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.