Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 11 of Twenty Eleven

Rag picking is the second noblest activity after enema administration. It’s an immaculately sattvic way to end a debauched year.

Or so I consoled myself when I set out to rummage through the good, bad, and downright ugly names, littered all over the web. My aim was to fish out a fistful of pearls from a sea of rubbish. I am glad to report that I’ve unearthed some gems. Allow me the pleasure of sharing the booty with you.

Best Band Name: In a landscape filled with wannabe names that assault your senses (Samples: Supersonic Piss, Vomit Erection, Lecherous Gaze and Cocaine Moustache), only one band struck a chord. That’s the Canada-based metal quintet, ‘A Sight for Sewn Eyes’. Given their marked preference for live gigs, the name is an intriguingly apt and evocative choice.

Best Album Name: My vote goes to Coldplay’s ‘Mylo Xyloto’ for its quirky musicality. Best Named Song:Before you go WTF, lemme assure you it’s not Dhanush’s WTK. That privilege shall be accorded to Irshad Kamil for creating the anthemic awesomeness - ‘Sadda Haq’.

Best Book Title: There were two serious contenders – Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (Kyu is Japanese for 9) and ‘Horoscopes for the Dead’ by Billy Collins. 1Q94 is fascinating and threatens to stick in your mind. But it doesn’t pique you as much as the multi layered Horoscopes. To me, that was the clincher.

Best Named English movie: The nominees were: ‘From Prada to Nada’, ‘Gnomeo & Juliet’, ‘Judy Moody & the Not Bummer Summer’ and ‘A Good Old Fashioned Orgy’. I couldn’t resist the story telling charm of the orgasmic one. Best Named Hindi film: It was a three-way tie between ‘The Dirty Picture’, ‘No One Killed Jessica’ and ‘Ra.One’. But I’ll stick my neck out for Jessica. Best Named Tamil flick: ‘Mankatha’ dhaan!

Best Celebrity Baby Name: A little birdie tells me it’s Ethan Hawke’s ‘Indiana’. Best Named App: iThink iLuv iPad’s ‘SIRI’. Best Named Software: Android’s lickable, likable, lovable ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’. And finally, the Best Named Party: Well, Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘Bunga Bunga’ has to take the cake for its sheer kinkiness!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solpa Yeddy, Solpa Gowda.

Sometime in the late seventies, when Indira Gandhi had pressed the ‘Emergency’ button, she air dashed to Chennai with our acting president Basappa Danappa Jatti. A mischievous Tamil tabloid put out an almost blasphemous headline to commemorate the event: Indira Gandhi Jatti Udan Vandaar! All of Madras was in splits as jatti meant underwear in the local lingo. And the line could be interpreted as ‘Indira Arrives In Her Undies!’

Some might find this distasteful. But I found it amusing. In a funny sort of way, the anecdote piqued my curiosity to learn more about Kannadiga names. So when I got down to researching the subject, I discovered that large sections of Karnataka use the PFN template for naming their children - P standing for Personal Name, F for Father’s and N for Native place. By this logic Jatti must be an ancestral town and not some local inner wear, made in Tirupur.

I also noticed that in a few cases the PFN formula might get flipped and become NFP. Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa is an exemplification of this format. As in, Bookanakare is the native place, Siddalingappa - his dad’s, and Yeddyurappa is his given name, which in turn, is a nod to a temple deity in Yadiyur, a town in Tumkur. Somanahalli Malliah Krishna (SM Krishna) is yet another NFP beneficiary.

But ‘What about Gowda?’ you may ask. Well, like many surnames in this part of the country, it has a fairly rural ancestry. Gowda is said to have been derived from the archaic Dravidian word Kavundan (meaning: village head). Incidentally, the Tamil Gounder has the same root.

If we turn our gaze to some other popular surnames, lots of insights can be gleaned. Hegde (head of fort), Baliga (soldier with spear), Shenoy (captain), Nayak (commander) and Havaldar (Sergeant) owe their origins to medieval military terms. While Kamath (works on soil), Bhatt (priest), Shroff (money changer), Javali (clothes dealer), and Shetty (Chettiar or Seth) typify the occupation of the tribes. And the very Coorgi Ponappa (gold), Cariappa (black), Nanjappa (wetland), Nagappa (snake) and Chinnappa (small) feel fairly descriptive in nature. Wonder, how they got their Nameappa!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Small Town Psyche

Wear your Kafka cap for a fleeting second. Metamorphosize into that little ant crawling up that speck of saccharine on that teensy piece of cake lying carelessly on the floor, just behind that forgotten dustbin, positioned near that dark brown door next to your kitchen sink. And ask yourself one question: would anyone, I mean ANYONE, even care about your existence?

Well, that’s the story of the small town in this cold, callous world. Most of them are condemned to lead a lifetime of anonymity in distant nooks and crannies untouched by the whimsical rays of limelight. Quite naturally, small towners, as a species, somehow always have this inner mojo to ‘get noticed’. The accent, the kooky dress sense, distinctive guffaws and an appetite for setting inane records are offshoots of this desire for undue attention.

Thankfully, several itsy-bitsy settlements in America have figured out an effortless way of getting the recognition they crave for – just choose an unusual name!

Here are some stellar examples: Ding Dong, a community in Bell County, Texas, got its 5 minutes of fame when Ripley’s Believe it or Not featured the township for its oddly amusing name. Boring in Oregon was originally named after William H. Boring, an early resident. But when the city signs started appearing on the highway as ‘Boring Oregon City’ it evoked a national chuckle. There’s been no turning back, ever since.

The level of interest garnered by weirdly named towns has inspired many more to join the bandwagon. So for every Why in Arizona, there’s a Whynot in North Carolina. For every Hooker in Arkansas, there’s a Dickey, waiting somewhere in Maine. And for every Gravity in Iowa, there’s a certain Uncertain lurking in the horizon, in Texas!

Although city slickers might feel a tinge of cringe while picking such names, small towners don’t seem to share this sense of shame. Otherwise why on earth would two precincts (one in Wisconsin and the other in Illinois) proudly call themselves Embarrass? May be there’s a lesson here for our Jhumritalayas. May be it’s time for villages to rechristen themselves as Narak, Badnaam or something edgier?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Iyerland Became Ireland.

Never underestimate the Tamilian. He may constitute just 1% of the world population but his influence is all pervasive. That may seem like the typical chest-puffing ‘Tamizhan da!’ bluster from a T-Rajendhar cult movie but the fact remains that the kaapi-drinking, quarter-cutting, thayir saadam man has done a lot more for the spread of the human race than he’s given credit for.

Ireland, for instance, owes its Celtic culture to the Druids or Dravids who carried the R1b gene (a sibling of the dominant R1a gene that permeates Tam Brams, Kallars and Mudaliars) from South Asia to the Irish highlands via Central Asia. There’s enough linguistic evidence to back this claim. Here’s proof:

Kerry is a surname that means dark. Doesn’t it sound like the Tamil word ‘kari’ (black)? Kevin (beautiful) is a twin of Cavin (the Cavin in Cavin Kare) – which, by the way, is sentamizh for grace and beauty. Ian or Eoin (god) seems like a close cousin of our very own Ayan (god). Abban is synonymous with Appan (father). And Patrick (noble) has this ring of being learned enough to read a ‘pattrikkai’!

It’s not just the names. Even the words seem to have the same roots. Mala in both languages mean ‘hill’. Faiche (stretch of grass) resembles pachai. Mac (son) is derived from Makan. ‘Oi’ will pass off as an expression of endearment in Dublin as well as Dindigul.

What’s eerily similar is the Irish naming custom: the first son is always named after the father’s father; the second son after mother’s father; and the daughters are named after the mothers. Tam Brams follow an identical tradition! If you thought the parallels stops there, then just go and google about the many stone henges and cairn circles that have been discovered in Tiruvannamalai & Tiruttani.

Given all of these coincidences, you’d think our archaeologists are busy burrowing deep into the earth to ferret out more evidence in support of this theory. Sadly, they aren’t. May be someone needs to goad them to probe further. Else, the Murugans of Tiruvellikeni will never get to find their historical connect with the Morgans of Kilkenny.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Beti B Naming Contest

They say over 30,000 girl babies are born, every day, in India. If you do the math you’ll discover that nearly 480,000 girls have been hand-delivered by the Stork Exchange ever since that epochal moment, when you first heard about the birth of Beti B, and this very second when you’re reading my mundane words. That’s about 4 times the lexicon size of Hindi! So we’re in a sticky situation here - of having more babies than names.

Given this name famine, parents are under immense pressure to come up with something unique and creative. Perhaps this was the trigger for Abhishek Bachchan’s now-famous tweet requesting his fans to post their suggestions for the new born.

The ad man inside me feels, that Junior Bachchan, missed a trick by not announcing a ‘Naam Aapka, Beti Mera’ contest. He could have easily tied up with Idea for this and done a 360 degree advertising campaign to generate names via SMS. All the submitted names could have been uploaded onto and several media partners could have been roped in to prune down this massive database into a manageable Top 10 through a viewer poll. And then the final announcement could have been made on ‘Ash you like it’ - an hour-long reality show televised nationally. Alas, what an opportunity lost!

Anyways, coming back to Beti B. A little birdie tells us that the Rais and the Bachchans prefer a name starting with ‘A’. That rules out Kolaveri - a killer choice by any standards!

Let’s look at some other possibilities: Abhiwarya is an enticing option considering it fuses the best of dad and mom. Anamika (nameless one) might make a lot of sense as Jaya Bahaduri once essayed the eponymous role in a Bollywood movie starring the unforgettable Sanjeev Kumar. Amita (limitless) is interesting as Amita Bachchan sounds every inch like Big B. Ashi (miracle) will make a great fit as that was Aishwarya’s name in Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya. Aaina, Avatara, Antaratica or anything else might sound equally good. But the key question is: will the Guru say, ‘Lock kiya jaai’?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Maya of New States

There are three things one can never be sure of in life: the moment of birth, the moment of death and the number of states in India. The first two events can be forecast with some certainty using arcane powers of the occult but the third one is guaranteed to flummox even seasoned seers. Such is the unpredictability that shrouds the cartography of Indian polity.

During the independence era, we had 562 princely states and 17 provinces. That ace weaver Sardar Vallabhai Patel somehow managed to stitch together a tapestry of unity with the twin threads of nationalism and federalism. But then, our territorial gluttony kicked in sometime in 1956 and thus was born our never-ending appetite to divide and mutate into a mélange of linguistic units. The result: every decade we end up either demanding or creating new states citing some excuse or the other.

In the beginning, the demands seemed to make sense. But now, it feels as if no one really gives a fig about financial viability any more. It’s become one heck of a free-for- all. Almost like a wedding buffet. Everyone with an appetite has queued up for the goodies. That includes Queen Mayawati who’s brazenly proposed to carve up Uttar Pradesh into Ma, Ya, Wa & Ti (my code names for Awadh, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Paschim Pradesh) on an elephantine whim.

My fear is this politically inspired move might just inspire a million more groups to make a case for creation of edgy new principalities based on the flimsiest of ideologies. For example, what is going to be our justification for rejecting the creation of Tendulkar Pradesh? Or for that matter Bachchan Bhoomi, Rajni Nadu, Chiru Desam, and Salmankhanistan.

The way things are going, we as a nation, might soon end up with more states than the USA. The only way to arrest this farcical development is to announce certain basic parameters for state formation. What is required is an elucidation of minimum economy size, geographical area, natural resources and population to qualify for statehood. Otherwise every Pondy Bazaar will aspire to be a Pondicherry!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Iski Lee, Uski Lee & Sabki Lee

One of the greatest contributions of Shah Rukh Khan, to this joke-starved world, has been his extravagant 150-crore initiative to revive interest in that old campus art form called ‘Bruce Lee’ jokes. Couched as a science fiction superhero movie - SRK’s Ra.One - is well and truly an elaborate 154-minute surrogate commercial to peddle the infectious cheesiness of the Iski Lee, Uski Lee & Sabki Lee sub genre of Made-in-India puns.

For the dim-bulbs who still don’t know what I am alluding to, the Bruce Lee Joke (BLJ) is the rite of passage for any Groucho who wants to be a Marx. It’s the adolescent brand of DIY drollery that’s about creating a Chinese character by playing on the word LEE. To put it in a Tamil context, it’s about inventing the mother of all mokkais.

A BLJ is very much like a sneeze. It just happens effortlessly. And when it happens, at least one person in the room will be able to see the humour in the hatchoo. The beauty of it is, anyone can join the fun. The template BLJ is always about coming up with punny names by posing bizarre questions.

Questions like ‘If Bruce Lee were to reincarnate as a naive Indian woman, what would you call her?’ The answer to that would be Bholee Bhalee. That didn’t amuse you, eh? Okay, here’s one more. What would be the name of Bruce Lee’s married Indian sister? Sumanga Lee. His epileptic Tamil uncle? Kaka Va Lee. And his kanjoos brother? Miser Lee!

The trick is to play it like ping pong. First you serve a dolly such as ‘What is Bruce Lee’s favourite delivery? Goog Lee.’ The moment someone hears this, they’ll think, ‘Ah, I can do better!’ And an old PJ will tumble out. That’s a signal for you to try an original Chinese chop. You should reply: “What car does he drive? Bent Lee!” Before your opponent can collect himself, you must go for the kill with “His favourite Bollywood movie? Dellee Bellee!” Deed done, battle won, you must khiskofy via the patlee galee and shout: 'Teri Lay Lee’!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Prosaic Names of Poets

Parents are rarely prescient. They don’t possess that mystic ability of Paul the Octopus to foretell the future. So they end up giving us strange hand-me-down names that have no connection to who we are or what we’re gonna do when we grow up.

Brit couple Alice & John Lockwood Kipling fared no better in this name game. They fell in love in 1863 at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England. To immortalize their courtship, they named their love child - Rudyard Kipling - which literally means ‘Red Yard used for preserving Salmon’. Had they known that their imaginative boy would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, they would have certainly bestowed him with something more profound.

Kipling is not the only great bard with a misfit name. Many of his illustrious predecessors, peers and successors were subjected to similar doses of embarrassment by their doting dads and moms. Geoffrey Chaucer may sound sophisticated today. But back then, in the times of The Canterbury Tales, it had a very pedestrian etymology. Derived from ‘peaceful maker of leggings’, Chaucer represented anything but sublime.

Keats was worse. It connoted ‘herdsman or worker at the sheds’. Examining its meaning in isolation no one would even visualise him as the wordsmith who wrote ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’. Ditto with Lord Byron (Lord of cattle sheds), Percy Shelley (Hunter on the banks of a river), Sylvia Plath (Forrest maid) and Walt Whitman (Commander of White Men).

Some Indian poets have been a bit luckier. Kabir was blessed with the Persian word for ‘The Great’. Javed Akhtar was named after the ‘Eternal Star’. But people like Sahir Ludhianvi (Charmer from Ludhiana), Kannadasan (Devotee of Krishna) and Gulzar (Flower garden) weren’t as fortunate.

Sahir was the pseudonym adopted by Abdul Hayi (The Alive Servant). And every Bollywood buff knows that Gulzar was born as Sampooran Singh (100% Lion). The only poet who got a name he deserved was probably Gibran Kahlil Gibran. Khalil is Arabic for ‘friend’ and Gibran means ‘most able one’. The rhythmic tautology of Gibran just underscores his talent – how lyrical!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Four Rahuls & The Wall

The mind-numbingly predictable nature of our daily grind often throws up one disturbing question: Are we all just remixes of the same song? I mean, although our lives appear to march to different beats, our core theme seems to be resoundingly similar, right?

With this as the basic premise, let’s explore the destinies of five very different people connected by the umbilical cord of the same first name. Let’s put their personas under the microscope and see if we can identify the signature tune that binds them.

The given name I am gonna pick for our seriously trivial exercise is Rahul - which also happens to be SRK’s name in 7 blockbusters including the humongous popular Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

Now Rahul means ‘conqueror of all miseries’ in Sanskrit. So by definition all Rahuls should have a life-curve full of crests and troughs. Rahul Dravid’s career path is a living testimony to this fact.

In 1999 World Cup, Dravid was the Top Scorer. In 2007 however, he had the most awful run as the captain of the team that exited the world cup prematurely. In 2011, when everyone wrote him off, The Wall stood tall, and ended up scoring 69 runs from 79 balls in his final ODI match!

‘Against all odds’ seems to be the recurring number in any Rahul’s biography. Take Rahul Sharma, the leg spinner who battled facial paralysis and a dodgy vision to make it to the Indian Squad. Or Rahul Mahajan, the son of the slain leader Pramod Mahajan, who slumped to a personal low with the Cocaine Overdose episode and then bounced back as a Reality Show Star in Bigg Boss 2.

Rahul Bose’s story has seen as many twists and turns. He began with a bang with English August. Followed it up with a string of flops. And remerged as the superstar of art house cinema. Rahul Gandhi’s destiny has strangely witnessed a similar pattern of ups and downs. The thing to see is if the princeling lives up to his name and hits a crescendo soon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Names Affect Behaviour.

Let’s play a wicked game. I have put you in a small room without an internet connection or mobile phone. You have to pick 1 candidate for an elite job without conducting an interview. You won’t be given any résumés. No clue about age, sex, work experience or how that person looks. All you’ll get is a few names. You’ll have less than 10 seconds to make your choice. READY?

The names are: Kanda, Mookiah, Sapna, Russell and Banumathi. Chant these faceless names in your head. And now take your pick. Before you arrive at a decision point, remember it’s for a top job in a 5-star hotel. OK, have you made your choice?

Alright, let me leap to my first guess. Mookiah didn’t make the cut, right? I knew it, you racist pig! You didn’t find his name hep enough, na? Poor Banumathi would have suffered the same fate. I bet your fat rear that your choice would have been either Sapna or Russell. Kanda wouldn’t have even figured in your radar!

See how my Sigmund Fraud act worked? I could sniff your answer from a mile. A big reason for this predictability is our baggage. The truth is: we are as biased as a Neo Nazi.

We made some primal assumptions in our heads based on our limited experience and exposure to people. We prejudged Banumathi to be the behenji types. We consigned Mookiah to a 2-star job. Kanda unfortunately sounded a little too local for a 5-star hotel. Russell had this white-skin aura going for him. And Sapna somehow conjured up images of a hot bimbo who’d be at ease pampering the glitterati.

That’s how our mind operates. We revel in passing judgments without any concrete basis. We assume all Ramanujams to be nerds! We can never picture a Katrina as a house maid, a Sundaralingam as a stand up comedian, and a Gandimathi as a super model. If the name is Bond, we parrot James Bond. If it’s Smitha, we imagine Silk Smitha. May be that’s why Shah Rukh quipped, “My name is Khan. And I am not a terrorist.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Names that make your day.

Steve Jobs was no magician. He was an excellent illusionist. With his astounding quantum of 317 patents, the bespectacled billionaire just bedazzled the world into believing that he was a peerless genius worthy of an immortal halo and millennia of hero worship.

To put things in perspective, an Australian inventor named Kia Silverbrook holds the world record for the most number of patents. Despite having 4,214 inventions to his credit, I am sure you didn’t even know that he exists!

Now you might argue that JOBS IS GOD because he gave you the iMac, iPod, iPad & the iPhone. Well, all I can say is iDisagree. There are worthier folks who’ve walked this earth who probably deserve as much or more acclaim. Say someone like George Crum, the cook from Saratoga Springs without whom crispy potato chips would have never felt the caress and crunch of the masticating mouth. Or for that matter James Goodfellow, the jolly good fellow, who gave us the freedom to withdraw money anytime by simply keying in a Personal identification Number in an ATM.

If one were to judge greatness by the number of lives saved, then spare a thought for Charles Drew, the doctor who drew up the blueprint for the first ever blood bank. A million babies have benefited from John Wild’s idea of using Ultrasound for imaging the human body. How many of you shed a tear for him when he passed away in 2009?

The trouble with most of us is we’re all so self-absorbed that we often forget to celebrate the invisible giants who make us look taller than we actually are. How many of us gush about Willem Koeff, the man who invented dialysis? How many gadget freaks created a Facebook fan page for Martin Cooper, the man who designed the first mobile phone?

For all this moral posturing, I am as pathetic as you when it comes to remembering those who made it all possible. Nama Sutra wouldn’t have lasted for 90 weeks if not for Rosella’s generosity, Reshma’s support, Sathish’s supervision, Guruswamy’s layouts and Amit’s illustrations. Don’t you think it’s time we thanked them publicly?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When Leaders Turn Journalists

Our leaders of today are either too tongue-tied or just-about-literate to tweet their thoughts in 140 characters. Thankfully the Men in Whites of the pre-independence era were very unlike these gotta-ask-the-high-command’s-permission-to-pee types.

The netas of yore were more educated (Dadabhai Naoroji was a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy), erudite (Ambedkar wrote a thesis on Ancient Indian Commerce) eclectic (Aurobindo Ghosh knew Greek, Latin and Classical Sanskrit), fearless (Subhash Chandra Bose slapped his Professor for his Anti-India remarks) and forthcoming (Gandhiji never held back his views - be it on potty cleaning or proudly sporting the loincloth).

Quite a few of these gentlemen were gifted writers and fairly opinionated. So invariably they ended up founding newspapers, journals or periodicals to speak their mind. The names that they gave their journals make for interesting analysis. The character of the name strangely mirrors the character of the author!

The unorthodox and sharp Dr. Ambedkar chose the unconventional Mook Nayak (Leader of the Dumb) as the stand-out name for his weekly. He could have chosen something sober like Mute Voice, Silent Majority or Dalit Times. Instead he preferred the stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb strategy. Almost like his blue suit in a sea of khadi. In stark contrast, look at Gandhiji’s Harijan (God’s own people). It’s as lofty, religious and noble sounding as the ‘half-naked fakir’.

Aurobindo’s explanation for calling his periodical Arya is almost autobiographical: “Arya means an effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who strives and overcomes all outside him and within him that stands opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law of his nature.”

Tilak’s Kesari (Lion) is but a cryptic way of summating the audaciously proud braveheart inside Bal Gangadhar. While Nehru’s anglicised National Herald offers us a clue of how Jawaharlal perceived himself – as a harbinger of things to come.

Imagine if we apply this character-revealing-journal-names theory to today’s paradigm…then Advani will end up editing Wrath Yatra, Rahul will preside over Photo Op India, Yechuri should lord over Bleeding Red, Pranabda should start PC Fix and Manmohan would make the right publisher for Voiceless Voice.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Animal Farmers

Darwin got it right. And women will vouch for it. Men are nothing more than glorified beasts. Because come hell or high water: we still hog like a pig, drink like a fish, multiply like rabbits, rat on each other, chicken-out under pressure, shed crocodile tears, parrot hackneyed lines, come up with hare-brained ideas, implement them with the stubbornness of a mule and get results that smell like a skunk!

The savage streak sums up the quintessence of man. That’s why the wise old Chinese chose 12 animals as their zodiac signs. Even the kings of the ancient times always had a marked preference for animals as their royal insignia. In Mahabharata, Duryodhana is said to have used a Cobra as his war flag. Likewise, the Cholas are famed for their Tiger symbol while the Pandians had a fetish for the Fish.

Some royal types took this brute fixation to the next logical step by appropriating an evocative cognomen. Eleventh century English Emperor Richard I booked his ticket to immortality by picking the name ‘Richard the Lionheart’. Cut to the year 1699. Guru Gobind fashioned a whole warrior-like Khalsa by making it mandatory for male followers of Sikhism to embed the surname ‘Singh’.

Over the years, the animal instinct has only become more explicit. Now celebrities have proudly started wearing their nicknames like a military decoration. The late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi used his childhood sobriquet ‘Tiger’ as his calling card to roar his way into our national consciousness. Tiger Woods (born Eldrick Tont Woods) is a recent example of this name machoisation.

The recent trend to blend zoonyms (animal names) with human names is bound to catch on given our penchant for appearing manlier than we are. When Steven Demtre Georgiou was looking for a catchy stage name, he picked Cat Stevens. When Chris Carter was creating the character of a ‘smart FBI agent’ for X-Files, he settled for Fox Mulder.

Who knows, the success of zoonym-tinged names might embolden many more fathers to experiment with Hinglish creations as bizarre as Jaguar Jaishankar, Panther Parameswaran, Deer Damodaran, and Akash Cobra!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

R Bole Toh Rockstar

The 18th letter of the English alphabet is a repository of more secrets than the CIA. It’s perhaps the most overlooked and under analysed subject of our times. The Japanese to this day, haven’t figured out how to utter it. Truckloads of speech therapists make truckloads of money in trying to cure Rhotacism (the technical term for imperfect pronunciation of the r-sound). Brand managers do everything in their means to acquire the ® symbol. And at least 50 countries have anchored their monetary fortunes to currencies that are in essence R-words (Rupee, Rupiah, Rouble, Riyal, Real, Ringgit & Renminbi)!

So what’s with ‘R’? Why does it dominate our lives? To get a definite answer, it’ll help to ask a few searching questions. What is the world’s most ancient text? Rig Veda. Who’s considered the father of the Egyptian gods? Ra. Who’s regarded as the Mother of Gods by the Greeks? Rhea. How have humans populated the Earth? Reproduction. How do we breathe? Respiration. What is the one faith that has been guiding billions of people over many millennia? Religion. What were rulers called in India? Rajas and Ranis. What do you call dramatic events that change the course of history? Revolutions. Which is the most popular form of government across the globe? Republic.

Some of you may be tempted to assume that I am selectively lining up words to get buy-ins for my theory that there’s something magical about ‘R’. The evidence that I am going to adduce further should hopefully seal the deal.

Which tennis player has won a record 16 Grand Slam titles? Roger Federer. Who was the first Indian to win two Oscars? Rahman. Who are the three greatest Brazilian footballers in recent times? Ronaldo, Rivaldo & Ronaldinho. Who is the superdupermegagigastar of Indian cinema? Rajinikant. Who was the first person to be named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ twice by People Magazine? Richard Gere.

Add Rani Mukherjee, Rihanna, Rafael Nadal, Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Richard Feynmann, Ranbir Kapoor, Russell Crowe, Ratan Tata and Ridley Scott to the power-list above and you’ll understand why Revlon, Rolls Royce and Ralph Lauren are still rocking!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Charm of 3 Letters.

Andhraites are the ultimate alchemists. They are in a forever quest to turn anything into gold. Be it coal, land, power, pickle or their sesquipedalian names. Observing the man in the white shirt, white pant and matching white shoes is the easiest way to sniff the next big thing in any domain. That’s exactly how, I figured why SRK likes to be called SRK. And believe it or not, it’s got everything to do with the mystical power of the Three Letter Abbreviation (TLA)!

Late Tamilian heartthrob MGR pithily summed up the potency of the TLA with the ‘Moonrezhuthil en moochirukkum, adhu mudindha pinaalum pechirukkum’ song in the movie Deiva Thai. The everlasting spell cast by his diminutive is proof of his theory that ‘3 letters have a life beyond life’.

Perhaps Franklin Delano Roosevelt was privy to this concealed truth when he decided to milk his initials ‘FDR’ in the 1936 Presidential Election. He gave his then Republican opponent Alf Landon, a shellacking, by trouncing him with the third highest margin in a hundred years!

This insight proved very useful for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Election and no wonder he had no hesitation in switching to the more endearing ‘JFK’. His opponent Richard Milhous Nixon somehow failed to see the merit in deploying ‘RMN’ in his campaign. And may be that’s why he’s still seen as a joyless, frosty leader.

Chandrababu Naidu is guilty of committing the same error. Being the custodian of NTR’s party TDP (another three letter word), he chose to take the path less travelled. He chose to play up his full name. His opponent Y. Rajasekhara Reddy spotted the chink in Naidu’s armour and ambushed him in 2004 with YSR. The rest is itihaas.

So what’s with 3? Why are people increasingly opting for names like GMR, GVK, OLX, KKR, CSK & STR? Indian numerology offers a clue. ‘Three’ connotes planet Jupiter, the god of gods, and it stands for power, prosperity and prestige. Understandably, entities donning TLAs are cockier and are prone to mouthing the SRK punch line: Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Double Whammy With Triple X

Except for the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Rakhi Sawant, not many Indians lose sleep over their carefully-cultivated brand image. That’s why a lot of us still upload unphotoshopped, unflattering passport-size photographs with oily hair, untrimmed mousch, dishevelled shirt, plastic smile, yadda yadda yadda to matrimony sites. Looks like, we’ll have to drop our don’t-give-a-damn stance soon. Because come December 6th, the top level domain name XXX will go public.

If you’re wondering how that’s gonna affect you, consider this scenario: Let’s say you’re single and more-than-willing-to-mingle and your name is Beemboy Beemboy. For a moment, let’s also assume that you’re trying to charm a chick into saying ‘I do’. Just when you thought, you’ve impressed the girl with your hard-earned credentials and cheesy SMS-forwards, what if she decides to google you? And what if, horror of horrors, she discovers a porn site called Won’t that be a big turn off?

That’s the worry, the honchos at ICM Registry, are hoping to ride on, to milk additional revenues from the .xxx domain name. Their game plan is simple. 69% of humanity wouldn’t enjoy the prospect of being perceived as porn stars. So people would pay anything to block the possibility of perverts abusing their names!

Tapping into this insight, ICM Registry has made an offer, no one can refuse: ‘Pay up $150 to $300 and we’ll ensure no one books’ If you ignore this offer, you get jacked. If you take up the offer, you may have to cough up a few hundred bucks. Either way, the Triple X Company will guffaw all the way to the bank. And you will end up getting jibbed. Wicked trap for the aam aadmi. Wonderful business plan for a start up.

India isn’t aware of this double whammy yet. Ash wouldn’t want an right? Maya Memsaab would throw a fit if she sees na? would cause a national unrest, will it not? So my gut feel is a lot of Indians will opt for a Triple X. Even if 0.1% of our nation succumbs, ICM will pocket an orgasmic $150 Million for doing nothing!

Friday, September 9, 2011

How Tamas Became Thames.

The armchair is easily the most under-appreciated place in the world. If you ask me, I’d rate it on par with Archimedes’ bathtub, Krishna’s chariot, Newton’s Apple Tree and Siddhartha’s Bodhi.

It’s got that mystical, magical power to transform any occupant into an almost-credible theorist for a brief eternity of one minute. You hit upon the fanciest of ideas sitting there and the universe conspires to supply you with all the factoids to back your notions.

I discovered the power of the armchair recently when I was researching river names. I started with Thames in London. Many respectable and dubious sources have come to agree that the murky Thames could have flowed from the Proto-Celtic word Temeslos (meaning dark water). Now Temeslos seems like a step-brother of Latin Tamases and Sanskrit Tamas. That set me thinking. Are the Celts of Indian origin?

Take the word Druid (Celtic equivalent of the Brahmin class). It seems like a derivation from Deru (Sanskrit for tree) and Vid (knowledge). Thankfully renowned Celtic scholar Peter Berresford-Ellis shares the same view.

His extensive investigation of the similarities between the Ancient Indian and Irish tongues, points towards the possibility of a shared ancestry. For example, Budh is planet Mercury in both the lingos. The sun diety is Sulios which sounds very similar to Surya. Setu is the Sanskrit word for bridge/highway/path while Set is old Irish for road. Bhojan and fochan mean food. And Angar is Welsh for fire - doesn’t that ignite a very Hindi word in your mind?

See how our fluvial pursuits helped us meander into a large reservoir of evidence in support of our Everyone-Was-An-Indian-Once theory. That’s the beauty of the Armchair. It lets you leap into unexplored domains with just a springboard called hunch.

Let me give you one more nugget that should stir your imagination wild. Are you aware that, unknown to us, a 480-km river named Komati gushes through South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique? What’s interesting is Komati translates to ‘cow’ in the Swazi language. Doesn’t that sound like the Sanskrit Gomati? Isn’t that a strong data point to prove that my armchair theory holds water?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Noble Prize for Corruption

These are trying times for the truly corrupt. To fathom their angst, put yourself in their shiny black shoes.

For beating the system 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, no one applauds you the way they celebrate Roger Federer. For constructing a financial maze that would flummox any modern day Theseus, all you get is the label of a ‘crook’. For generating more wealth than any elected government, no honourable university is willing to give you an honorary doctorate. Ain’t this rank injustice?

We at Seriously Crazy Activist’s Movement (SCAM) think it’s a cause worth fighting for. We feel it’s time for a principled battle to win back the lost halo of the unscrupulous. To reclaim a life of dignity for the depraved and the debauched, we’re launching the Blackmark Awards. The Awards will be modelled on the Nobel Prize. Only the most deserving with an enviable track record of unquestionable dishonesty will be deemed worthy of a nomination.

There will be 5 categories in all: Category 1 is the Blackmark for Exemplary Craftsmanship in Yarn Spinning. William Miller, the New Yorker who claimed enough insider knowledge to deliver an astonishing ‘520% return on investments’ would have made a great nominee had he been an Indian. Category 2 is the Blackmark for Extraordinary Prowess in Process Lubrication. The real life Polyester ‘Guru’ with his penchant for sealed envelopes, fat suitcases, mystery gifts, surprise donations and paid vacations would be an automatic choice for the award. Alas he’s no more.

Category 3 is the Blackmark for Outstanding Expertise in Creative Accounting. People like Ramalinga Raju, who’s legendary for inventing fixed deposits worth 33 billion rupees, will be vying for this slot. Category 4 is the Blackmark for Unimpeachable Give & Take. Only parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, chief ministers, prime ministers and presidents with proven credentials in Generosity in Awarding Contracts to the Undeserving, will be eligible. Category 5 is the Blackmark for Innovative Interpretation of Rules. Awarded to meritorious bureaucrats and judges with the uncanny knack of envisioning loopholes for every clause in the book.

Entry forms can be obtained when you wire USD 100,000 to my Nigerian account. Interested?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

That thingy with that name.

Some jerks revel in making everyone else feel inadequate. They seem to have the answers for everything ranging from, ‘what’s the colour of Lady Gaga’s armpit hair?’ to ‘why do Giraffes stand while sleeping?’ I have often wondered if there will ever be a day, when people-like-us will get a chance to outsmart these smart-asses. Ladies and gentlemen, that day has arrived.

I am about to let you in on my private collection of thingamajigs (unfamiliar terms for familiar things). Digest it, memorise it, unleash it on the Walking Wikipedias in your circle and watch that look-of-awe in their faces for one superficial second. When that ‘Gotcha Moment’ happens, don’t forget to thank me.

Nuff said. No more foreplay. Let’s get straight to the meat. Did you know that the cleft above the middle of the lips and below the nose is called Philtrum? Or for that matter the English equivalent for Mann Vasanai or Saundhi Mitti is Petrichor? If that had you flummoxed, I’ve got tonnes of Whatchamacallits (the name of a Hershey candy bar derived from ‘what you may call it’).

Here’s more: Ferrule is the metal band on a pencil that holds the eraser in place. It’s also the name for the metal tip on top of an umbrella. Diastema is the word for gap between the front teeth on the upper jaw. Achenes (pronounced a-keens) are the little seeds on the outside of the strawberry. The technical appellation for Cat’s Whiskers is Vibrissae. Grawlix is the ‘@#$%&!’ typographical string used for representing foul language. Bobeche is the drip catcher in your candle holder. Plungers are the two buttons on which a telephone receiver rests. And Keeper is the belt loop that secures the tip.

If the nerds you wish to ambush have read Danny Danziger’s book on everyday objects, then leave them speechless by quizzing them on Dactylonomy (counting numbers with fingers), Onycophagy (the habit of biting one’s nails) and Steatopygia (fat accumulation in the rear). When you’re done stupefying them, walk away into the sunset by announcing that the inability to find the right word is called Lethologica!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Straight from the horse's mouth

I’ve realised that city slickers are the real country brutes. We can’t tell a jackass from a jennett (female donkey). We wonder why cowboys don’t ride cows. We’re in a state of shock without electricity. We are tongue tied when we have to speak in the native language. We are like the proverbial frog-in-the-well hopping between office and home. Our daily vocabulary has 100 humble words. Our offline social circle consists of 5 friends, 6 relatives and 7 acquaintances. And whatever we know is just a regurgitation of whatever Google throws up.

How exactly did I figure this out? It all dawned upon me when I decided to pen a piece on horses. Two sentences into the article, I discerned that I knew zilch about them.

Honestly, I didn’t know the difference between a Foal (baby horse), Yearling (1 to 2 year old), Colt (under 4), Filly (female colt), Stallion (non-castrated male horse above 4), Mare (female stallion) and Gelding (castrated male horse). I wasn’t even aware that Ponies are stronger, sturdier, stockier equines with a height of 58 inches or below. I had no clue that horses cannot vomit or the fact that they drink around 40 litres of water, daily.

Thankfully, not everyone is a hoofus doofus like me. There are still a lot of big-city big shots who fathom the value a horse brings to the table. Barons like MAM Ramaswamy and Vijay Mallya, jockey for power annually by racing their steeds in Derbies.

There are a few other corporate knights who saddle up by bestowing their brands with names of champion horses. Rahul Bajaj was the first in India to have the horse-sense to christen his scooter as ‘Chetak’ (Maharaja Rana Pratap’s legendary warhorse).

Rahul was, perhaps, inspired by Frank Mars, the creator of the Snickers candy bar which was named after the Mars family’s favourite racehorse. Frank’s innovative naming technique might have also prompted George Smith to call his stick candy Lollipop (the horse he used to bet on). In 1964, Ford cantered along the same path with Mustang. I wonder why dark horse brands aren’t deploying this strategy anymore.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Digging into Name Archaeology

In ancient times, there was no Facebook, remember? So you never got updates like: ‘Dude, I just composed the Rig Veda!’ There was no Twitter either. Otherwise Sita would have surely tweeted: Saw Ravan. He is 10 times worse than the movie!

It was an unimaginable era without essential accoutrements like iPods, iPads, Google, Paper and Electricity. They didn’t even have a pen drive for god’s sake! No wonder, transfer of knowledge was the biggest challenge faced by prehistoric men and women.

The only lasting way to pass on culture and religion was by bequeathing names to things, rivers, hills, forests, villages, festivals, stars, gods, and people. That’s why names can serve as verbal fossils that can reveal the historic secrets of yore.

Let me demonstrate how by focusing on some fascinating toponyms (place names). Let’s begin with Europe’s second longest river – The Danube. I am kinda convinced that Danube must have derived its name from Danu, the Vedic goddess of primordial waters. I have reasons to believe so, as a lot of water bodies in Europe, seem to have a Sanskrit root. Caspian Sea for example, seems a phonetic offspring of Kashyapi Sagar.

Cut to Georgia in Eurasia. They have an Indian sounding plateau called Javakheti that is home to six alpine lakes. One of which is Paravani. Those who know their Hindu Mythology, may remember that Lord Karthikeya’s peacock is named Paravani!

Now jump to Ukraine. You’ll see many cities bearing very Indic names. The most striking one being Vysheneve - doesn’t that sound like Vaishnav? Shift focus to Latvia. The largest resort city there is Jurmala. 8 kilometers away is Sloka. Doesn’t that ring a bell? Zip over to Serbia. You’ll be shocked to know they have a town called Indija (pronounced India) that’s been in existence since 1496!

So what does all this tell-tale evidence amount to? Well, contrary to conventional wisdom, it looks like Europe owes its origins to Ancient Indians. And how did we arrive at this mother of an assertion? By just scratching the surface of name archaeology!

Conclusion: Know your names. Know your history.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Names, Shoots & Leaves

One of the most absurdly racist notions that many of us carry in our airheads is what I call The Chink Think. It’s a downright preposterous belief that has no goddamn basis. It goes like this: All Chinese Men in this considerably colossal cosmos look the same. Likewise, All Chinese Women look indistinguishably identical!

Can there be a more ludicrously ignoramus view? I mean, it’s like saying baseball and cricket are one and the same just because they involve a bat and a ball!

Such imbecilic constructs have been wafting around for centuries in the botanic world. Luckily along came Carl Linnaeus in the 1750s, and he put an end to this poppycock by introducing the concept of identifying, classifying, arranging and naming life forms. In one revolutionary swoop, he hit upon the idea of having binomial nomenclature (names with two words) for every blooming thing in this universe.

Thanks to his back-breaking work, today, we know that there are 10,000 species of grasses, 7000 varieties of apples, 200 types of roses and so on. We even know their Latin names. For example Aalu is Solanum Tuberosum, Gongura is Hibiscus Sabdarifa, Mulai Keerai is Amaranthus Spinosus and Jackfruit is Artocarpus Heterophyllus.

Carl’s fetish for naming flora gave birth to Botany. This in turn, set in motion a movement that has helped us identify nearly 10% of all creepy-crawlies in the world.

But Taxonomists are of the view that we’ve not even scratched the surface. There’s a hell a lot of nomenclaturing that needs to be done. If ‘We the People’ leave the job to do these boring white coats, we’ll end up making progress at the lethargic pace of an intoxicated slug.

In networked times like these, what we need is collective effort. The Guardian, licked this issue, by launching the ‘Name a Species’ contest. The results for 2011 are just out. One of the winners is a 12-year old girl, who’s just christened a lurid orange fungus as ‘Hotlips’. The new name has drawn a lot of attention to the otherwise overlooked species. Time we transplanted the contest to India?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bongs Want A New Name

My name starts with ‘A’. And I consider myself accursed. I am sure, everyone on the ‘A-List’ will wholeheartedly agree with me. We have reasons for our revulsion.

For starters, A-people can rarely bunk classes as our faces are as familiar as chalk to our professors during a roll call. Then there’s the problem of seating during exams. Thanks to the sheer misfortune of being alphabetically ahead of our mates, we are assigned tables right in front of the eagle-eyed, pokey-nosed invigilator. What that means is there is zero scope for copying. That explains why most A-club members are never A-graders in education, doesn’t it?

Now see my rant in the context of a piece of news that would have surely caught your roving eye. I am talking about West Bengal’s decision to opt for a name change. Their big gripe: During administrative meetings, their turn comes last as West Bengal starts with the letter ‘W’. Such a schoolboyish explanation proffered for a ponderous issue like renaming of a key State of India!

I can understand if the logic had been, “Look, West Bengal sucks because it gives the impression of being a counterpoint to East Bengal which has become Bangladesh.” Alas, all we got was this W-is-bad claptrap! Anyways, let’s search for possible alternatives as Mamta is on the verge of giving WB, a golden handshake.

Sondesh is the first name that strikes my lightning-starved head. It feels like that legendary milk sweet and is a derivation from Sonar (Bengali for golden) and Desh (country). A safer option could be Banga (what comes after Dravida and Utkala in our national anthem). But then it bears too much of a resemblance to Bangladesh. On second thoughts, perhaps just Bengal might actually work better than Banga.

If levity is required, there are plenty of choices: Hilsaland will whet the appetite of the fish-gorging vegetarians in Kolkata. Gangulistan will be a hit with everyone except SRK. And Netaji lovers will salute Bose-nia. But if the idea is to be on top of the Letter Ladder, then Amar Rashtra (Our Country) should earn a khoob bhalo!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unknown inventors of known names.

In 1968, Andy Warhol is said to have famously tweeted that, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. As I grew up waiting for my moment in the sun, I was shocked to read somewhere that the Department of Celebrityhood had pruned this figure to 15 seconds.

Just when I started auditioning for my share of the limelight, I discovered that stardom was now being rationed like Kalakand in Kalahandi. Yup, it was down to 3 goddamn seconds! By the time I make the Page 3 grade, I am sure even those fleeting temporal strands, would have gone with the wind.

BOTTOMLINE: If you’re ordinary like me, you have no chance of hitting the headlines. Unless of course, you get a big fat butt-implant like Kim Kardashian or dress up like Lady Gaga.

Since we’re incapable of being outrageous, what’s the way out for us Perpetually Anonymous Folks (PAFs)? The answer my friend, lies in kick starting a ‘You-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours’ movement. Basically it involves making rank strangers famous and hoping that they return the compliment in kind.

Like my plan? Then let’s set the ball rolling by spreading the word about 3 ordinary people who deserve to escape anonymity. Kim Peterson is my Choice No.1. Nobody knows about this bloke. Or the fact that, he’s the guy who gave Accenture (derived from ‘Accent on the future’) its name.

Next up, is Milton Sirotta. As a 9-year old, he gave his mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, a newly coined term to describe the largest known number in 1938. Milton called it Googol - which gave us Google! Mr. Sirotta is not the only unfortunate soul to have missed his date with glory.

Joan Coles is another example. When her boss Allen Lane was looking for a ‘dignified, yet flippant’ name for his publishing house, his secretary Ms. Coles mumbled, ‘Penguin’. Everybody knows Penguin today. Some may know even Allen Lane. But what about Joan Coles? Does she deserve her obscurity? If you think she deserves more, go make her popular. Who knows, your good karma, will earn you your three seconds of fame!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthing a New Improved Al-Qaeda

The Devil once had a diabolic idea: what if SATAN were to change his name to GOD, wear a virgin white robe, grow angelic wings, sport a saccharine smile, swear by the truth, grant wishes to the needy, publish a ‘Yes We Can’ manifesto, and deliver eloquent speeches…would he sweep the polls and rule the world?

After being bewitched by the thought, the King of Darkness junked the revolutionary re-branding exercise as it was fraught with the risks of copyright infringement and intellectual property violation. The last thing that the Devil wanted was to be hauled up by GOD for being a cheap knockoff!

Looks like Osama Bin Laden faced a similar dilemma in the fag end of his life. The only difference though was he badly wanted a name change for Al-Qaeda and not himself. Osama wanted to give Al-Qaeda a quiet makeover not because it had become famously infamous but because it didn’t sound sufficiently religious or jihadi.

That’s why he grappled with clunky alternatives such as Jama'at I'Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida (Restoration of the Caliphate Group) and Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad (Monotheism & Jihad Group). Osama’s search for more meaningful options has spawned a whole new sub-genre of black humour tinged names that may be abhorred by the brand managers of the banned organization.

Readers of the Danger Room defense blog have been the first off the block to spew vitriol. Their suggestions vary from the machine-like Jihad-o-Matic, the movie-like League of Extraordinary Beards, the spoofy People for Extreme Terrorist Adventures (PETA), to the downright blasphemous Kandahar Ardent Brotherhood of Orthodox Muslims (KABOOM)!

Perhaps Al-Qaeda needs a more acceptable moniker to be deemed acceptable. In keeping with this brief, we have explored a few other ways of repositioning the terror movement. Here are the ones that made the cut: Slam Walequm may offer a civil yet violent nomenclature for jihadis to greet opposers of their ideology; Osamaritans can help appropriate the halo of do-gooders spreading the legacy of Bin Laden; and Bush Ambushers will present Al-Qaeda as a counterpoint for American fascism. Whatever the new name, it remains to be seen if Ayman Al-Zawahiri bites the bullet.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Watch That Speaks Esperanto

Tick tock. Tick tock. Time’s running out for more than half of the world’s 7000 languages. Doomsdayers estimate that at least one of these dialects will go extinct every week. Experts attribute this phenomenon to the slow death of the indigenous tribes. The language Amurtag, for example, is said to have just 1 speaker now. And if an alien abducts this chap, our planet will be down to 6999 bhashas in a jiffy!

So who’s responsible for this linguistic holocaust? It’s not a Hitler by the name English. It’s not even globalisation. It’s bummers like us who have to be hauled up for The Case of the Vanishing Vernacular. If you want proof for your guilt, I shall stack them up one by one.

Did you know that the English language has over 500,000 words under its able command? The average bloke on the street uses less than 5000 words everyday! That’s a usage rate of just one percent.

Apply this 1% rule to Hindi, Tamil or Kannada and you’ll realise we waste away 99% of the words in the dictionary. What that means is we have no one else to blame for the silent necrosis of our sacred tongues.

Which is why, any movement to promote usage of new words or languages, should be actively lauded. One group of linguaphiles who’ve been at the forefront in fighting the ‘War against Poverty in Vocabulary’ are the unsung Brand Namers.

Thanks to them, the Average Joe knows exotic words like Ubuntu (Afrikaans for ‘humanity’), Hitachi (Japanese for ‘sunrise’), Samsung (Korean for ‘three stars’), Alta Vista (Spanish for ‘high view’) and Volvo (Latin for ‘I roll’).

Achilles Ditesheim, a Swiss Entrepreneur, deserves full credit for adding a dash of Esperanto to our lives. His move of choosing Movado (meaning ‘always in motion’) as the moniker for his luxury watch, paved the way for a bouquet of mellifluous Esperantist names from that company, including Amorosa, Eliro, Juro, Kara, Mezo, Saffiro and Vizio. Inspired by the acoustics of this universal language, a famed soft drink major christened its orange fizzy as Mirinda (means ‘wonderful’). They’ve never looked back ever since.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

11 Indians on Planet Mercury

Name perpetuation is the family dhandha of scores of dynasties in India. The Gandhis are the greatest exponents of this craft in the modern times. They’ve quietly gone about naming airports, bridges, flyovers, gardens, technological parks, stadiums, universities, institutes, tournaments, awards, blocks, areas, roads, streets, nooks, crannies, slums - and believe it or not - even zoos, after Rajiv G and Indira G!

If the branding rights of these public places were to be licensed to companies, it would easily fetch a hundred thousand crores. To think that the Gandhi family has deftly managed to foist their name, without paying a rupee to the Government, speaks volumes about the amazing lack of public discourse in our country.

Despite muscling their way into every Indian city, the Gandhis, have been abysmally unsuccessful in plastering their surname on any celestial object in the sky. Have you ever wondered why you don’t ever find an Indira Gandhi Galaxy or a Rajiv Gandhi Comet on a cosmic map?

The reason is simple: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as a policy never asks Governments for their suggestions in naming Outer Space entities. The choice is always made by astronomers, committee members of IAU and the discoverer. Sometimes public opinion is sought. Usually, the nomenclature follows pre-drafted conventions.

For example, all the 88 Constellations have Latin names. The year of discovery comes into play in naming Supernovae. Catalog numbers are used for identifying galaxies. While Moons of Jupiter are named after lovers of Zeus! IAU is a bit more liberal with real people names when it comes to christening craters in planets like Mercury.

To give you an idea, the 5 largest craters in Mercury are Rembrandt, Beethoven, Tolstoy, Raphael & Shakespeare. The mid-sized ones sport names like Hemingway, Gibran, Michelangelo, Matisse, Schubert, Vivaldi, Haydn and Rodin. You’d be delighted to know that 11 small Mercurian craters have been dedicated to Indians. They include Valmiki, Vyasa, Asvagosha, Kalidasa, Andaal, Tyagaraja, Tansen, Surdas, Ustaad Mansur, Tagore, and Amrita Sher-Gil. The point to note is - No Gandhi made the cut. Is there an extra terrestrial message there for Rahul G?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

At Home With Two Identities

There are supposedly 233 million South Indians living in our mind boggling nation. As a qualified Armchair Theorist from the Indian Institute of Mumbo Jumbo (not to be confused with IIPM), I dare to wager that this piece of statistic is utter bunkum.

Because every Quickgun Murugan in Dosaland knows that every CSK, RCB and KTK supporter is born as TWO people and NOT one. So logically the population of South India should be doubled to 466 million!

Before you snigger at my mathematical jiggery-pokery, just look within you. Ask yourself one profound question: Are you one person or two people cohabiting one body? If you’re even half as honest as the minister-who-stole-a-telephone-exchange, you’ll wholeheartedly agree with me that there is a Jekyll and Haider inside all of us.

Let’s delve deeper with an example. Baby X is born in Chennai. Parents bestow him with two names – a home name and an official name. The home name in all likelihood will be a commonplace 2 or 3-syllable mythological like Krishna that can be conveniently zipped into a pet name like Kicchu. The official name will be a serious-sounding, burdensome legacy the baby has to bear all his life.

The length of the official name is usually proportional to the sadistic streak of the dad in question. If your hapless father was saddled with a Chakravarthi Melpakkam Thathachari in his childhood, chances are he will christen you as Desikacharya Melpakkam Kalyana Sundaram. But then, if he were a nice bloke, it would just be DMK Sundaram.

So to summarise, Baby X will have two identities – Krishna to his folks and DMK Sundaram to his friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Krishna allows the scope for a playful, outgoing, chaotic, creative guy to bloom. While DMK Sundaram lets the same man be - an organised, smart, nerdy, and unpleasant control-freak.

Two polar opposites residing in one normal person. Almost like the left brain and the right brain operating in perfect synchrony inside the cranium. That’s the beautiful by-product of the South Indian nomenclature. And may be that’s why we are twice as productive as the Santas and Bantas in the cow belt!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The One-Word Poem

Why did Einstein strive to explain the universe with one equation? Why did the ancients distil their wisdom into one book? Why do doctors crave for that one cure for all ills? The answer lies in one word: Minimalism.

Minimalism is all about creating the highest impact with the lowest levels of effort. Visualize it as the Spartan School of Artistry. To give you an example, Laxman is the walking-talking Brand Ambassador for Minimalism in the killing fields of cricket. He always prefers to deal in sublime boundaries than waste precious sweat over pedestrian singles, doesn’t he?

The fluidity, flow and effortless elegance of Laxman, is what one gets to experience with Evokonyms. Extreme minimalists by nature, Evokonyms are evocative names with the uncanny ability to suffuse the senses with the beguiling beauty of a one-word poem.

Before you go fhat-the-wuck, let me define a one-word poem for you. It’s like a bodiless soul wrapped with layers of invisible meaning, waiting to spring to life in the formless world of your imagination.

Evokonyms have this magical quality. They pierce the doors of perception, seep into your consciousness, float in the Eddies in the thought stream, and influence your thinking like the Inception movie drug.

Obama is a zen-like evokonym. Nobody knows what it means. But everyone is entranced when they hear the sound. Even if Obama hadn’t been an adjunct to Barack, I am of the view, that it would have been as magnetic. Such is the pull of this 3-syllable Kenyan word.

Google is what I call, the coined evokonym. A tweaked version of the mathematical term Googol - which means 10 to the power of 100 - Google feels as sharp-eyed as an eagle and as goofy as a lovable geek.

Jesus is a transformative evokonym that is equally fascinating. Spelled the English way, it has a very lively and adorable sound. Pronounced the Aramaic way, it almost resembles Eesha, the Sanskrit word for Lord!

Sculpting an evokonym is never too easy. But spotting one is. All you have to do is to pick the name you like for no rhyme or reason!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meet the Kung Fu Pandians

Long before the advent of Kung Fu Panda, there must have been a Kung Fu Pandian crouching somewhere, wielding a megaphone, in a dingy set in the dishoom dishoom world of Kollywood, training hulk-like haraam zaadeys to take a million blows from an apology of a hero.

Truth be told, life ain’t easy for the Kung Fu Pandians. Being stunt masters, they have to grapple with ideas, engineer new ways of venting violence, thrash them out with the director, stage the fights and morph tomato squirt fests into believable blood baths. And for all that inventiveness, in the end, some pot-bellied Captain or a balding Superstar will walk away with all the glories!

Thankfully, these under appreciated action men have One Big Compensation that no other profession offers - they get to keep the coolest names! For example, if your dad gave you a yucky sucky name like Sambandam, and you have this god given gift of teaching a podgy star to pummel a hundred rampaging rowdies, then you’re eligible to call yourself, Pummel Sambandam. Ain’t that awesomeness?

The fun of legitimately strutting around with a sobriquet as your name is something else. Imagine introducing your humble self as, “Hi, I am Super Subbarayan. You can call me Super!” Or “Hey babe, I am Fire Kartik. Wanna play with Fire?” Even this pick up line isn’t that corny, “Hello, I am Wham Bam Balaji. Yes, that’s right. Wham Bam. Thank you ma’m!”

The tradition of stunt gurus appropriating macho sounding names began in the early eighties with the release of a rash of martial art movies in Chennai. Anyone who could mimic these jaw-dropping stunts bagged the bragging rights for that genre. That’s how ‘Karate’ Mani and Judo Rathnam were born.

Then came Rambo Rajkumar and Rocky Rajesh inspired by the daredevilry of their guru Sylvester Stallone. The nineties saw the emergence of a whole new pack of action kings who didn’t want to sound very wannabe. So out went, naming the source. In came, alliterative names. Kanal Kannan and Anal Arasu exemplify this curious trend. For all their clever name play, one still feels the Vedi Vedantams of today, still don’t match the authenticity or the roar of a Jaguar Thangam.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dead but still living

Mortality is a myth. Nothing EVER dies. Osama may be gone but is he really dead? Hell, no! He’s just been sent on a forced sabbatical to purgatory. In all probability, he’ll visit us soon as Hurricane Harami. You think I am kidding, don’t you?

The fact of life is everything keeps coming back. The colleague whom you gladly bade farewell to - will return to haunt you as a client! Well, such is the cycle of karma. Whether you like it or not, it does a wicked about-turn, and lands up at your doorstep, unannounced, like that pesky little encyclopaedia salesman!

The positive way of looking at it is, if the theory of Grand Recycling of Karma were true, there must be some hope for the good guys who just vanished from this face of earth without getting their due. Since brands have a soul too, the karmic reincarnation possibilities could throw up some fascinating comeback scenarios for dead brands that still live in our collective consciousness. Especially brands like Solidaire (French word for ‘the bond’).

An eighties synonym for hi-tech televisions in South India, Solidaire can easily pass off today as a mobile phone maker. I am almost certain that if some marketer puts his muscle behind this brand, it has the legs to give Micromax a run for its money.

Illustrated Weekly is another brand, worthy of a rebirth. With its lovely mix of humour, mind sport, scoops, comics and ballsiness, this magazine is any day more readable than the opinionated Outlook and the insipid India Today. Methinks it will be a runaway hit if it hits the newsstands as a tabloid.

Forhans (named after the dentist Richard Forhan) was a brand buried many times over in India. With its super strong equity in oral care, I reckon, it has the DNA to self-mutate into a chewing gum that cleans your teeth!

Likewise TVS 50, the two-wheeler that carried our nation’s ambitions for a decade, can be reinvented as a Segway type bike for the elderly (over 50). All these ideas are way better than flogging the same old dead horses. What say you?

Friday, May 13, 2011

When Earth Becomes Thrae

If the theory of Parallel Universes were true, there must be at least one universe where things happen in reverse. In that fantasy world, Saurav Ganguly would have fired Shah Rukh Khan from KKR; Osama would have hunted down Obama’s hideout; and Manmohan would have, by now, become Sonia’s remote!

I suspect Thrae (Earth read backwards) would be the name of that planet. And every being there would be known by their Ananym (a word derived by reversing the spelling of another word). For example, Men won’t be Men. Nem will be more like it. Chances are they must be stay-at-home dads focusing on rearing Nerdlihc for a polyandrous species called Nemow who prefer to wear the pants at home.

The currency of Thrae would most probably be Hsac. Unlike its terrestrial cousin Cash, Hsac must be a least-sought-after liability with the bizarre ability to turn anyone poorer. So no Fortune 500 lists. Only Misfortune 500.

In all likelihood, our very own India in Thrae would be a muscle-flexing, war-mongering subcontinent courted by aman-ki-asha loving nations like Natsikap and Anihc. The United Nations, in such a paradigm, would be dominated by the majestic leadership of Uruan, a teeny-weeny Polynesian island best remembered for exporting bird poop to a world, craving for more shit.

To sum up, Thrae would be the very antithesis of Earth. Out there, Paris Hilton would be the Mother Teresa. Pramod Muthalik would be Saint Valentine. Anna Hazare, a Nigerian Scamster. And Arundhati Roy, a rightist wrongster.

From a cinematic point of view, Thrae offers amazing grist for an Inceptionesque script. But what excites me more, is the naming possibilities offered by its core idea of reverse thinking. We can create a terragazillion names with this new technique.

For parents tired of the same old baby names spewed by Google and Maneka Gandhi, thinking backwards can be a massive eye opener. For example, the masculine Arjuna can yield you the feminine Anujra. The girly Kareena can result in a boyish Aneerak. Simple Ishwar can morph into an exotic Rawshi. All it takes is a little reverse engineering!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Secret World of Passwords

If your name is the public face of your identity, your password is the veiled visage of your Freudian subconscious. A lot can be deciphered by studying that mystery word clothed in asterisks.

If I had the powers, I would pinch some small change from the 40,000-crore Sai Baba Trust and institute an Indian Institute of Cryptobabble. The mandate of this madcap research foundation would be to map out psychological profiles based on password analysis. As I see it, at least 5 personality types can be derived after dissecting username keys.

Type 1 is what I call the Baap-Beta Breed. Such folks invariably name their password after their parents, spouses, kids, or pets. My gut feel is nearly 50% of our universe will be populated by these family-loving, Karan Johar movie-watching, closet conservatives. A classic example of this ilk is Karunanidhi. I wonder if his password starts with R or D.

Type 2 is the Unrequited Lover. This beer-glugging, dard-bharey-geet-listening, poetry-penning romantic has the habit of immortalising names of old flames in passwords. Some one like Salman might fall into this category. I suspect, one of his khuljasimsims, would surely be BewafaAsh or ZaalimKatrina.

Type 3 is the Lewd Dude. High on libido, low on fidelity, these hot rods have multiple usernames and usually, a smorgasbord of sexually-loaded passwords to choose from. From all media accounts, Shane Warne shows all signs of being one. I won’t be surprised if his current password is FizzHurley.

Type 4 is the I-like-me generation. Predictably immodest, these bloat heads see no fault in embedding their royal names in the password. You Tube legend T Rajendhar is the kind of bloke we are talking about, here. Knowing him, he’s capable of selecting RajendharMadhiriStarEnrumVaraadhuSaar - even if it has 37 characters!

Type 5 is the ubiquitous Destiny Believer. Superstitious, entrepreneurial, ambitious and totally bhagwan bharosey, this person prefers using the date of birth as the alpha numeric code. Yeddy2721943 is the genre I am talking about.

Now that you’ve hacked into my little theory of passwords, it’s time you logged into your mind and answered one small question: So what type are you?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Names unusual by berth

They say everyone has a distinctive aroma. Only dogs and Rajnikant have the ability to sniff the odour from a mile. If that freshly-whipped-up myth were true, what would be the fragrance of the Indian Railways? Let's see...103 Indians out of 100 would label the effluvium as Human Piss. Such are the sweet memories evoked by the largest employer in the country.

Stink they might, but the trains that snake across the rusty, rickety and tired tracks of our nation, do warm the cockles of our collective heart. To most of us, the Grand Trunk Express, Howrah Mail, Ganga Kaveri Express or any other long distance chugger is like a long-lost pal who triggers waves of nostalgia, by the minute.

And like all familiar friends, the trains seem to sport unremarkable names that one remembers because of frequent exposure. Or that’s what I thought till I came across the wonderful etymological compilation of train names by Dr. Jitendra Mulki.

His painstaking research has unearthed one little fact – the Railway Babus are not as boring as we think. They do have an under-appreciated, evolved sense of naming. Within the constraints of reporting to nosey netas, the top dogs have managed to push through several names that look beyond destinations, dynasties, rivers, hills and mountains. Here are a few samplers:

The Kaifiat Express is a train that plies between Azamgarh and Delhi. Not many are aware that it’s a surrogate for Kaifi Azmi, the poet-dad of actress Shabana Azmi. Likewise Vibhuti Express is a nod to the Bengali novelist Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay - the man who penned Pather Panchali. Legendary Hindi raconteur Premchand has been immortalized with Godaan Express. Those who know their trivia will know that Godaan was his last novel. Gitanjali, Kamayani, Thirukkural and Agniveena are other Expresses christened after epic novels and poems.

Another intriguing name is the Shifung Passenger. Named after the Bodo bamboo flute with seven holes it happens to the only train labeled after a musical instrument. Incidentally, Amritha Express (after Mata Amritananda Mayi) is the only tribute from Railways to a living person. I am sure many more will join the bandwagon soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rich Homes. Richer Names.

The Wealthy Man’s Dictionary is very unlike yours or mine. The 300,000 odd words listed there are invariably synonyms and antonyms for one of 4 things – Pleasure, Prestige, Publicity, or Profit.

Even these 4Ps have a very different connotation in Mr. Richie Rich’s world. Pleasure, for example, would mean commissioning a photo shoot for a swimsuit calendar. Prestige would mean outbidding a peer for an unworthy cricket star in an IPL auction. Publicity would mean schmoozing with an arm candy half-your-age in a Page 3 do. And Profit would mean building an expensive home with an exotic name.

Antilia is a shimmering case study for the billionaire’s Fourth P. When Mukesh Ambani unveiled his now famous 173-meter, 27-floor home on Altamont Road in South Mumbai, replete with an ice room, yoga studio, hanging gardens, 9 elevators and 3 helipads, it was pegged as a 70 million dollar home. The location (10th most expensive street in the world), the name (Antilia is said to be a mythical island in the Atlantic), and the buzz associated with it, have today, upped the market value to a few billion dollars!

Now this value appreciation wouldn’t have been possible if the building had been named Ambani House or Mukesh Nivas. The conscious choice of an almost international-brand like appellation shows the faith Dhirubhai’s beta has in the aura-enhancing-power of a mystical name.

Jennifer Aniston had similar calculations, when she tagged her 10,000 sq ft Beverly Hills home as Ohana (Hawaiian word for ‘extended family’). Having bought the house at $13.5 million in 2006, the former Friends star is now selling Ohana at 42 million! If the home had been another nameless manor, I doubt if she could have charged this premium.

The tendency to view homes as luxury brands has triggered a veritable naming contest among celebrities. Oprah’s called her estate, The Promised Land. Mel Gibson has named his Malibu mansion, Lavender Hill Farm. Spielberg’s picked Quelle Farm. While Bill Gates has opted for The Ecology House. The Bottom Line: The next time you build a bungalow, remember to home in on a snazzy label.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Shortest Movie Titles

Mindless surfing is a good thing. I recommend it to anyone who leads a pointless life. It can be particularly therapeutic to the bored mind that has ventured on a journey of sweet nothings down the river of drift on a yacht named Whatever-floats-your-boat.

On one such futile voyage, I discovered the longest horror movie title. It reads: Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D! The very sight of this grotesque reticulated python kind of longness made me lust for stark-naked short movie titles shorn of all imaginable fluff.

That’s when I thought of Ram Gopal Varma’s D. Presumably the abbreviation for Dawood, D was hyped as the prequel to Company. Considering that Company itself was an allusion for D-Company, the title D was indeed a masterstroke. When I heard of it first, RGV grew taller in my eyes by a whole 70 mm. I mean, here was a man who had coined the the Sabse Chota Hindi Movie Title, and the media didn’t even acknowledge this fact!

Exactly one year after D, came E, the crispest ever Tamil Movie Title minted this side of Cooum. The very intriguing E is not a story about the housefly. It’s a character-study of a chap named Easwaran (played by Jeeva) embroiled in a bio-warfare saga. If the director SP Jananathan had named the film Easwaran, I reckon E wouldn’t have fared as well.

Fritz Lang deserves all the credit for pioneering the shorter-than-the-shortest-movie-title trend way back in 1931, when he unveiled the first ever serial killer movie M (short for Murderer). Costa Gravas made this even more popular by choosing the title Z (pronounced zee) for his French Political Thriller in 1969. The one-letter gamble worked like a blockbuster. And ever since, we’ve had a rash of films like Q (horror flick), H (a South Korean thriller) and O (aka Othello). To cut a long story short, sometimes it might just help to take the shortest cut.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moron & the Art of Airport Naming

Politicians of the world are not exactly airheads. They are smarter than you think. Decades of defeats and victories have taught them one priceless lesson – public memory is woefully short. Almost Ghajini like. After a point, no one remembers who looted the country, who screwed around with the economy, who botched up wars, who looked the other way during genocides and who sold our national secrets for a song. All one cares to recollect is what is written on the national mementoes.

That psychological insight is the reason why our netas name roads, parks, stations, dams, localities and airports after themselves. Their logic is simple. The more Indira Gandhis, Mao Zedongs and JFKs you see, the more you think of them as flawless legends.

Thankfully some nations think differently. The United Kingdom is a classic example. None of their 40 odd airports are named after has-been leaders or long-gone kings. Even Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, and Princess Diana haven’t been accorded this privilege. Instead, rock stars, football legends and honorable thieves have been immortalized by English terminals. Cases in point: the Liverpool John Lennon Airport , George Best Belfast City Airport and Robin Hood Doncaster Airport!

Italy is another exception. Key cities here, celebrate historical figures rather than just the big fat politician. Genoa Airport for example, is named after Christopher Columbus. Rome has embraced Leonardo Da Vinci. Federico Fellini is Rimini’s pick. Pisa has opted for Galileo Galelei. And Marco Polo stares at you when you land in Venice.

If Italy has a fixation for painters and scientists, America loves its musicians, actors and cartoonists. Louis Armstrong, John Wayne, Bob Hope and Charles Schulz have befitting namesake airports in New Orleans, Orange County, Burbank and Sonoma County. Can you believe that? I mean, imagine having an RK Laxman Airport in Mysore!

Not all countries bore you to death with done to death celebrity names. Some nations have unwittingly selected bizarre names that can bring a much needed smile to your jet-lag weary face. Try Tanzania’s Mafia, Mongolia’s Moron, Guyana’s Ogle, Canada’s Deception and Australia’s Useless Loop Airport. Ain’t it all, flight-hearted?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where names are lager than life

Pub naming in India has become, almost like Tendulkar - terrifically effective yet terribly predictable. No, I didn’t mean that as a compliment. With all due respect to the living legend, I think the ‘master blaster’ now just plays template and not tempting cricket. Gone are the shots that kept a nation glued. It’s all about carefully calibrated nudges, cleverly stroked drives and get-that-next-century glides. Instead of the ingenious, we’re being trotted out shots that reek of incremental genius.

That’s exactly my problem with our pubs. We started with a high called Purple Haze. Today we are forced to make do with the straight-forwards (Distil, Diesel & Liquid) and the lazily-themed ones (Bikes & Barrels, NASA & Sherlock Holmes). If you think I am being too uncharitable, wait till you get a whiff of some really quirky names opted for by some really kooky English pubs.

For every blue blooded Queen’s Head, you have the down right rustic, The Boondocks. For every oxymoronically funny Honest Lawyer or Jolly Taxpayer you have the smile inducing puns, Nobody Inn and Elbo Room.

The very deadpan Office gives you a perfect alibi when you get that call from home – ‘Where are you? I am still at the Office!’ Even better is, the cutely curt He’s not here. Imagine how handy this might be if you had a gay partner!

Spread Eagle may be offensive but it draws you right in. Cockwell Inn may not appeal to your sister, but it has enough shock value for a gaggle of giggly girls. Frog and Firkin, sounds firkin good when you say it aloud. Filthy McNasty’s makes you wonder if some old faggot will call you names while serving Old Fart wine and Piss beer.

Group Therapy and Rehab Lounge can offer dignified refuges for the alcoholics pretending to be alcoholics anonymous. The Oval can serve as a nice fig leaf for cricketers who wish to dabble in some furious spot fixing. And Library can act as a safe haven for college kids bunking college.

As you can see, pubs can look spirited even with sober names. So why not uncork a bold new bubbly?