of fecal matter? I’d rather pick the poetic ‘Earth, Wind & Flour’, the literary minded ‘Life of Pie’, the historically themed ‘Boston Sea Party, the geographically inclined ‘Maine-ly Lobsters’, the linguistic word play ‘Juan in a Million’ and a ‘Mrs Sippy’ that sounds like Mississippi. After all, a restaurant name should be sweet as honey rather than sour as vinegar.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Very Original Fakes

By now, everyone and their great grandchildren, would have heard of Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association. They were the Natwarlals behind the ingenious ‘Made in USA’ labels seen on many wannabe American accessories made in our country during the electric eighties.

Anyone who bought a watch, or a bag with that tag, knew it was an elaborate sham. But still the befooled masses played along because they found the charade as amusing as an ‘original’ Bappi Lahiri song!

Come to think of it, the ability to induce a smile is really the charm of a well-minted counterfeit. Since China abounds with knock-offs, it’s understandably the fountainhead of some cleverly named copycats. The rip-offs are often called Shanzhai brands - Shanzhai being an allusion to the mountain pirates who defy the rule of law.

There are two types of Shanzhai brands. The deliberately dyslexic and the creatively re-engineered. Nyke, Ribok, Odidas, Penasonic, Barby and Koka-Kola are examples of the former. Rural India is famous for this variety.

The second type is the stuff that mirth is made of. Here are some rib tickling samplers: Imagine naming your pizzeria as Pizza Huh. From far, it will resemble Pizza Hut and as you get closer, you’ll go huh! A friend of mine keeps bringing up the name P. Uma. Doesn’t that sound very South Indian? And yet, feels like Puma!

A.R. Mani the tailor is another name pregnant with possibilities. What if he stitches shirts and coats under his label…won’t it look like the long lost twin of Armani? When the Chinese wanted to clone Johnnie Walker Red Label, they hit upon, Johnnie Worker Red Labial. Wonder why the stress on red lips. Maybe it’s for cross dressers!

Talking of imitators, there are many more worth naming. Hike takes Nike to a new level. Samsing is a noteworthy reminder of Samsung. Ninetendo is a quantitative leap over Nintendo. S&M’s a sadomasochistic interpretation of M&M’s. Fony is a sincerely spurious take on Sony. And Dolce & Banana will leave you with peels of laughter vis-a-vis Dolce & Gabbana. So the bottom line is: If you can’t make it, fake it. But fake it in style.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bands With Balls.

Cricket has so much in common with music. It revolves around players who work up a sublime rhythm on different pitches for compiling that perfect score during sell-out tours with an assortment of swingers, bouncers, and sliders for company.

Which is probably why, more and more cricketers are notching up hits with a rocking band of their own. Brett Lee is the most visible face of the movement to mix Coldplay with Speedball.

He began his musical avatar with Six & Out, an Oz band with five first class cricketers in its line-up. Named after the gully cricket rule that declares a batsman out if the ball gets lost when it’s whacked for a maximum, Six & Out, went on to create gems like ‘Can’t Bowl, Can’t Throw’.

Brett, the vocalist and bass guitarist, later moved on to set up White Shoe Theory with songwriter Mick Vawdon. The name of course is whimsical and was born out of a Eureka moment when the two dudes discovered that everyone in their bar were wearing white shoes, except them.

English spinner Graeme Swann’s rock band should easily win the sweepstakes for the naughtiest name. Called Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelation, it’s apparently a nod to Dr. Alex Comfort, the author of “The Joy of Sex” that was pithily summed up as the ‘Kama Sutra of the baby-boom generation’ by the New York Times.

Another musically inclined bowler Curtly Ambrose teamed up with his former captain Richie Richardson to form the Antiguan reggae band The Big Bad Dread and the Bald Head. For seekers of meaning, Dread is one who believes in Rastafarianism and a Baldhead is the term for a non-believer. When some band members left, bassist Curtly & rhythm guitarist Ritchie rechristened their act as ‘Spirited Band’.

Towel trickster and banned test match player Sreesanth is the pioneer of cricket bands in India. He formed the pop group S36 with six of his pals. The S refers to Sreesanth and 36, they say, is his lucky number. Considering he’s been unlucky to get caught, maybe he should rename his train-bogey-like S36 into the cheeky Caught & Bowled.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Filmy Ways to Count

Teaching a child to count is not exactly rocket science. But it’s even more complex - especially if your kid has the attention span of an excited mosquito. Thankfully there’s a fun way to do the job: just do it through movies.

Let me demonstrate how. Start with the one and only Salman Khan. Screen ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ at home. And tell your little one, Ek means ‘one’. If your boy has a more evolved taste, log onto YouTube and showcase the Pankaj Kapoor drama ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’. If he loves it, then make him eligible for the Amitabh comedy ‘Do Aur Do Paanch’. Remember to point out that the title defies all laws of algebra.

The triple dimensions of three can be dinned into his head with the Aamir starrer ‘3 Idiots’. Hugh Grant’s romantic comedy ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ is a deft means of seeding ‘4’ into his vocabulary. And Tamil actor Bharath’s new release ‘Aindhu Aindhu Aindhu’ should educate him about five.

Six is a cinch. Try Manoj Night Shyamalan’s ‘Sixth Sense’. An easy method to memorise seven is by disclosing to your son that ‘Saat Hindustani’ was Amitabh Bachchan’s debut film. The arachnid horror flick ‘Eight Legged Freaks’ is enough to tell all about number eight. Sivaji Ganesan’s 9-role act ‘Navratri’ should be a melodramatic reminder for the Hindi ‘nau’. And Kamal Hassan’s 10-role blockbuster ‘Dasavatharam’ will teach him a thing or two about being a jack of ten trades.

David Dhawan’s ‘Ek Aur Ek Gyarah’, Bruce Willis’ film ‘Twelve Monkeys’, the American slasher ‘Friday the 13th’ should get him up to speed on pre-teen numbers. If that whets his appetite, the Stephen King psychological thriller ‘1418’ and Robert DeNiro’s crime thriller ’15 minutes’ should initiate him into the teens.

Bharathiraja’s ‘Padhinaaru Vayadhinile’ that featured a 14-year old Sridevi playing a 16-year old Mayil is a good advertisement for the kind of mess, sweet sixteen could get him into. ’17 Again’, ‘Enakku 20, Unakku 18’ and ‘Unees Bees’ are films that can take him to the twenties. ’21 grams’, ’Catch-22’, ‘The Number 23’, ‘Iruvathi Naalu Mani Neram’, ‘25th Hour’ and ‘Special Chabees’ should round up the exercise. And if he asks you about zuk, there’s always ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Magic of Modi

In 12 dramatic years, a right wing introvert who was never known to be popular, has taken some giant saffron strides to emerge as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Even his most ardent critics concede that his achievement is spectacular considering the odds he faced. A riot that nearly buried his career, a hostile national media that was baying for his blood, and his own double-faced party colleagues who were plotting his downfall, couldn’t stop the unstoppable Gujarat rath from reaching 11, Ashoka Road.

It is my view that Narendra Damodardas could never have squared the circle had it not been for his snappy surname. Let’s face it: without Modi, there’ll be no NaMo cult. The humble 2-syllable that means ‘owner of granary’, is the mystic element that makes Mr. White Beard magnetic.

Before you dismiss it as one more kooky theory from me, let me reveal the secret sauce that makes Modi so powerful. Modi, as per Chaldean numerology, corresponds to the number 7 which represents ‘masculine energy, quick wittedness, good fortune, ability to bear hardships, streak of independence and dangerous adversary’. All of which are traits displayed by the ‘Chhappan Chaathi’ man.

The significant thing to note is Narendra also adds up to 7. When combined, Narendra Modi works out to the name number 41 (25 + 16). Forty one, as anyone will tell you is a potent number borne by the likes of Napoleon, Fidel Castro, George Bush and MG Ramachandran. By a quirk of fate, if the man had been just ‘Narendra Damodardas’, his name number would have been 56 – not exactly associated with strong leadership!

That’s the difference ‘Modi’ brings to the table. If you study the fortunes of two other Modis, you’ll see the beauty of the surname. Take Lalit Modi, the once upon a time IPL supremo. Remember his meteoric rise? He used to lord over cricket by wielding unbridled power. Another benign dictator was Russi Mody of the Tatas. He used to run TISCO like he owns it. What gave them the bounce was the Modi tag. Unfortunately their name numbers don’t work out to 41. May be that’s why nobody knows their namo nishaan now.