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.