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!