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.