Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Names of 2012

A name is a tattoo that gets etched in the brain. A forgettable name is like a temporary tattoo while a memorable name is a permanent tattoo that leaves a lasting impression.

The year 2012 threw up thousands of instantly vanishing brain tattoos, a few erasably average imprints, and some indelible ones that actually made a deep impact. I am gonna serve you the cream of the cream, culled out by yours truly.

Best Band Name: It was a toss up between the party punk peddling Ohio band ‘Hookers Made Out Of Cocaine’ and the Australian garage pop duo ‘Bleeding Knees Club’. ‘Hookers’ seems like a concoction designed to create shock value, while BKC does the job without really trying too hard. So my vote is for the Bleeders.

Best Named English Movie: Four films caught my eye. The Osama manhunt themed ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, Bruce Willis starrer ‘The Cold Light of Day’, romantic comedy ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’ and the time travel drama ‘Looper’. I picked none of these. Instead, I flipped for the bombastic appeal of ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’.

Best Bollywood Title: In a field populated with foul-mouthed college slangers like ‘Kismet Paisa Love Dhoka (KLPD)’, ‘Bumboo’ and ‘Fatso’, comedy drama ‘Ferrari Ki Sawaari’, Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Vicky Donor’ and Gauri Shinde’s ‘English Vinglish’ felt a lot more evolved. In the end, the prancing car won the race for its out-of-the-box titling.

Best South Indian Film Title: Rajamouli’s runaway hit starring the humble housefly had a clever name in ‘Eega’. But more fascinating were Balaji Mohan’s sophomorish ‘Kaadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi’, Prabhu Solomon’s refreshingly catchy ‘Kumki’ and the brilliantly named ‘Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom’. Packaging an amnesia tale by alluding to missing chapters in the middle was truly ingenious. So NKPK it is.

Best Book Title: Breathe easy folks. The mommy porn ’50 Shades of Grey’ is not my winner. That crown belongs to Ryan Holiday’s ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’, the confessions of a media manipulator!

Best Celebrity Baby Name: Ash’s ‘Aaradhya’ or Uma Thurman’s 7-word wonder ‘Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson’ was no match for Reese Witherspoon’s ‘Tennesssee’- a charming nod to the playwright Tennessee Williams!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Harvesters of The End.

The ‘Gangnam’ guy Psy, the feminist Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot, the Higgs-Boson particle and the Mars Rover Curiosity are among the oddballs in the reckoning for the iconic Time ‘Person of the Year’ title.

The chap leading the pack at the moment is the boyish North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Left to myself, I’d say, no one deserves the crown better than the Mayans. As they alone are responsible for making 2012, the most over hyped year after 1984.

The doomsday aura surrounding the 12/21/12 Mayan Prophecy is palpable all around. Everyone, everywhere, is either tweeting or texting about it. Advertisers, ever the milkmen, are on an overdrive milking every drop of publicity through some cheeky fear mongering.

Axe was the earliest to jump on to the apocalypse bandwagon. Sometime, last year, they launched the ‘AXE 2012 - Final Edition’ deodorant with the sensual power to attract bimbos hiding in even nuclear bunkers.

South Carolina based Latitude 32 credit union, was a bit more brazen. They announced the Mayan ‘End of the World’ auto loan special with the rider that the loan would be forgiven ONLY if the world crashes on December 21st!

Global Chain TGIF is classier. It’s urging customers to live it up on the fateful day by celebrating the ‘Last Friday’ at their key joints in America. On offer is free access to the dance floor to 21 year olds and the proceeds from the sale of Mayan Margaritas will be donated to charity.

If TGIF couched it with a little social spin, some others like Proof Drinks have no such pretensions. They are out in London organising fortnight long Gastronomic Events under the ‘Last Supper Club’ banner.

Meanwhile, History Channel is squeezing the last drop for TRPs by running programs that present as many doomsday scenarios as possible. Breweries have joined the Armageddon party by launching unique short-life drinks that are ‘brewed to not last’. Not to be left behind, Durex Condoms has put out a print campaign, exhorting men to ‘Go out with a bang’!

But the one that takes the cherry is Survivalist Singles, an online dating site for like-minded people who ‘don’t wish to the face the future alone’!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tamil Footprints in Armenia

The Armenian Church in Chennai was built in the year 1712. Contrary to what historians would like us to believe, the Church is not the only umbilical cord that connects Tamil Nadu to Armenia. The relationship is far more ancient. In fact, there is now linguistic evidence to back the claim that Tamil blood used to flow in the veins of Armenians around 140 BC.

Before I unveil a few exhibits to bolster my arguments, let’s see what the genes say. The Armenian DNA has 35% R1b and 8% R1a – two of the most typical genetic groups in South India. What that means is: we may share the same forefathers!

Let me muddle your mind further by bringing Yerevan into the equation. Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia, is said to have been named after King Yervand IV. Many early manuscripts pronounce Yerevan as Erevan, Iravan and Erivan. Now just utter the name aloud. Doesn’t Yerevan sound like the Tamil word Iraivan (meaning god)?

And where was the Yerevan kingdom located? In Urartu. The Ur in Urartu bears a striking resemblance to the Tamil Oor (meaning city). If that felt like a bit of a stretch, how about examining Lake Sevan?

Sevan, Urmia and Van are the three great lakes in Armenia. Most strangely so, Vanam in Tamil cues forest; Sev-vanam translates to red forest (may be the allusion is to Lake Sevan being the breeding ground for the red-crested duck); and Urumi means curled sword. Considering, Urmia lake derives its roots from Urmia, the warrior kingdom, that fits perfectly.

The coincidences get more predictable as we study Armenian surnames. Let’s try and interpret the Kardashian in Kim Kardashian. Karkal in our mozhi means ‘stones’ and dasan means ‘one who is dedicated to’, so Kardasan must be a stone craftsman. You’d be amazed to know that Kardashian means a ‘stone sculptor’ in Armenian!

The sense of déjà vu grows when you notice that a large chunk of Armenian surnames end with either –ian or –yan. Coming from a state that’s full of Vijayans, Narayans and Subramanians, we don’t need a better cultural connect, do we?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Above Average Party

After sifting through 40,000 emails, the usually astute Arvind Kejriwal picked the most pedestrian name for the party targeted at the man on the street.

Aam Aadmi Party or AAP should easily rank as the KLPD of the Year. On par with Sachin Tendulkar’s string of Maggi Noodle style performances against Mr. Cook’s boys.

Being a tacit supporter of the anti-graft movement, I was suitably aghast when I heard of the underwhelming name. AAP might be the respectful way of saying ‘You’ in Hindi but in Chennai, aapu only means one thing: letdown!

So why did Team Kejriwal choose a spectacularly ordinary Hindi label when they had infinitely better options? I suspect numerology might be the culprit. Aam Aadmi Party adds up to 6 in both Pythagorean and Chaldean numerology. Considering the party was launched on 26/11/2012 (which again summates to 6), there does seem some mysterious connect.

We can solve the puzzle by looking at India’s birth number which happens to be 15th or 1+5 = 6. Kejriwal’s twin heroes Bhagat Singh and Anna Hazare share the same name number.

“What’s the big deal with 6?” you may ask. Well, it’s the birth number of powerful people like AR Rahman, J Jayalalithaa, Tendulkar, Mayawati, and Arundhati Roy. Considering 2013 is going to be the electoral debut year for AAP, six will come into play again.

Given all this mumbo jumbo, did Arvind the IIT-ian make the right gamble? The mind may say YES but the heart still feels cheated. AAP is indeed a massive compromise. It panders to the lowest common denominator and denies the movement, the branding edge it deserved. Worse still, it’s a clear Intellectual Property violation of the ‘Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath’ slogan.

Personally, I would have preferred the nationalistic ‘Jai Hind’ or the ideologically correct ‘Swaraj Party’. But then, these names will position Kejriwal as a right winger when he desperately wants to be seen as a left liberal.

Now that we can’t do much about it, let’s just hope that the voter does a Nazia Hassan and sings: AAP jaisa koi mere zindagi mein aaye toh baath ban jaaye!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where Gorky is Car Key.

Language Nazis may not like what I say. But the truth is: Tamil, the semmozhi we all love, is akin to an ancient beauty, sorely in need of a little cosmetic makeover to become a more perfect global tongue.

The recent Kollywood thriller ‘Pizza’ captures the foibles of Tamil best.  When transcribed in the local alphabet, ‘Pizza’ reads as ‘Peecha’. If you know what the peecha in peechangai means, you’ll swear that the movie is all about crap!

The unintentional distortion of meaning is a direct result of a minor design flaw in Tamil. The language doesn’t have the ‘Z’ sound. And this can mean hell to marketers as Maruti Zen will always be decoded by the son of the soil as the very Bengali Maruti Sen. And Zodiac will become Jodiac, Zara will be read as Sara and Zippo as Jippo.

Also, the absence of characters or accent lines to cue ‘ba’, ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘da’ has led to grotesque mispronunciations that can be quite embarrassing and at times, even funny. If one had been schooled only in Tamil medium, one can’t be blamed if Beethoven is mouthed as Peethoven (meaning ‘braggart’), Gabriella Sabatini as Cupriyella Sapaadini (name with gluttonous phonetics) and Gucci turns Kutchi (stick).

A walking talking advertisement for the quirks of Tamil is renowned poet Vairamuthu’s son Madhan Karky.  His now famous second name is said to have been inspired by Russian author Maxim Gorky. To me, Karky feels more like a phonetic sibling of ‘Car Key’ rather than Gorky.

Victoria’s Secret, the American lingerie brand, offers a classic test case to pinpoint the many improvement areas that exist in our lingo. Secret can be written as Seekret in Tamil. Since ‘kret’ can also be interpreted as ‘gret’ in our bhashai, Victoria’s Secret may appear as Victoria’s Cigarette to a passerby and he might take the brand’s ‘smoking hot’ claim quite literally and end up asking for King Size instead of cup size!

Surely, the immaculate language with so many proficient linguists can do better and invent new some new glyphs to ensure that the Mageshs, Bathmas and the Parkavis are subjected to no more ridicule.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Zachariah and Shekar Aiya.

Names are footprints in the sands of time. Pursuing the trail of footprints and tracking them back to the original source can be as exasperating as identifying a virgin in a Sheikh’s harem.

Nevertheless, it’s an adventure well worth the effort, as success could mean linguistic discoveries that can change the way we view history.

The thrill of uncovering new cross connections led me to examine ancient Jewish names. I pored over scores of Judaic names and their biblical etymologies. The more I stared at the names, the more I got this feeling that there is a distinctive Indian flavour to most of the monikers.

Noah, the builder of the ark, sounds like the Sanskrit word for ‘ship’ (Naava). The third month of the Hebrew calendar is called Sivan. Incidentally the Shivratri is celebrated in March, the third month in our nation.

Abraham derived from Avram meaning ‘father of the multitude’ and Ab-Brahma (father of mankind in Hindu scriptures) seem homophonic. Moses or the Hebrew Moshe looks like a long lost cousin of the Malayalam word ‘Mashe’ (master). The brother of Moses is Aaron (Hebrew for ‘mountain’). Doesn’t it feel similar to Aaran in Aaranya (hilly forest)? Zipporah, the wife of Moses, also has a Sanskrit type name and it may have flowed from Shipra (river).

The most interesting parallel however is the striking usage of the ‘iah’ suffix. Cueing ‘the lord’, it serves the same purpose as the Tamil word ‘aiya’. Given this background, may be we should start viewing the ‘-iah’ set of names from a Tamil prism. In which case, Jeremiah (‘the exalted one’) will be Yerum Aiya (‘the one who rises’). Isaiah (‘salvation of the lord’) will be Eesha Aiya (‘the lord is god’). Zachariah (‘god remembers’) will be Shekar Aiya (‘the divine lord’) and Nehemiah (‘god’s compassion’) will be Nesam Aiya (‘the lord who’s affectionate’).

If Samuel owes its birth to Sami Vel and Rebecca to Rupaka, then how come no one ever talked about it? Actually, a wise old man did. Three hundred years before Christ, he argued that Jews could be a philosopher tribe from India called the ‘Kalani’. His name was Aristotle!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

50 shades of the unusual.

In the world of colours, there’s only one gray area: no one can vouch for the number of shades perceivable to mankind.

Because the self-pitied, feel only the blues; the intolerant, view everything in black and white; the printer, thinks of just CMYK; the child, cannot look beyond the rainbow; the internet, has a palette of 256 safe colours; and the computer, can detect nearly 16.7 million tints.

So where does the truth lie in the chromatic spectrum? Well, the staggering reality might leave us red faced as a recent research put the humanly observable colour count at a mind boggling 18 decillion (18 followed by 33 zeros)!

Despite this infinite ocean of vividity, it’s a pity that many of us are tongue tied when we have to reel out names of a hundred colours. My aim will be to expand your exotic quotient beyond lavender, lilac, turquoise, and tangerine.

Mountbatten Pink is a great name to start with. Invented by Louis Mountbatten (the last Viceroy of India), it’s a shade of pink that can help ships to camouflage their presence during the twilight period. It was actively used by British Royal Navy during the World War 2. For maximum impact, you can suggest this as the lipstick shade for your chick.

If that don’t impress her much, try Lust (a rich texture of red). Or gently urge her to buy an ‘Alice Blue’ gown. The back story being the pale tint of azure was in rage in America when Alice, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, made it famous.

Another way to appear cerebral is by injecting new colours into insipid conversations. Like, if your sister wants to streak her hair you can just flash your smart phone and suggest: Android Green. Or during a cricket match, you can just pose a rhetorical question: do you know that there’s a shade of green called Pakistan Green?

And if you want to come through as the Mensa types, you should probably flaunt your knowledge of Peru (dark brown), Fandango (deep fuchsia), Sinopia (red earth), Isabelline (pale grey yellow) and Gamboge (Buddhist monk saffron). That should make your pals go green with envy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nilam and why it blows.

Now that Cyclone Nilam has gone with the wind, it’s time to investigate the misogynists who propelled this Urdu word into our national consciousness.

First things first, Nilam (means Sapphire) is not an Indian invention. It was a Paki brainwave. For reasons best known to them, the weathermen in Shoaib Mallik Country gave 8 name suggestions for tropical cyclones. And nearly all of them have a feminine ring and a lyrical lilt. Since it’s not quite a CIA secret, I am gonna let the billi out of the bag.

The Pakistan Shortlist almost sounds like a Dubai Sheikh’s harem - what with names like Fanoos, Nargis, Laila, Nilam, Nilofar, Vardah, Titli and Bulbul. The World Meteorological Organization has already used up Fanoos, Nargis, Laila and Nilam in the years 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2012. So next year, in all likelihood Nilofar will come knocking at our coasts, breathing fire and brimstone!

Guys like you and me may not have an issue with such names. The ones who will suffer the most are the chicks who’ve been bestowed this moniker by their loving mammas. Imagine if you were Nilam and you had just fallen in love with say, Ranbir Kapoor. You’ll become an object of ridicule overnight in the Kapoor Khandaan. ‘Manhoos naam hai beta,’ is the kind of whispers you’ll hear from the Lalita Pawars on Ranbir’s side. What’s worse is when you stumble upon billboards for NILAM TABLE FANS with the rather tasteless tagline: For the best blow jobs! You’ll feel like hiding under the table, right?

That’s my bone of contention with Disaster Naming norms followed world over. You can’t let a bunch of jilted folks extract revenge by naming thunderstorms after their former lovers. Care must be taken to pick unusual names that won’t cause embarrassment to anyone. If I had my way, I’d name hurricanes and typhoons after the most destructive men and women in history. I am certain, a Hurricane Hitler, Cyclone Saddam, Typhoon Osama or Twister Stalin will make no one cringe. On the contrary, it might make the babus more alert, the citizens more aware and the media, less flippant.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Naming, Jest For Fun.

India is at war with itself. There are a million mutinies brewing now that should make a VS Naipaul proud. Viru is up in arms against Dhoni. Hesh and Lee are still at loggerheads. Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal don’t see eye to eye. There is talk of Vasundhara Raje rebelling against the BJP. Sharad Pawar is plotting against Prithviraj Chavan. And Mamata is abetting Mulayam’s uprising against the UPA.

Meanwhile the landless are livid, the middle class is mad, factory workers are furious and industrialists are irate. In this agitated atmosphere, we look like a country on the verge of reaching our boiling point. May be it’s time we cooled off with a little levity. What we sorely need today is a bit of everyday humour to perk ourselves up.

I have an elegant solution to cure our collective grouchiness. Let’s start by giving our newborns some really whimsical names.

Suppose you happen to be a bloke named Ram with a soft corner for the saffron party, you can actually plan on procreating a mini Sangh Parivar by naming your kids: Narendra, Sushma, Arun, Yashwant and Nitin. If Sushma wants to tonsure her head at the drop of a hat, Narendra is a riot, Arun grows up to be the Argumentative Indian, Yashwant insists on micro managing your budget and Nitin earns a mota maal, then you’ll have proof for the saying ‘ram naam satya hai’ (ram’s names were right)!

In case you’re Padma Nabhan, the deprived soul who’s never even won a participation certificate, you can light up your life by calling your kids ‘Padma Shree’, ‘Padma Bhushan’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’. This way, you’ll become the toast of your kith and kin and every time you go to a family function with your children in tow, everyone will want a photo-op with your award-winning family.

And if you’re Pradeep Sarkar, how about naming your son as Bharat Sarkar? At least that’ll give you the legitimate bragging rights to claim ‘Ab Bharat Sarkar mera hai' (the Indian government is mine).

Now that you know the trick to spread some sunshine, go on, spawn a thousand fun names!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Art of Ridiculing Politicians

Politicians are not as rhino-skinned as you think. They do shed a tear or two over three things: I, Me and Myself. So when you’re dealing with such self-obsessed megalomaniacs, it helps to either boost or burst their egos. And the easiest way to bring them to their senses is by mocking at their Teflon-coated names.

Let’s demonstrate the power of name calling through a recent example. From Lajpat Nagar to Lal Bagh, everyone now knows about Robert Vadra the businessman and his many spotlessly clean, ‘highest ethical standard’ transactions with DLF by following the laws and in-laws of the land.

Despite the negative press and the multiple tongue lashings he’s received from the mango men at the IAC, our dear Raabert displays no sense of contrition. But no matter how smug-faced Mr. Priyanka Gandhi may be, he cannot escape from the unflattering ‘Robber Vadra’ label he’s earned from the mocking birds.

As days roll on, no one will remember the crores of rupees exchanged or the acreage of favours delivered, all that will stick is ‘Robber Vadra’. Make no mistake. That will really hurt, as even a petty thief doesn’t like to be called a ‘chor’.

Talking of political nicknames, the firebrand Arvind Kejriwal has been a worthy recipient of many monikers from his detractors. Khujliwal (meaning ‘the one with the itch’) and Kachdawal (‘one who dishes out rubbish’) are two names that have gained traction with BJP and Congress supporters.

Those who pooh pooh the damage wreaked by mock names should just see what ‘Bliar’ did to Tony Blair. It not only portrayed him as a master of doublespeak but also ended up destroying his political career in a snap.

That’s why leaders can ill afford to ignore the ramifications of a pesky nickname. That’s why a Mitt Romney needs to actively speak up on issues intelligently if he sees ‘Mute Romney’ going viral. Obama has to come to terms with ‘Oh Bummer!’ and do everything in his means to fight the ‘disappointment’ perception. India’s princeling has to come through as smart if he wants to outgrow the ‘Rahul Buddhu’ tag. And our Manmohan must stop being ‘Maunmohan’.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Real Taste of Bombaat

We, the deprived citizens of Chennai, are forever envious of Bangalore. Not only do you guys have all the water in the world but also the hippest watering holes, the hottest jobs, the coolest chicks, the rockiest rock shows and even the yummiest restaurant names.

If the last bit is news to you, then you better visit every one of the restaurants listed here and order a Fresh Lime Soda Salted to celebrate your discovery. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to raise a toast to me for serving you this worthless piece of trivia.

Okay, let’s now dive into the meat. Coming from a city full of boringly named Bhavans, I was utterly delighted to stumble upon the South Indian joint called South Indies. Tucked away in Indira Nagar, South Indies is a fabulously franchisable moniker that evokes the joy of sipping a piping hot Kumbakonam Degree Coffee while soaking into the rhythmic riffs of Carnatic Reggae.

Three Quarter Chinese was another quaint name that caught my eye. The reason I flipped for it is simple: All of us have seen so many Chinese joints that also serve Indian food. But no one’s made a virtue of it. Here’s a chain that unabashedly proclaims that its menu has 75% Chinese and 25% North Indian food. I found that cute. BTW, which came first Thermal And A Quarter or Three Quarter Chinese?

Phileas Hogg in Marthahalli, is one more sparkler that can pull any passerby inside with its college humour charm. To me, it’s the perfect restaurant name. It’s not overtly wannabe and yet, it sets the right expectation of cuisines from around the world.

The Vietnamese Phobidden Fruit , the Korean Soo Ra Sang (meaning ‘fit for a king’), the resto bar Ruh (Arabic for ‘spirit’) and the Mexican Habanero (a real red hot chilly pepper) piqued me too.

But the ones that make it to my Top 3 are, Toit (the Irish way of saying ‘tight’ - a slang word that means both ‘with it’ and ‘hooters’), 69 Seconds (69 symbolises the single quotes) and the very playful I & Monkey. Agree maadi?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Comical Names of Comedians.

In the poverty stricken days of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, nobody took comedians seriously. Even if you were born with 206 funny bones, no one would notice you, as there was no concept of stand-up acts, mimicry or Lollu Sabhas. The only mass medium of entertainment was Tamil Cinema, a world dominated by singing heroes, crying heroines and scheming villains.

To be deemed humorous, you had to be supremely talented and more importantly, you needed a name that evoked a smile. That’s probably why many funny men of the past consciously spiced up their pedestrian name with a titter-inducing prefix.

K.A. Thangavelu was one of the earliest comics to use this trick. He promoted himself as ‘Danaal’ Thangavelu. Everywhere he went, the director used to ask him the same question, ‘What the heck is Danaal?’ and he used to recount gleefully that the character he played in his debut flick ‘Singari’ had this mannerism of repeating the word ‘danaal’ all through. The mannerism became popular and hence the name.

Likewise Sundaresa Ramamurthy once played the role of a cartoonist called Kathadi (Tamil for ‘kite’) in Cho Ramaswamy’s play ‘If I Get It!’ From that day, he chose to call himself ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy.

‘Thengai’ Srinivasan has a similar story. Having played a coconut seller who walked away with the applause in ‘Kal Manam’, he decided to announce himself to the film world as ‘Thengai’.

Even the Stan Laurelesque ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimhan picked his quirky screen name from the reed thin character he played in the stage play ‘Naradarum Naangu Thirudargalum’. In comparison, Loose Mohan had it easy. He just borrowed it from his dad ‘Loose Arumugham’ who in turn earned his spurs in the drama ‘Tight and Loose’!

Suruli Rajan didn’t have to resort to any such tomfoolery as he was named after his family deity with an amusing name - Suruli Vellapar, the god on the hilltop graced by the Suruli waterfalls. Suruli, by the way, means ‘the curled one’.

Idichapuli Selvaraj, Venniradai Murthy, Goundamani and Crazy Mohan have carried on the zany tradition. Sadly, the Viveks, Vadivels and Santhanams of today are no longer mirthful.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Devilish Streak of D

If the 26 letters of the English language were herded into a classroom and a professor named Noah Webster Samuel Johnson were to be persuaded into picking the most dangerous, delinquent, and debauched character from the lot, in all likelihood, he would not hesitate to bestow that title on Mr. D.

Because ‘D’ has a history of initiating the most debilitating words known to mankind. ‘Downturn’ and ‘Depression’ are the most unwelcome visitors in the world of economics. ‘Dictators’, ‘Despots’, and ‘Dynasties’ are responsible for half of our political woes. The blame for the other half could be laid at the door of ‘Democracy’ – a creaky, leaky system that deludes us into choosing the daftest dullards as our demagogues.

‘Divorce’ has caused more heart aches than heart attacks. ‘Diabetes’ has killed more people than bullets and bombs. ‘Death’, of course, is still the Dreaded No.1 in most societies.

In war and sports, no individual or nation relishes ‘Defeats’. In the bloody domain of crime, cops are forever obsessed with ‘Dons’. In cricket, batsmen dislike ‘Ducks’ and bowlers get livid when their catches get ‘Dropped’. Even in the make-believe moviedom, everyone is shit scared of delivering box office ‘Duds’.

So if the D-word were so dark and dismal, then how come people are happily naming their children as ‘Dennis’, ‘Diana’ and ‘Diwakar’? I have a theory for that. ‘D’ is just like the Devil. It may come with a discernable negative aura but it packs a lot of positive power to perpetuate the seven deadly sins. That’s the reason why you have the ‘damsels’, ‘desires’, ‘diamonds’, ‘delicacies’, ‘daredevilry’, ‘dynamos’ and ‘distinctiveness’ in our universe.

Ergo, the most famous D-names are linked in some way to these delectably diabolical traits. Drakkar Noir, De Beers, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana and Dom Perignon reflect the ‘desire’ dimension. Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore, Daniel Craig and David Beckham exemplify the ‘dazzle’ aspect. ‘Dunkin Donuts’, ‘Domino’s’, and ‘Doritos’ represent the drool factor. ‘Duracell’, ‘Drogba’, and ‘DHL’ cue dynamism. ‘Diesel’, ‘Disney’ and ‘Discovery’ stand for distinctiveness. One can go on and on. The thing to ponder about is, ‘Is the fourth letter, really demonic? Or is this all pure dog poo?’

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meet the Anagram Twins.

Anagrams are the geekiest geeks in the nerdy world of words. Except for the odd cruciverbalist (crossword buff in layman parlance), not many really care about their existence. Two unlikely people deserve all credit for giving anagrams the attention they deserve - Jim Morrison and Axl Rose.

Jim Morrison, the god of rock and singer-songwriter of The Doors, was the first to inject the concept of imprinting remixed names into popular consciousness via music. His now popular ‘Mr. Mojo Risin’ refrain in the ‘L.A. Woman’ song is but a sonorous shuffle of the eleven letters in Jim Morrison.

Axl Rose, the sex symbol and lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, is arguably the best known anagram in the world. Not many know that William Bruce Rose picked the name ‘Axl Rose’ as his new identity as it seemed to be an oomphy variation of ‘oral sex’!

Sadly, anagrams have been underexploited by namers across the globe. ONIDA (a play on NOIDA) is the only top notch Indian brand to have embraced this technique. I attribute the severe poverty in anagrammatic names to lack of skilled wordsmiths in our country.

While it might be difficult for many to derive a ‘Western Union’ from say ‘No Wire Unsent’, still, there’s no harm in trying. When a Tirupur based lingerie brand approached me to create an international sounding name, I just wrestled with the word ‘Innerwear’ and it resulted in ‘Anne Wrier’. So you never know when you’ll strike gold.

In case you want an easier way to create names, all you have to do is to rejig an already famous name. I call such creations, ‘Anagram Twins’. To demonstrate my point, let’s take Nivea. If I wanted a moniker for a French Alps-based mineral water brand, all I have to do is to stir Nivea and get Evian.

The beauty of giving birth to anagram twins lies in the fact that they can yield names that work in a totally different culture. A Latin sounding Visa can take the form of the Indian Siva. The fashionable Esprit can morph into the no-nonsense Sprite. And the corporate IBM can become the cool MIB. Two much, na!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brushing away the Coalgate.

When 23-year-old William Colgate started his starch, soap and candle company in New York in 1806, he could never have imagined even in his wildest dreams that his surname would one day become synonymous with a toothpaste or for that matter, a 186,000 crore scam.

Such is the dance of destiny. One moment, you look like a squeaky clean dental brand. The next instant, you seem to be having all the teething troubles.

The strange fate that has befallen Colgate is not at all new in the naming world. Every now and then, an unexpected event has forced companies, brands, individuals and even towns to confront and contemplate the bitter pill of name change.

Fucking, a village in Austria, was named after a 6th Century Bavarian nobleman ‘Adalpertus de Fucingin’. For centuries, it’s had the same Fucking name. Then along came the four-letter word and its usage became so effin prevalent, that the village name started sounding offensive. Tired of the innuendoes, the hundred odd residents of Fucking voted to rename their town as Fugging!

When low cost American airline ValuJet’s Flight 592 crashed in 1996, killing all the 110 passengers, the company quietly merged with AirTran and took AirTran as its name to ensure a spotless reputation.

Closer home, Maytas Infra, the corporate sibling of the disgraced Satyam Computer Services, recently changed its name to ’IL&FS Engineering & Construction Company’ to airbrush its perceived blemish.

Lest I be accused of advocating a name change for Colgate, let me clarify. Rebranding is simply out of the equation as Colgate is the market leader and has got zero connection to the scam.

But not doing anything to arrest the image slide will be equally foolhardy. Colgate will have to deal with Coalgate. Else, Pepsodent will smile all the way to the bank.

If I were the creative person on Colgate, I would immediately urge the brand to launch a limited edition mock toothpaste called ‘Colgate Black’ targeted at corrupt politicians. The USP of the toothpaste will be ‘Black ko white bana dey’. Such a campaign would give Colgate, a much needed whitewash and a good word of mouth. What say?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Sudoku of Surnames.

The most popular Japanese name among the Tamil Diaspora is not Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha or Mitsubishi. It’s Nikumo Nikado. In case you’re wondering what that means, all I can say is it’s a vintage mokkai (Tamil for PJ) conjured up during the times when the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ (not to be confused with the real estate owned by DMK) was dominant enough for some droll Dravidian to pop the question: what’s Jap for the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’?

Jokes aside, now that we’ve got you thinking about ‘Made in Japan’ names, it’s perhaps the right moment to slip in a neat piece of trivia. Did you know that it was illegal for 90% of Japan to have a surname, for almost 280 years, between 1587 and 1867? Things changed when the Meiji government passed a decree on Feb 13, 1875, ordering all citizens to compulsorily register their surnames!

The result was a mad name rush. Everyone from the geisha girl next door to the ninja turtle in the sewers, rushed to their local priests, seeking help. The harried men of god donned the role of wordsmiths and minted thousands of rustic sounding surnames by investing as much time as it takes to make Top Ramen noodles.

The hastily cooked names would amuse you if one dissects them. The 'Kurusawa' in Akira Kurusawa does not mean anything poetic. It just indicates ‘the black swamp’ from where his forefathers originated. The fashion brand ‘Yamamoto’ just means ‘mountain base’. Likewise ‘Suzuki’ is ‘rice ear’, ‘Matsushita’ is ‘below pine tree’, ‘Kawasaki’ is ‘river peninsula’, ‘Honda’ is ‘rice root’ and Toyoda (which gave rise to Toyota) cues ‘abundant rice field’.

The obsession with rice and paddy was largely because farming was the lead occupation. And you can’t blame the priests for their pedestrian choice as surnames are by definition meant to answer the ‘where are you from?’ question. Given that framework, they picked the likes of ‘Fujimori’ (Wisteria forest) and ‘Kobayashi’ (small grove). But now that Nippon has evolved into a highly industrialised society, may be it’s time the Japanese said sayonara to their legacy names and konnichi wa to modernity.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Britney checks in.

Poor Prince Harry. He went to the Sin City trusting the movie adage, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. Unfortunately for him, the code was compromised. Someone set up the honey trap. Harry was made to meet Sally. And the Prince was caught wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes!

Put yourself in his embarrassing shoes. If you were Dirty Harry, what would you have done differently? Banning camera phones is out of the question, as they are too ubiquitous. The one sensible thing Princess Diana’s son could have done is to check in quietly with a bland alias. That would have given him the mask of anonymity to be his primal self.

Which is precisely why, travelling incognito is a favoured strategy among celebrities. It is said that Marilyn Monroe was one of the early pioneers of this technique when she escaped to New York, using the nom de plume ‘Zelda Zonk’.

With a wig, without any make up, whether Miss Zelda Zonk bonks a mystery man named John F. Kennedy or lets her white skirt billow, no one would really give a fig. Such is the power of a pseudonym.

Sometimes hotels play along just to protect the privacy of the superstars from the prying paparazzi. In such moments, the celebs get to cherry pick their fake names. Britney Spears has confessed that she prefers Ms. Alotta Warmheart, Mrs. Diana Prince, Queen of the Fairy Dance or simply Mrs. Abra Cadabra!

The Talented Mr. Matt Damon signs in as ‘John President’ as he could have White House like conversations when someone asks him, ‘Would that be a wine or champagne, Mr. President?’ In stark contrast, Johnny Depp opts for the downright uncool Mr. Stench or Monseiur Poopy.

Famous people often use mock monikers to express their sense of humour. When Jeniffer Aniston was dumped by Brad Pitt after ‘Mr and Mrs. Smith’, Aniston playfully chose Mrs. Smith as her check-out name. Likewise prankster Marlon Brando is reported to have registered as Lord Greystoke (Tarzan’s real name) several times during his career. But the one who takes the cake is George Clooney. They say he often pretended he was ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Rule of Three

In advertising, a print campaign invariably has three ads. In screenwriting, 99% of movie plots follow a 3-act structure. In arts, just three colours are enough to derive every other colour. In genetics, information is always represented using a system of triplet codes. In yoga, they say, we exist in three bodies. In Ayurveda, good health is all about achieving a balance of three doshas. And in Indian marriages, the symbol of marital union is the mangalsutra with three knots!

So what’s the mystery with number three? Why on earth is the Earth, the third rock from the Sun? Why is the USA (a triple letter nation) the lone super power? Why are the UPA and the NDA, the lead coalitions of India? Why do the Iyengars and Iyers sport three lines on their foreheads?

For the answer, we just have to turn to Pythagoras. He saw three as the perfect number symbolising a universe ruled over by the trinity – Jupiter (heaven), Neptune (sea) and Pluto (underworld).

Brands across the world have harnessed this power of the triad by naming themselves after it. 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing), Mistubishi (Japanese for ‘three diamonds’), Samsung (‘three stars’ in Korean), and Sanyo (‘three oceans’ in Japanese) are some billion dollar enterprises that have reaped the dividends.

In India, the story is no different. ‘3 Idiots’ is the biggest ever Bollywood blockbuster in our history. Rajiv Rai’s ‘Tridev’, Yash Chopra’s ‘Trishul’, Shyam Benegal’s ‘Trikal’ and Dev Anand’s ‘Teen Deviyan’ didn’t do badly either. Down South in Kollywood, Balachandar’s ‘Moondru Mudichu’, Balu Mahendra’s ‘Moondram Pirai’ and Rajnikanth’s ‘Moondru Mugham’ fared spectacularly. Aishwarya Dhanush perhaps assumed her film ‘3’ will enjoy a similar fate. Unfortunately for her, the flick sank without a trace. But not before delivering Kolaveri, our very own global chartbuster!

To sum up, whether you’re sipping ‘3 Roses’ tea, or wearing jewellery from ‘Tribhuvandas Bhimji Zaveri’ or watching a 3D version of a trilogy in the comfort of your living room in Tripura, or talking on a 3G phone in an ad agency that used to be called ‘Trikaya Grey’ never forget to ask yourself as to why threesome is awesome!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Bowl of Blistering Barnacles.

Cheetahs can scorch any race track. Cuckoos can sing any tune. Parrots can talk eloquently. Rats can travel to outer space. Chimps can be trained to paint. Horses can slog harder. Dolphins can think smarter. Rabbits can multiply faster. Dogs can teach us a lesson in love. Lions can offer us a doctorate on brutality. So what is the one thing that sets us apart from animals? I think it’s the act of cussing.

Cussing or the ability to use language colourfully to vent one’s anger, has done more for world peace than diplomacy or nuclear deterrence. Tragically, our society has rarely acknowledged the unsung contribution of swear words to mankind. We shall right this hideous and historic wrong by celebrating the Picasso of Profanity – Captain Archibald Haddock!

Haddock, the mealy-mouthed multi millionaire friend of Tintin, has a lot to offer to anyone whose lexicon of unparliamentary lingo begins and ends with F-words. With his genius to sculpt expletives out of even cyclotrons and gyroscopes, Captain Haddock is the undisputed God of Foulese.

You can rediscover the magic of Haddockery by deploying his unique creations in your everyday encounters with numbskulls, bloodsuckers and bashi-bazouks. When you spot the familiar silent visage of Manmohan, you can perhaps yell, ‘Certified Invertebrate!’ If that didn’t whet your appetite, you can try ‘Macrocephalic Mameluke’ or ‘Unfeeling ungulate’.

In case, some politicians are up in arms objecting to your insult, just shush them by saying, “Lily-livered bandicoots! You profiteering pachyderms will never understand what I am getting at. Go be your miserable pithecanthropic pickpocket self. And spare me your loathsome lubberscum!”

Talking like the Captain can make you feel good when you feel biliously bad-tempered. When a girl friend dumps you can thunder like ten thousand typhoons by shooting an SMS labelling her as a ‘two-timing troglodyte’.

When your boss denies you a raise, dismiss his as ‘blundering bird-brained bell bottomed balderdash’. When your colleague stabs you in the back, call him, a ‘cowardly cro magnon cannibal’. When your dad bugs you, put him in place with ‘anachronistic antediluvian autocratic Arabian aborigine’. That iconoclastic gobbledygook should work like a road roller road hog!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Partying with the Kejriwals.

Right Wingers swear that they are Naxalites. Left Wingers aver that they are Saffron Chaddiwalas. Conspiracy theorists whisper that they are Congress Agents. While the Congress thinks they are nuts!

So how does one slot Team Anna? Are they the proverbial elephant being pre-judged by the ideologically blinded? Things will get clearer when Kejriwal & Co pick a suitable name for their party.

Meanwhile let’s analyze their options. ‘Swaraj’ and ‘India Against Corruption (IAC)’ are two names doing the rounds. ‘Swaraj’ has gained currency as Arvind has penned a book by the same name. And ‘IAC’ must have been floated as it’s been spearheading the anti-corruption movement for the last two years.

Although single minded and powerful, ‘India Against Corruption’ is highly unlikely as it sounds like a mouthful and feels like a one-issue party. ’Swaraj’ on the other hand is highly evocative and stirs the imagery of ‘liberation’ as voiced by Tilak and ‘rule of the self’ as imagined by Gandhi. Given his newfound love for ‘the village and the farmer’, I am sure Arvind Kejriwal would plump for ‘Swaraj’.

But there are some basic naming issues to be taken into consideration. The domain has already been taken by Swaraj Foundation, an NGO that focuses on community development. There are two ways to circumvent the problem: call it ‘Swaraj Party’ or ‘Swaraj Andolan’. But Swaraj Party reads ‘SP’ when abbreviated and we all know SP is Samajwadi Party, so that’s out. ‘Swaraj Andolan’ is a likely prospect as ‘Andolan’ gives it a movement feel.

‘Anna Dal’ is another suggestion that’s become popular. But it is personality-centric and seems like a poorer cousin of Apna Dal. Also, it could be spoofed as ‘Anna Dalal’. Humorist Ramesh Srivats has come up with the baap of all names. He’s proposed Bharatiya Anna’s Alternative Party (BAAP)!

‘Parivartan’ or ‘Change’ is a dark horse that might clinch it as Kejriwal already runs an outfit by this moniker. If I had a say, I’d pick ‘Jai Hind!’ where JAI can stand for Jan Andolan for Inquilab (People’s Movement for a Revolution). That way, every time someone utters ‘Jai Hind’, they’d be unknowingly campaigning for the party!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Going ballistic over missiles.

To understand missiles, you just need to study two Indian politicians: Subramanian Swamy and Digvijay Singh. Swamy typifies the guided missile. His target is anyone who rubs him on the wrong side. His warhead, the explosive dossier he keeps on his enemies. His guidance system is a secret army of moles who supply him the inside dope at will. The flight system he uses is pesky litigation. And his engine is his belief that someday he will be the Prime Minister.

Diggy is the other extreme. He is a classic unguided missile hoping to create impact with the incendiary nature of his bizarre barbs that defy all laws of physics.

Now that we’ve got our heads around missiles, let’s launch into the smoky world of missile names where countries use nomenclature to flex their muscles and to perpetuate an illusion of being macho.

Nations with a treasury of mythology have no qualms in calling upon their angels, gods, demigods and revered figures to dignify their destructive war toys. Israel’s Gabriel (guided anti tank), Barak (naval defense), Delilah (cruise missile) and Nimrod (long range point target) are all biblical in origin. In the cold war era, the United States had Nike (anti aircraft), Hercules (short range), Zeus (interception missile), Titan (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile) and Poseidon (submarine-launched). Closer home, India relies on Vedic mythology. Agni (surface-to-air), Prithvi (surface-to-surface), Nag (anti-tank) and Surya (the work-in-progress ICBM) were carefully picked to project an image of being benign protectors.

Over time, Pentagon decided to drop all pretence of goodness and named the missiles after monsters. Gorgon (the snake haired sisters), Gargoyle (the fire breathing creature), Griffin (lion body, eagle head) and Snark (the snake cum shark monster invented by Lewis Carrol) are telling examples.

After exhausting all Birds (sampler: China’s Hong Niao means Red Bird), Animals (sampler: Germany’s Gepard derives its name from the German word for Cheetah), Weapons (sampler: Tomahawk the Indian hatchet) and Invader Names (samplers: Pakistan’s Ghori, Ghazni and Abdali), soon the defense establishment will run out of ideas. That’s the time to perhaps explore names of people with a destructive streak (read: Swamy and Diggy)!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Witius, Altius, Fortius.

India’s strike rate at the Olympics has always been underwhelming. We’ve won just 0.16% of the 12,796 medals awarded in the last 116 years. Even poor Sangma would have fared better!

The positive way of looking at it is if there are around 950 medals at stake in London, the law of averages will guarantee us at least one. So we won’t be returning empty handed.

Feeling better, already? Let me cheer you up further by culling out some unintentionally comical names from the hallowed roster of medal-winning Olympians.

First up is Gustave Cabaret, the Frenchman who bowed out to two other competitors in the 1908 Olympics Continental Archery finale. I wonder if Mr. Cabaret was allowed to do a victory jig when he climbed up the podium to receive his bronze.

James Lightbody is another chappie, history shouldn’t take too lightly as he finished with a hefty haul of 3 Golds from 2 Olympic games. I am tempted to think that James wouldn’t have been as fleet footed had he been blessed with a less cruel name.

Harry Porter, the high jumper from the United States who went on to win the Gold in 1908, was lucky not to have been born in our era. Else, his critics would have lectured him to stick to Quidditch, every time he failed to clear the bar.

But Nastia Liukin wasn’t as fortunate. Although she won the All Round Champion title in gymnastics in Beijing, many Americans had nothing but pity for her as they heard their commentators address Nastia Liukin as ‘Nasty Lookin’!

Gold winners Irina Slutskaya, Ruth Fuchs, Fanny Fischer, Balazs Kiss and Misty Hyman faced a lot of snigger and were the object of ribaldry for similar reasons. ‘What was Misty’s mom smoking when she named her Hyman?’ was the oft-heard banter about the swimmer.

Some like Bruno Junk, Salvatore Morale, Daniele Masala, Albert Gutterson, Emile Champion, Nick Winter and John Child, escaped the scrutiny of the late night comedians as the limelight was on the more glamorous stars. But this Olympics expect no such favours. If the Usains disappoint, expect the Bolts from the blue!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Countries Got Their Names.

To most of us ignoramuses, Turkey is a textured bath towel. Tonga is a vintage horse carriage. Monaco is a salt-kissed biscuit. Congo is a misspelled African drum. Qatar is a BSNL lady saying ‘you’re on hold’. And Panama is a nostalgic whiff of strong tobacco.

Being clueless folks who cannot pinpoint West Indies or West Mambalam on a map, I thought it might help, if we took a crash course to improve our GQ (Geographic Quotient). Hence the excursion into country names.

Before we suit up for the deep dive, let’s first do a quick head count of the nations. According to reliable sources, at the moment, there are 196 sovereign states in our little world. When we put them under the microscope, you’ll uncover 5 types of nomenclature.

Type 1 is what I call the ‘Tribal Nation’. Simply put, they are nations that have been named after tribes of yore. Germany (from ‘Garim’ - a noisy Celtic tribe), France (from the spear throwing ‘Franks’), England (land of ‘Angles’), Iran (‘Aryans’), Afghanistan (‘Avaghanis’ or horseriders) and Kyrgyzstan (land of ‘forty tribes’) are celebrated case studies in this genre.

Type 2 is the ‘Dynasty Nation’. These are countries christened after kings and dynasties. China (a nod to the Qin dynasty), Korea (‘Goryeo’ lineage), Saudi Arabia (‘Saud’ family), Egypt (Home of the ‘Ptah’), Philippines (a tribute to ‘Prince Philip’ of Austria) and Mozambique (after Sheikh ‘Mussa Ben Mbiki’) are some eloquent illustrations.

Type 3 is the ‘Topographic Nation’. Here, some prominent topographic feature might have triggered the moniker. Examples include Malaysia (Tamil & Latin for ‘Hilltown’), Croatia (derived from the Indo-Iranian ‘Hrvati’ or River Saraswati), Bahamas (‘Shallow Sea’), Netherlands (‘Lowlands’) and Ukraine (‘Borderlands’).

Type 4 is the ‘Evocative Nation’. Countries of this kind sport meaning-rich names like Uzbekistan (Home of the Free), Burkina Faso (Land of Honest Men), Japan (Land of the Rising Sun), Costa Rica (Rich Coast) and Liberia (Liberty).

Type 5 is the ‘Trivial Nation’. Or a country with a fun name story. Italy (from ‘Vitulis’ or sons of bull god), Barbados (‘bearded ones’) and Spain (land of rabbits) typify this. Don’t you wish we had more such quirky names?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Quantum of Boredom

I was always under the erroneous impression that lawyers wrote the most unreadable prose. After browsing through hundreds of articles spewing mumbo jumbo on the Higgs Boson, I am convinced that this befitting accolade should be reserved for theoretical physicists, because they have this incredible gift of transforming the infinitely interesting to the most infinitesimally insipid things.

Analyse the ‘The God Particle’ kerfuffle to draw your own conclusions. Here was a conceptual particle that put the bang into the big bang and made the earth, the moon and everything around us, possible. And what do our physicists call this wonder particle? The oh-so-boring ‘Higgs Boson’. That’s like christening ‘Mozart’ as ‘Square Root 2’. Can’t get more sterile, right?

That’s the problem with the scientific community. In their anxiety to appear ruthlessly objective, coldly factual and dispassionately logical, they tend to lose the soul of their concept when they assign names to their ideas.

Just examine ‘The Standard Model’ of particle physics. Supposedly the grand theory that summates the building blocks of the universe. It doesn’t get bigger than this. And yet, they choose an utterly uninspiring assembly-line name like ‘Standard Model’. Surely the minds that can conjure up a beautiful experiment like the Large Hadron Collider can do better.

Sadly, sleep inducing names have always been a constant in the exciting history of particle physics. Except for the one rare leap of imagination when Murray Gell-Mann borrowed a whimsical sound he liked from James Joyce’s poem ‘Three Quarks for Muster Mark’, physicists have always preferred to hide behind the most yawn-worthy names.

The fundamental particle ‘Lepton’ was named after the Greek word for ‘fine or small’. ‘Baryon’, the composite particle made of three quarks, was derived from ‘Barys’ or ‘heavy’. The intermediate mass ‘Meson’ was called so, as ‘meso’ means ‘mid’. While the ‘Hadron’ was considered appropriate as ‘hadros’ cued ‘thick’ and the composite particle existed due to a strong force.

Add Muon, Electron, Gluon, Tachyon and Proton to the list and you’ll realise that all it takes to whip up something subatomic is a literal Greek word and the –on suffix. Makes you wonder if the next groundbreaking discovery is going to be a ‘Moron’!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Unsolved Mystery No. 5

Why do most flowers have five petals? Why is Friday, the most interesting day of the week? Why is ‘The Pentagon’ the most powerful military building in the world? Why do Muslims pray five times a day? Why did ‘Five Point Someone’ turn Chetan Bhagat into a blockbuster author? These are questions for which science and logic can offer no answer.

But occult and numerology can provide you at least five quick takes on why this is so: a) Things happen for ‘five’ as five digits form the basic scale of human measurement. b) The five senses of man are the real building blocks of reality. c) Without the five elements, there will be no cosmos. d) Planet Mercury, the ruler of five, is the controller of life. e) The fifth trump in the tarot deck is the Hierophant or god’s human representative on Earth. Naturally, he’s omnipotent.

Those born on the 5th, 14th and 23rd of any month are governed by Number 5 and are usually renowned for their business ability, intuition, diplomacy, sharpness, shrewdness, agility and eloquence. William Shakespeare, Handel, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Che Guevera, Ambedkar, Aamir Khan, Bipasha Basu, and Abhishek Bachchan are true blue high fivers.

The invisible power of five can even be felt in name numbers (which is the numerological score of your name). Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar, LK Advani, Karan Thapar and Ratan Tata are some powerful manifestations of ‘5’ in our times.

Among brand names, you’ll be fascinated to note that Gigabrands like Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Opel, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Playboy, Time, Reebok, Adidas, Victorinox and MTV have five written all over them.

Inspired by the huge success of five-ish names, many Indian companies have blindly jumped on to the bandwagon in anticipation of similar returns. Hatsun, the largest private dairy company in our country is a telling example.

Led by the numerology-driven CEO Chandramogan, Hatsun is immensely popular in Tamil Nadu for its Arun ice creams, Arokya milk and the just launched Ibaco ice cream parlours. The name scores of Arun, Arokya and Ibaco is 14 or 1+4 = 5! Hopefully that solves the mystery behind the name ‘Ibaco’.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two cents on currencies.

Elizabeth Taylor summed it up best when she quipped: “Money is the best deodorant.” In these times of bizarre bailouts that feels ‘right on the money’ as the stench of bankruptcy that surrounds Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal can only be overpowered by a liberal squirt of Euros or the enchanting odour of crisp greenbacks cranked out by Ben Bernanke and the Fumbling Feds.

A deep discussion on the economics of recession always puts people to sleep so I shall stick to the superficial and serve you the trivial stuff you’ve always craved for.

Let’s set the ball rolling by understanding why the rupee is called the Rupee. Before Sher Shah Suri came along and applied the Sanskrit word for ‘shapely’ (what Rupiya means) to silver coins, the tankha (yes, the Hindi word for salary!) was the fiat currency of the Thuglaqs. Babar and Humayun somehow didn’t fancy the Rupiya. They preferred the Shahrukhi instead.

Akbar deserves the credit for putting the Rupee back into circulation as he felt it had its merits. The rest of the Mughals just cut, copy, paste Akbar’s template and that’s how India was flooded with many variants of the Rupee. The East India Company standardised the currency system by subsuming the local denominations.

For example, in the Madras Presidency, the basic unit was the copper Kasu. Then there was the silver Panam (80 copper kasus). Followed by the Rupee (12 panams) and on top there was the gold Pagoda (3.5 rupees). Over time, this was simplified into Pice, Paise, Annas and Rupees. 16 Annas, 64 Paise and 164 Pies were the equivalent of one rupee. Now you know the real import of the legendary Bollywood dialogue ‘pie pie chuka doonga’!

The Yuan and Yen have similar origins to the Rupee. As in, they cue the round shape. Pound comes from Latin word ‘Poundus’ indicating weight. While ‘Dollar’ is derived from Thaler, short for Joahimsthaler, a coin made from metal mined in Joahimsthal, a town in Czech Republic. And ‘Dirham’ owes its origins to the Greek word Drachma meaning ‘handful’. Hope the dime-a-dozen trivia you just learnt was worth every penny!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Murugan Syndrome

Mr. Dark Glasses Wearing That Yellow Shawl would like us to believe that his dear Tamil Nadu is, was and will be an atheist state. The profusion of religious programs in his own family run network ‘Sun TV’ is an eloquent commentary on how off mark, the old man is, in his assessment.

It is a historical fact that 12 of the 33 districts in Tamizhagam owe their names to mythological beliefs tied to either the Shaivite or the Buddhist stream. So, outright denial of the pervasive influence of faith is akin to not noticing the moon on a full moon day.

I will adduce one more phenomenon to highlight the theistic nature of Tamil Nadu. I call it the ‘Murugan Syndrome’. Basically, the crux of the matter is: Tamilians have a huge fascination for anything that goes by a Murugan theonym (names synonymous with the second son of Shiva).

May be that’s why Saravana Bhavan (hotel named by Kripananda Variar after the six faced lord) has the most devout fan following among the saapatramans of our land. Unsurprisingly, Velu Military Hotel and Murugan Idli Shop are the other two restaurants gaining converts in droves.

Have you ever wondered why both Kumaran Silks and Kumaran Stores still have worshippers in Panagal Park? Or for that matter why Padaiyappa is Rajnikanth’s biggest ever hit? The answer clearly lies in a subconscious Skanda Cult residing somewhere in the minds and hearts of the Tamil Kudimagan.

Otherwise we’ll never be able to explain the reason behind the innumerable success stories of brands and celebrities sporting the Tamizh Kadavul’s name (the Tamil god). The stupendous popularity of Subramanian Swamy in politics, the loud guffaws earned by Senthil and Vadivel in comedy, the adulation enjoyed by Sivakumar (born as Palanichami Gounder), Karthi and Karthik in Kollywood, the chartbusters churned by singer SP Balasubramanian, the fearsome reputation of Velupillai Prabhakaran, Dinesh Karthick and Murali Kartik’s dalliance with fame, Karthi Chidambaram’s frequent incursions into the limelight, MS Swaminathan’s date with glory, and Quickgun Murugan's immortal cameo in our minds, all seem to flow from a coincidental connect that’s bound to make you go, “oh my god!”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The End of the Dot Com.

There was so much hype about 2012 before we entered 2012. Apocalypse was supposed to knock at our doors. Mabus the Third Anti-Christ was widely conjectured to wreak havoc on Earth. And the Anunnakis were prognosticated to descend from Planet Nbiru to bail us out. Fortunately or unfortunately, the story so far has been rather anti-climactic.

The only shattering event that I can foresee, will in all likelihood, play out on June 13. On that historic day, the World Wide Web will be restructured beyond recognition by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers).

Before you go, ‘Fhat the wuck’, let me explain: On June 13, the ICANN in its capacity as the Godfather of the Internet will reveal the suffixes that will be blessed with the halo of a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD). What that means is a whole new set of gTLDs would supplement the well known suffixes such as .com, .net, .org and .edu.

To understand the seismic impact of this move, just think of ‘Dot Com’ as Doordarshan and the new gTLDs as satellite channels with their own satellites! You get the picture, right?

The privatization of domain name suffixes will end the dot com monopoly like never before as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and all the other big fat evil corporations are plotting and scheming to bag their own dot names.

What’s even scarier for the Dot Com guys is the gold rush to own whole ‘industries’, ‘communities’ and ‘attitudes’. If rumours are to be believed, Google has already placed a bid to buy .Lol. Many more megacorps are slugging it out for .bank, .home, .ngo, .music, .shop, .green, .app, .game, .artist, .free, .gay, .hotel, .radio, .car, .sucks and 2000 other variations!

Even our usually languid Indian companies have hopped on to the race to be on the dot. One learns that .tata, .sbi, .mahindra, .reliance, .infosys, .wipro and 8 other dot companies are on the verge of being approved.

With such an unimaginable scale of fragmentation on the cards, the simple world of Dot Coms that we knew will come crashing down in the next few weeks. Shall we blame it all, on the Mayans?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Famous and forgotten.

She died of tuberculosis at 39, after suffering two failed marriages and a humiliating episode of sudden poverty that reduced her to a beggar for a brief while.

The tragic woman you just read about was named ‘Mercedes Adrienne Manuela Ramona Jellinek’ by her folks. Doesn’t her name ring a bell? Yes, you guessed it right. The most desirable car on the planet owes its name to her.

The story goes that her dad once told Daimler-Benz that if they named their vehicles after his daughter and if he were made the sole distributor for America and parts of Europe, he’d order 36 cars from them. To put the number in perspective, Germany produced just 900 cars in 1901. So 36 must have been a huge order then. Smelling the prospect of riches, Daimler-Benz acceded to Emil Jellinek’s diktats. And that’s how Mercedes, the little girl with a penurious future, became a luxury car.

Bisleri is another sparkling example of an eponymous brand (named after real people). Originally a product of Felice Bisleri & Co, the renowned mineral water was bought over in 1969, by Parle Products. For those who like a bit of back story, Felice Bisleri was a pharmacist cum liqueur maker cum fervent supporter of Garibaldi with a penchant for concocting aperitifs. The next time you glug down some H2o from your PET bottle, don’t forget to remember this Italian.

The formidable Ayurvedic doctor of Jamnagar - Karuna Shankar Bhatt - suffered a similar fate after he passed away in 1897. A thick mist of anonymity has cloaked his accomplishments ever since and the only thing that’s remembered of him today is his nickname ‘Zandu’ (haanji, that balm)!

One more man about whom we know precious little is Mr. Vadilal of Vadilal’s. Google tells us that Vadilal Gandhi was the great grandfather of the current owners of India’s leading ice cream company. It seems his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to set up a soda fountain in 1907. And that scoop of risk-taking paved the path for the lip smacking firm we know. Hopefully someday all of these people will get their fair slice of the limelight again.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Mystic Name Gene

If Sachin were Sourav Tendulkar, would he have been a great captain? If Farhan Akhtar were Shoaib Akhthar, would he be more alpha male? If Arundhati Roy had been Barkha Roy, would she have been pro-establishment? These are some fascinatingly pointless questions that keep bubbling in my cranium.

The Shakespearean School of Sceptics would snigger at such imputations by arguing that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Me, being an eternal believer in the possibilities that lurk in the unknown, I am of the view that researching the influence of names on how we think, how we look, and how we act, may reveal a whole new science.

For want of a better term, let’s label this still-to-be-born science as ‘Naming Genetics’ or the field that explores the many dimensions of the Name Gene.

To those who are intrigued by ‘Name Gene’, let’s define it for you. I would call it the ‘set of human traits contained in a name’. So every one of us is a walking, talking flesh and blood version of a unique name gene.

The ‘Sachin’ gene, for example, may be associated with a “weak” voice, soft spoken persona and the tendency to pass on the professional baton to the offspring. Music legend Sachin Dev Burman and the Master Blaster come to mind when one thinks of these traits.

From my observations, I can tell that the ‘Lata’ gene is a sure fire guarantor of musicality and tall stature (in terms of physique/reputation). ‘Meera’ ensures an independent streak and the stamina to outlast trials and tribulations. ‘Vijay’ infuses the resident with restlessness, positivity and introvertness. ‘Anand’ bestows nerdiness, cynicism and a love for sport. And ‘Lalita’ somehow breeds rotundity, cheerfulness, religiousness and responsibility.

Although my untested assertions may seem fairly dubious in nature, the best way to evaluate them is by looking around you and analysing if your acquaintances, friends and relatives sharing similar names, have any common behavioural patterns. My gut feel is you will. Because at the end of the day, we are all just vehicles for name genes to navigate the ocean of evolution.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Pettai Wrap Up.

Chennai is easily the most pet friendly city in the Southern hemisphere. The Madrasis cherish their pets so much that they’ve named at least 22 of their 298 pin code zones after pets. From Alwarpet to Washermanpet, they’ve paid homage to herbivores and carnivores of all classes and creeds. They’ve even gone to the extent of creating a rap song themed around their pets!

Which brings us to the most trivial question of the day: where and how did this obsession begin? Well, ‘pet’ as you all know is the anglicised way of saying ‘pettai’ (the Tamil word for ‘market place’).

When the Brits got their act together in Madras, around 1693, they created the first ‘pet’ by rechristening Tondiarpettai as Tondiarpet – which incidentally is a tribute to the Muslim saint Thondiar aka Kunnangudi Masthan Sahib.

Being a cotton-focused enterprise, the East India Company extended the use of this suffix by carving out Chintadripet (derived from ‘Chinna thari pettai’ or small weaver’s town), a township dedicated to weavers, spinners and washers. Vannarapettai or Washermanpet must have been the logical next step. And then the likes of Sowcarpet (sahukar-pettai or money lender market), Jolarpet (the railway base built by Englishman Jolar) and Kosapet (potter’s market) must have sprouted.

Mimicking the ways of the British, many villages and towns across South India, followed this template. Thus was born Somvarpet (Monday Market) in Coorg, Saidapet (a nod to Sayid Khan, the army commander of the Nawab of Arcot) in Chengalpet, and Begumpet (named after the sixth daughter of the Nizam) in Hyderabad.

As you can see, over a period of time ‘pet’ evolved from being a ‘market’ denominator to becoming the generic descriptor for a township. Robertsonpet and Andersonpet near Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in Karnataka, capture this trend beautifully.

In Chennai, Chromepet (the home of Chrome Leather Company), Chetpet (the area around Namberumal Chetty’s 99 residences) and Teynampet (the land abounding with coconut trees) are some fine examples of the development.

Unfortunately, the ‘Pet’ toponym never took off in North India. ‘Nagar’, ‘Basti’ and ‘Mandi’ were the equivalents preferred instead. One wonders why the Hindiwalahs were so petrified!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Names that didn't make the cut.

Quantum physics tells us that life is a dance of possibilities choreographed by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Till the point of definition, everything is just a haze of waves floating around amorphously in multiple universes following their own logical script. The moment a decision is made, the waves collapse into our three dimensional reality and we get to experience the fruit of the choice we’ve made.

Naming choices follow the same quantum pattern. Yup, every name is the author of its own reality. Had Ian Fleming picked ‘Peregrine Carruthers’ over James Bond, ‘I am Carruthers…Peregrine Caruthers,’ would not have shaken or stirred the box office as the name reeks of a spectacled banker than a likeable spy.

Example-2: When confronted with a gum-drop shaped, candy-coloured translucent desktop computer - the god of design - Steve Jobs, almost opted for ‘MacMan’ as the moniker. Luckily for Apple, they had the sensible Ken Segal who tabled ‘iMac’ for consideration. Thanks to his dogged persistence, we have the iPod, iPhone and iPad today. Else, we’d have been stuck with the very Walkman-like PodMan, PhoneMan and PadMan. With such clunky names, who knows Apple would have turned DudMan!

Starbucks is another great case study to explore the ‘what ifs’ of naming. The founders, it is said, had short listed ‘Pequod’ (the whale ship in the book Moby-Dick) as their first preference. A quip from a co-founder that ‘no one is going to drink a cup of pee-quod!’ kind of harpooned the prospects of poor Pequod. That split second of candidness proved a blessing for the coffee major as the team ended up fishing a more memorable name from Herman Melville’s tome.

The history of brands is littered with many similar instances of sagacious rejection of almost-there names. ‘Blackberry’ would have been called ‘Strawberry’ if not for the intervention of a hard-nosed marketing head, who was seeking, a little alliteration. ‘Jaguar’ could have been ‘SS’, ‘Sunbeam’ or any other animal if not for the wise call of automobile magnate William Lyons. Likewise Google would have been ‘Backrub’ and Twitter would have been ‘Twitch’. Moral of the story: If you choose almost-there, you’ll only be almost-famous.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Trademark of a Celebrity.

These days it’s no longer enough to own a Vertu Diamond phone, a luxury yacht, an IPL team or a holiday home in Jumeirah Palm Island to qualify for celebrityhood. The ‘Big Kahuna’ test is whether you can trademark your name or not.

Shah Rukh Khan learned about this new licence for stardom a little earlier than most of our twinkle types. He filed for an application with the Controller General of Patents and Trademarks on 26th September 2008. Thanks to that masterstroke, the name ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ is a protected property under Class 41.

What that ‘protection’ means is: there can be no other Shah Rukh Khan on TV, Radio, Animation and Entertainment in India till 2018. Incidentally, SRK was not the first celebrity in the sub continent to trademark his name. Oscar winner AR Rahman beat him to it by filing his application on 29th April 2008!

Mallika Sherawat, Sachin Tendulkar, Kajol, Baba Ramdev, Chef Sanjeev Kapoor and cardiologist Naresh Trehan are the only others who’ve exercised the option of converting their name into an intellectual property. Surprisingly the ultra narcissistic Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Vijay Mallya have refrained from trade marking their names.

While one might be tempted to lampoon the TM trend, let’s be very clear that it has its practical uses. Kajol, for instance, can leverage it in three ways: she could generate revenues by loaning her trademark to a product within the realm of entertainment; she could theoretically nip all potential misuse of her real & virtual identity with defamation suits; and most importantly, she can earn royalties from all future commercial deployment of her name.

Recently, Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z pushed the celebrity stakes one notch higher when they approached the USPTO for trade marking ‘Blue Ivory Carter’ - their new born baby’s name! It is to be seen if Abhi & Ash mimic this strategy.

Even if they do, they might hit a roadblock if the name is as commonplace as ‘Abhilasha’. The key is to be distinctive. My take is, ‘Aaradhya Bachchan’ may stand a better chance of making a mark with the patent office.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Namewala Algorithm

If a mystic meteor were to crash into our planet and wipe out our collective memory of names, we’ll still have the wherewithal to rename every single person. The species we call ‘Mad Bawas’ deserve all credit for empowering us earthlings with this lifesaving technique which shall henceforth be referred to as the ‘Namewala Algorithm’.

The ‘Namewala Algorithm’ posits that anyone can generate a name for oneself by following the F + P formula. F here stands for any random first name and P is the profession you’re enamoured with or the craft that’s traditionally associated with your family. The beauty of the formulation is that it can create the most logical names custom-made for all earthly and unearthly languages.

So if you happen to be a tailor and Urdu is your mother tongue, you get Darzi as your P-name. Just append a meaningless Arabic sound like ‘Alkaza’ as your F-name and ta-da, you get Alkaza Darzi as your identity! Following this train of thought, if you were English, your name could be Ashley Taylor. If Spanish, make that Alfredo Modisto and if you were Swahili, you could opt for, say Mbsili Mshonaji.

Such an elegant method was invented by the refugee Parsis of the 19th century when they decided to give their faceless selves, a facelift. The first set of pioneers in a fit of nostalgia preferred their P-names to reflect Place of Settlement. Broacha (from Bharuch), Bilimoria (Bilimora), Khambhatta (Cambay) and Jhunjhunwala (Jhunjhunu) are some famous examples.

The latter day Parsis carved out their own distinctive personas by picking aptronyms (aptly suited names) based on professions. Mistry, Zaveri, Ustad, and Shroff were the bold precursors. Tijoriwala, Sopariwala, Daruwala, Lakdawala, Bandookwala, Furniturewala, Screwwala, Treasurywala and Sodabottleopenerwala followed suit with their semi-obvious surnames. Then came the, ultra anglicised Merchants, Bankers, Pilots, Doctors, Engineers and Lawyers. Today we have folks with surnames like ‘Winemaker’, ‘Writer’ and ‘Reporter’.

Given the penchant of Gen Y to be more innovative than the previous generations, I won’t be surprised if we get to see ‘DJ’, ‘Coder’, ‘Actor’, ‘Magician’, ‘Guitarwala’ ‘Tattoowala’ and ‘Bikewala’ soon. Any which way, we’re ready for the festival of the thousand walas!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Judge a book by its cover.

Having been weaned on a literary diet of 25 text books, 4.5 novels, 3 dictionaries and 1 epic facebook account, I can authoritatively declare that titles are like newspaper headlines. Their tone and tenor reveal the soul of the book

If the title is deliberately soporific like a daily we know, then the book will be pretentiously intellectual. ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith, ‘Development as Freedom’ by Amartya Sen and ‘Class War: The Attack on Working People’ by Noam Chomsky, are telling examples.

Pulpy paperbacks prefer something tabloidy. Think ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter’, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ to appreciate my point better.

And the truly sidey ones use a yellow journalistic sleaziness to tease your senses. I’ve spent a considerable amount of my wasted life in hunting down such kitschy book titles. Here’s the best of the worst:

On top of my list is ‘How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art’ by Kathleen Meyer. Apparently the book is awash with heaps of advice on relieving oneself while camping out. It beats me how anyone can write or read such crap.

Carl Japikse’s breathtaking spiritual parody ‘The Zen of Farting’ ranks a close second. I wonder if anyone will sit next to you if you were carrying this 104-pager on a flight!

‘Pornogami – A Guide to the Ancient Art of Paper-Folding for Adults’ by Master Sugoi is an equally baffling book to chance upon. The kinky pleasure of transforming pieces of paper into objects of erotica is the premise of Pornogami. Don’t ask me who’ll buy it. May be Shiny Ahuja or Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

If you couldn’t handle that one, how about leafing through ‘If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs’? tells us that it’s a love-guide for women from a been-there-done-that guy. Can’t imagine who’ll want to order such poppycock.

‘Living with Crazy Buttocks’, ‘The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories’ and ‘101 Super Uses for Tampon Applicators’ offer further evidence for my theory that the more pick-me-up the title, the more put-me-down it will be.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Understanding the Albert Pintos

Quick quiz! What was Bobby’s surname in the Raj Kapoor blockbuster ‘Bobby’? What was Kareena Kapoor’s surname in the recently released rom-com ‘Ek Main Aur Ek Tu’? And final question: Archana Puran Singh played a flirtatious college professor in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. What was her moniker in that movie?

If you are as clueless as Manmohan Singh now, let me reveal the solution. The answer to all the three posers is: Braganza!

See, as always Bollywood has turned out to be utterly predictable. If you talk to people from Goa, they will reel out many more instances to showcase the limited imagination of our screenwriters. Here are a few samplers: when in doubt, it’s either Albert or Anthony Gonsalves; if it’s a brother, it has to be Fernando; a sidekick always means Fonseca or Mendonca; and all licentious Goan women get labelled as Julie.

Fortunately, the tapestry of Goan Christian names is far richer than we can imagine. So may be next time when some ‘Anurag Kashyap Type’ sits down to write a screenplay, it might just help to mull over the nomenclatural beauties on offer before freezing on a suitable name.

For instance, if the character is a wily fox, he could be called Lobo (meaning ‘wolf’). A sailor can be a D’Costa (Portugese for ‘from the coast’). A wild guy can be a D’Silva (‘from the forest’). A pastor can be termed a D’Cruz (‘from the cross’). A mine owner can be a Ferreira (‘one from the iron mine’) and a thirsty-for-success bloke could be a Sequeira (‘from arid land’).

In case, the hunt is for a little exotic surname, the choice could be between Simoes (‘son of Simon’), Couto (‘from an enclosed pasture’), Brito (‘from Brittany’), Miranda (‘wondrous or lovely’), Saldanha (‘from Saldana, a town in Spain’), Correa (‘one who trades in leather fastening goods’), Perreira (‘surrounded by Pear trees’), Carvalho (‘Oak tree’) and Moraes (‘living among Mulberry trees’).

When none of the above works, try Dias (‘son of Diego’), Gomes (‘man), or just gulp some Feni and your pride, and settle for the evergreen Gonsalves (one who fights without weapons) or simply Pinto (‘the speckled one’)!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A test tube full of fun.

Chemists are a radical lot. Whatever they do causes a reaction. If they bond well, there’s equilibrium. If they develop a complex, there’s entropy all around. If they turn radio active, something explosive happens. And if they decide to stay inert, the thermodynamics of life faces a litmus test. To stereotype them as colourless white-coats is as uni-dimensional as remembering Dravid for his ‘dour defence’ or Sonia for her ‘sphinx-like silence’.

The fact is, most of us aren’t even aware of the kind of fun they have while whipping up their alcohols and aldehydes. Thankfully we have Paul W. May, the Professor of Physical Chemistry at University of Bristol. He’s been generous enough to give us an inkling of the chemist’s wit by penning ‘Molecules with silly or unusual names’.

From the book, I’ve culled out some rip-roariously amusing names that feel like they were coined in a room filled with laughing gas.

Moronic Acid is going to be my Exhibit No.1. Extracted from Mulberry trees (biologically called the Morus family), Moronic Acid is not used to dissolve the Big Mooses of the world. On the contrary, the triterpenoid organic acid is often deployed by archaeologists to wash away the dirt from ancient wooden relics.

Then there’s Arsole, the most ingeniously named compound in the chemistry of mankind. Arsole or the Arsenic equivalent of Pyrrole is predictably known to be mildly aromatic. It seems the curious tag tickled quite a few scientists into queuing up to research the aroma of the Arsole!

Another bold nomenclature is Bastardane. When confronted with a look that felt very different from the papa molecule, it seems someone with a tongue firmly in cheek took the liberty of opting for this drop of blasphemy.

‘DEAD’ (the acronym for the explosive Di-Ethyl-Azo-Dicarboxylate) is a stark example of the black humour of the lords of the lab. The hideously memorable ‘SNOT’ (Tritiated Tin Hydroxide) is an equally clever derivation, made up from the chemical formula SnOT. And if that didn’t regale you enough, consider DAMN, the acronym for the fairly toxic Di-Amino-Maleo-Nitrile. Ain’t that befittingly caustic?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Revenge of the Mummy

Let’s drop all pretence and admit it once for all that babies are rarely ever the ‘little bundles of joy’ they are made out to be. They are in fact, the fountainhead of all future troubles in store for naïve, unsuspecting parents.

If you put any mom through a polygraph test, the real repressed truth will tumble out. The so-called ‘cuddly angels’ are nothing but milk-guzzling, energy-draining, time-sucking ingrates who don’t give a diddly squat about you or your wasted life. All they want is: attention, attention and more attention.

To mothers and fathers who were willingly suckered into this thankless deal, I have a devious revenge plan. How about hitting the baby where it hurts by giving the child a ‘stick out like a sore thumb’ name that will cause embarrassment forever? How about giving your dolly a suitably ridiculous brand name that aptly sums up the personality of the infant?

For example, if junior is the type who wets his bed, how about calling him Harpic? That should raise a stink in the classroom when the teacher reads out his name during the roll call!

If you found that way too offensive, we could always soften things up by making it fairly cutesy. By cutesy, I mean, the baby that bawls like a rowdy for even itsy-bitsy things can be named – Yahoo! The one that cries fairly musically could be called Bose.

Hutch should be the mamma’s boy who tags along wherever she goes. Apollo (an allusion to the hospital) should be a perfect fit for the perpetually sick kid. Fevikwik could be the one who gladly chipkofyies to relatives who shower attention. And Johnnie Walker can be the restless devil who keeps on walking.

Lest you take my suggestions lightly, lemme warn you that this naming trend is already catching on in the West. Over 600 babies in Europe have been given the ‘Ikea’ moniker in the last 16 years. Just recently, a woman who loved weed and soft drinks named her girl as ‘Marijuana Pepsi Jackson’. So the revenge scenario I projected may very well happen soon. And I am not kidding.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


There’s a bunch of folks who make me go LOL every time they send me template FYI (For Your Information) mails with the same old PFA (Please Find Attached) subject line peppered with the usual SSDD (Same Shit Different Draft), culminating with an ASAP call for action and ending with a cunningly planted PS thrown in to couch their real intentions in a sly BTW manner. I feel like giving them a KITA (Kick In The Anterior) for forgetting the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle that they so diligently learnt in their MBA (Mentally Below Average) school.

If you’re wondering why I am going on and on with initialisms, you must have figured that I am no fan of ABCs (Abbreviation Belching Cretins). The mindless minimalism of the ABCs is the reason why we see alphabet soups floating all around us. Tamil Nadu is full of these monogrammatic monstrosities.

Lording over us is ADMK (Amma Devotees Munnetra Kazhagam). Berating every move of the ruling party is DMK (Dynastic Munnetra Kazhagam). Watching from the sidelines is the DMDK (Definitely Muddled Depleted Kazhagam) and desperately seeking some attention is the PMK (Perpetually Mercenary Kazhagam).

Egging them on in the darkness fuelled by TNEB (Think Never Ending Blackouts) is the abbreviation-loving Tamilian who listens to ARR, cheers for CSK, bats for MSD, claps for MGR, banks with IOB, studies in MCC, works for TCS or IBM and wishes he were an NRI.

Seeing our fascination for incongruous letter clusters, even movie makers have started peddling their films with ungainly acronyms. You had SMS (Siva Manasula Sakti), VTV (Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya) and ATM (Azhagiya Tamizh Magan).

Actually our North Indian brethren share the same weakness at least when it comes to films. First there was DDLJ, then HAHK, followed by KKHH and finally K3G. Now things have reached vulgar proportions. A new Vivek Oberoi flick is all set to be launched as KLPD (Kismat Love Paisa Dilli). Ostensibly targeted at the ‘Bhaag DK Bose’ generation, KLPD is a campus expression that is not exactly worth discussing over family dinner. I think it’s an utterly tasteless title that deserves nothing less than a WTF from the censor board.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Whiff of Exotica

An average woman can identify 10,000 distinct odours. While an average man can just about manage 5000 aromas. That explains why the female species can sniff out your stinky socks from a mile. That also sheds new light on why ‘guys like us’ can’t even tell the difference between perfumes, colognes and deodorants.

For the olfactorily-challenged: Cologne has just 3 to 6% solution of fragrance oil in 70% grade alcohol; Deodorant has 6 to 15% fragrance in 80% grade alcohol; and Perfume has 15 to 25% in 100% ethyl alcohol. In pure aura terms, the difference is the same as the one between Any Aishwarya, Aishwarya Rajnikant and Aishwarya Rai.

Now that we’ve got that monkey off our back, let’s understand why women fall hook, line and sinker for parfums (that’s how the French spell it).

Perfumistas opine that the prime motive could be to ensnare a man by triggering pheromones that stimulate a sensual feeling inside her mate. I’d like to think that’s utter poppycock. The driving force at work here is the masochistic urge of the woman to make the man pay the price for putting up with his insufferable company.

Yes sir, the perfume is her payback for overcoming the stench of your presence. You better wake up to this unsavoury reality the next time you gift her that unpronounceable scented oil in that obscenely expensive bottle.

To help you cut your losses, I am gonna give you a little tip. The more grandiosely exotic the name of the parfum, the more it’s gonna hurt your wallet. As in, if it’s Zeste Mandarine Pampelmousse (French for ‘Spirit of Orange & Graperfruit’), Drakkar Noir (Black Dragonship) or Kokorico (Cock-a-doodle-do), it’s always going to cost you more than our humble Spinz.

Another trick is to request the pretty salesgirl for a demystification of the perfume name. If she says ‘Un Jardin Sur Le Nil’ translates to ’A garden on the Nile’ it just means that your chick will end up smelling like an Egyptian mango. Shelling out a ransom for an aam flavour? Now if that’s not paying through your nose, I don’t what else is!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where Ivan ain't Ivan

Chennai can be a terribly boring place for humour buffs who know just konjum konjum Tamil. In such times of severe laughter deprivation, it might help to scan the movie section of your favourite national newspaper.

Just stare at any of the Kollywood ads that modestly proclaim their ‘terra hit 3rd day collection’. And focus on the Transcribed-in-English film title. Try and read it aloud, if possible. Chances are, all the localites around you will be in splits and that would make you smile.

‘But why should a Tamil Movie Title, written in English, raise a chuckle?’ you may ask. Well, the answer for that question lies in the Tamilian’s whimsical penchant for using spellings that follow no earthly logic.

Allow me to amplify with a few examples. Let’s just say, you happen to see the ubiquitous ‘7-am Arivu’ ad. How would you pronounce it? Seven-A-M-Air-Ree-Woo, right? You can’t be blamed if you assumed, it was a movie about early morning flatulence! Makes you wonder why Murugadoss didn’t opt for ‘Yezhaam Areevu’ instead of that misleading alphanumeric.

I’ll give you one more gem. ‘Potti’ is supposed to be the native word for ‘Box’. While ‘Poatti’ is supposed to mean ‘Competition’. But everybody who’s anybody insists on using ‘Potti’ for ‘Competition’. So you have a Jayaram-starrer called ‘Sabash Sariyana Potti’. A good acquaintance of mine read it as ‘Sabash Sariyana Potty’. Someone should box the ears of the filmmaker for this unintended toilet humour.

Actor Parthiban’s ‘Ivan’ is another hopeless case. When the posters made their appearance, many made the mistake of surmising it to be an adaptation of ‘Ivan Hoe’. It turned out to be the Tamil word ‘Ivan’ (meaning: him).

These goof ups happen as a lot of folks here mix up their ‘da’ with dha’ with ‘tha’. Not surprisingly, they write Kanda when they want to say Kandha, Anantha when they mean ‘Ananda’ and Mariyathai when they imply ‘Mariyadhai’. Given this chaos, I won’t be surprised if some people were to decode Mani Ratnam’s Kadal (sea) as Kadhal (love). If that happens, may be it’s time our directors signed up for a class in phonetics.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Peter Paradox

What will be your reaction if you stumble upon a man from Mannargudi who walks and talks like he was born and brought up in Manhattan? You’ll snigger at him, right? And if that farcical facade got on your nerves, you might just mutter: Enna da, eppidi Peter udraan (Tamil slang for – oh maan, what a pseud)!

Curiously, we don’t apply this derisive ‘Peter’ label to home-grown brands that appropriate very international-sounding names. We don’t mock at a Maharashtra-born ‘London Pilsner’ beer or a Ludhiana-made ‘Monte Carlo’ turtleneck. On the contrary, we seem perfectly fine if a local brand creates an aura of being European (Case in point: Fiama di Wills).

Strangely though, we do look down upon native brands that have a very native name. Somehow in our heads we grade a ‘Meenkashi’ as ‘downmarket’ while we’re happy to classify ‘Fish Eye’ as ‘uppity’. What our conditioned mind forgets is, ‘Fish Eye’ is but the English version of ‘Meenakshi’!

Funny, isn’t it? On the one hand, we make fun of people who are very put on. On the other hand, we are totally at ease with brown skin brands that pretend to be white skin. I’ve never quite fathomed this great Indian paradox.

Luckily, there are still a few brave hearts who are not at all ashamed to court consumers with Bharatiya names. Tanishq (Hindustani for Body Love) is a fabulous example. The company had a choice of riding on the super successful ‘Titan’. They could even have milked the mother cow ‘Tata’. But instead they boldly bet on Tanishq - without ever losing sleep over picking an ‘uncool’ brown skin name. The gamble was well worth the trick as the jewellery brand rakes in over 7000 crores of moolah, today.

The crunchy Hindi moniker Kurkure is another blockbuster brand that’s unabashedly desi. Come to think of it, Aashirvad Aata, Radio Mirchi, Vatika, Meera, Santoor, Aaj Tak, Rasna, Vimal, Mufti, and Amrutanjan have all been equally successful. Given this overwhelming evidence, you’d be surprised to know that only 3 in 10 brands launched in India opt for an Indian name. Makes you wonder if we are all just wannabe goras.