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?