Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Maya of New States

There are three things one can never be sure of in life: the moment of birth, the moment of death and the number of states in India. The first two events can be forecast with some certainty using arcane powers of the occult but the third one is guaranteed to flummox even seasoned seers. Such is the unpredictability that shrouds the cartography of Indian polity.

During the independence era, we had 562 princely states and 17 provinces. That ace weaver Sardar Vallabhai Patel somehow managed to stitch together a tapestry of unity with the twin threads of nationalism and federalism. But then, our territorial gluttony kicked in sometime in 1956 and thus was born our never-ending appetite to divide and mutate into a mélange of linguistic units. The result: every decade we end up either demanding or creating new states citing some excuse or the other.

In the beginning, the demands seemed to make sense. But now, it feels as if no one really gives a fig about financial viability any more. It’s become one heck of a free-for- all. Almost like a wedding buffet. Everyone with an appetite has queued up for the goodies. That includes Queen Mayawati who’s brazenly proposed to carve up Uttar Pradesh into Ma, Ya, Wa & Ti (my code names for Awadh, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Paschim Pradesh) on an elephantine whim.

My fear is this politically inspired move might just inspire a million more groups to make a case for creation of edgy new principalities based on the flimsiest of ideologies. For example, what is going to be our justification for rejecting the creation of Tendulkar Pradesh? Or for that matter Bachchan Bhoomi, Rajni Nadu, Chiru Desam, and Salmankhanistan.

The way things are going, we as a nation, might soon end up with more states than the USA. The only way to arrest this farcical development is to announce certain basic parameters for state formation. What is required is an elucidation of minimum economy size, geographical area, natural resources and population to qualify for statehood. Otherwise every Pondy Bazaar will aspire to be a Pondicherry!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Iski Lee, Uski Lee & Sabki Lee

One of the greatest contributions of Shah Rukh Khan, to this joke-starved world, has been his extravagant 150-crore initiative to revive interest in that old campus art form called ‘Bruce Lee’ jokes. Couched as a science fiction superhero movie - SRK’s Ra.One - is well and truly an elaborate 154-minute surrogate commercial to peddle the infectious cheesiness of the Iski Lee, Uski Lee & Sabki Lee sub genre of Made-in-India puns.

For the dim-bulbs who still don’t know what I am alluding to, the Bruce Lee Joke (BLJ) is the rite of passage for any Groucho who wants to be a Marx. It’s the adolescent brand of DIY drollery that’s about creating a Chinese character by playing on the word LEE. To put it in a Tamil context, it’s about inventing the mother of all mokkais.

A BLJ is very much like a sneeze. It just happens effortlessly. And when it happens, at least one person in the room will be able to see the humour in the hatchoo. The beauty of it is, anyone can join the fun. The template BLJ is always about coming up with punny names by posing bizarre questions.

Questions like ‘If Bruce Lee were to reincarnate as a naive Indian woman, what would you call her?’ The answer to that would be Bholee Bhalee. That didn’t amuse you, eh? Okay, here’s one more. What would be the name of Bruce Lee’s married Indian sister? Sumanga Lee. His epileptic Tamil uncle? Kaka Va Lee. And his kanjoos brother? Miser Lee!

The trick is to play it like ping pong. First you serve a dolly such as ‘What is Bruce Lee’s favourite delivery? Goog Lee.’ The moment someone hears this, they’ll think, ‘Ah, I can do better!’ And an old PJ will tumble out. That’s a signal for you to try an original Chinese chop. You should reply: “What car does he drive? Bent Lee!” Before your opponent can collect himself, you must go for the kill with “His favourite Bollywood movie? Dellee Bellee!” Deed done, battle won, you must khiskofy via the patlee galee and shout: 'Teri Lay Lee’!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Prosaic Names of Poets

Parents are rarely prescient. They don’t possess that mystic ability of Paul the Octopus to foretell the future. So they end up giving us strange hand-me-down names that have no connection to who we are or what we’re gonna do when we grow up.

Brit couple Alice & John Lockwood Kipling fared no better in this name game. They fell in love in 1863 at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England. To immortalize their courtship, they named their love child - Rudyard Kipling - which literally means ‘Red Yard used for preserving Salmon’. Had they known that their imaginative boy would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, they would have certainly bestowed him with something more profound.

Kipling is not the only great bard with a misfit name. Many of his illustrious predecessors, peers and successors were subjected to similar doses of embarrassment by their doting dads and moms. Geoffrey Chaucer may sound sophisticated today. But back then, in the times of The Canterbury Tales, it had a very pedestrian etymology. Derived from ‘peaceful maker of leggings’, Chaucer represented anything but sublime.

Keats was worse. It connoted ‘herdsman or worker at the sheds’. Examining its meaning in isolation no one would even visualise him as the wordsmith who wrote ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’. Ditto with Lord Byron (Lord of cattle sheds), Percy Shelley (Hunter on the banks of a river), Sylvia Plath (Forrest maid) and Walt Whitman (Commander of White Men).

Some Indian poets have been a bit luckier. Kabir was blessed with the Persian word for ‘The Great’. Javed Akhtar was named after the ‘Eternal Star’. But people like Sahir Ludhianvi (Charmer from Ludhiana), Kannadasan (Devotee of Krishna) and Gulzar (Flower garden) weren’t as fortunate.

Sahir was the pseudonym adopted by Abdul Hayi (The Alive Servant). And every Bollywood buff knows that Gulzar was born as Sampooran Singh (100% Lion). The only poet who got a name he deserved was probably Gibran Kahlil Gibran. Khalil is Arabic for ‘friend’ and Gibran means ‘most able one’. The rhythmic tautology of Gibran just underscores his talent – how lyrical!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Four Rahuls & The Wall

The mind-numbingly predictable nature of our daily grind often throws up one disturbing question: Are we all just remixes of the same song? I mean, although our lives appear to march to different beats, our core theme seems to be resoundingly similar, right?

With this as the basic premise, let’s explore the destinies of five very different people connected by the umbilical cord of the same first name. Let’s put their personas under the microscope and see if we can identify the signature tune that binds them.

The given name I am gonna pick for our seriously trivial exercise is Rahul - which also happens to be SRK’s name in 7 blockbusters including the humongous popular Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

Now Rahul means ‘conqueror of all miseries’ in Sanskrit. So by definition all Rahuls should have a life-curve full of crests and troughs. Rahul Dravid’s career path is a living testimony to this fact.

In 1999 World Cup, Dravid was the Top Scorer. In 2007 however, he had the most awful run as the captain of the team that exited the world cup prematurely. In 2011, when everyone wrote him off, The Wall stood tall, and ended up scoring 69 runs from 79 balls in his final ODI match!

‘Against all odds’ seems to be the recurring number in any Rahul’s biography. Take Rahul Sharma, the leg spinner who battled facial paralysis and a dodgy vision to make it to the Indian Squad. Or Rahul Mahajan, the son of the slain leader Pramod Mahajan, who slumped to a personal low with the Cocaine Overdose episode and then bounced back as a Reality Show Star in Bigg Boss 2.

Rahul Bose’s story has seen as many twists and turns. He began with a bang with English August. Followed it up with a string of flops. And remerged as the superstar of art house cinema. Rahul Gandhi’s destiny has strangely witnessed a similar pattern of ups and downs. The thing to see is if the princeling lives up to his name and hits a crescendo soon.