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!