Thursday, January 26, 2012

Names that spell magic.

Magic has lost all its magic. These days, it feels more like a sleekly packaged act of illusion engineering. The eye-popping, jaw-dropping, awe-inducing wonderment that used to accompany the abracadabra has mysteriously vanished into thin air. All one gets to hear now is the incredulous catcalls of killjoys screaming: “Haven’t we seen this on YouTube before?”

Things were much better in the pre-internet era. The worldwide brotherhood of magicians went to great lengths to create an aura of mystique around their tricks. No one ever wrote ‘sleight-of-hand’ manuals or shot ‘Magic for Beginners’ videos explaining the elaborate deceptions. Part of the charm flowed from the larger-than-life persona projected in the public eye. It also helped to have strange names that lit the fire of intrigue in the mind of the beholder.

The 17th century ‘Conjurer of Kings’, Jacob Meyer, assumed the name ‘Philadelphia’ when he chose to tease emperors by producing ghosts out of smoke, flower showers from the sky and appearing in four places at the same moment.

Long before the invention of the fictional Harry Potter, there was a black magician named ‘Potter’ (Richard Potter). He was famed for dancing on fire, walking on eggs without breaking them, and climbing up a yarn and vanishing into the clouds.

In the late 19th century, Erich Weisz who dreamt of making it big, decided to call himself as ‘Houdini’ as a nod to the French magician Robert-Houdin. The name change worked as Erich ended up becoming the world’s greatest escape artist.

Likewise, Samri S. Baldwin, the American legendary for occultist psychic acts, used to bill himself as ‘The White Mahatma’ to add that Indian zing to his performances. David Bamberg opted for ‘Fu Manchu’ to give himself an exotic Chinese makeover while doing shows in Argentina.

Even the man who made Statue of Liberty disappear renamed himself as David Copperfield (after Charles Dickens’ character) to stand out from his peers. If he had chosen David Seth Kotkin instead, who knows, he might have had to settle for the invisibility of anonymity! BOTTOMLINE: If you want to become a magician, pull out a new name rabbit out of your hat.

Friday, January 20, 2012

DeNiros. DeCaprios. Decoded.

The Italians are a large hearted race. They gave us the ice cream cone, eye glasses, Eau de Cologne, typewriter, piano, espresso machine, thermometer, the Mona Lisa, the Vespa scooter, the Ferrari car, the Armani suit, 600 types of pasta, 500 scrumptious pizzas, 400 varieties of cheese, 350 concoctions of wine and above all, the ever luscious Monica Bellucci.

May I take the liberty of adding one more unsung item to this compellingly impressive repertoire – the finest sounding surnames in the world!

Yup, let’s have the grace to admit it: There is no match to the lilt of a Lamborghini, the polish of a Prada and the gentility of a Gucci. It is a fact that a Bulgari sounds infinitely more sophisticated than a Balaraju and a Vivaldi is far more pleasant to the ear, than a Vivekananda. Some attribute it to the phonoaesthetic nature of the language. I haven’t yet figured out why.

All I know is Italian surnames aren’t as beautiful or profound when one gets around to studying their literal meaning. For example, Botticelli means ‘Little barrel’ and it was initially used as a sniggery nickname to describe rotund folks. Somehow, over the years, it has emerged as a renowned cognomen with a mellifluous ring.

Ferrari, for all its uber-rich cues, is a derivative of ‘one who works with Ferrum (iron)’. Or simply put: a highfalutin euphemism for a blacksmith! Zappa, for all its coolness, is Italian for ‘hoe’ (an agricultural tool). The Cavalli in Roberto Cavalli comes from the word ‘cavallero’ which decodes to ‘horseman’. And the very uppity Cerutti alludes to just about anyone with curly hair.

I am damn sure, the companies that launched these brands were perfectly aware of the semantic ordinariness of their monikers. They still went ahead because of the euphonic possibilities.

I would do the same as all that matters is how the name feels when you utter it. DiCaprio has a royal vibe to it. If I told you, it just translates to ‘goat’ you’d probably junk it. Ditto with De Niro (black haired), Fellini (fur maker) and Coppola (flat cap). Don’t you agree, signor?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Butchers in Baggy Green

Bleeding Down Under is an experience, not particularly unique to women. Legions of overseas cricketers who’ve crossed swords with the mighty Australians in the striped battlefields of The Gabba or WACA will vouch for this embarrassing haemorrhage.

Dhoni’s Boys have suffered the same bloody indignity in Melbourne and Sydney. Perhaps the time has come for BCCI to add tampons to the cricketing gear of our hallowed stars. Else, Perth might provoke more mirth about the Agneepath-turned-Ughneepath series.

To be fair, a meaty portion of the credit for the all-round-mauling should go to Cricket Australia for assembling a squad of surgical butchers who relentlessly sliced, diced and cleaved through the veins, nerves and arteries of the hapless Indian XI.

You’d be fascinated to know that the knockout performance of the proud baggy greeners was foretold by their names. The fearless David Warner was destined to be on the front foot as his name meant ‘beloved warrior’. His partner Edward Cowan (meaning: wealth protecting commoner) makes the perfect foil as he was prognosticated to be defensive in nature. Ricky Ponting (Strong power bridger) was prophesied to be the ever dependable link between generations. The selfless sagacity of Michael Clarke (Learned like god) can be attributed to the wisdom embedded in his moniker.

Mike Hussey (Master of the house) stamps his authority on most matches because he was baptised so. Brad Haddin (Broad blossoming hill) hasn’t yet bloomed into a Gilchrist due to the ‘work-in-progress’ aspect of his surname. The heartlessness of Peter Siddle (Stony wide gap) in squeaking through the bat and pad was forecast when his dad decided to christen him.

Likewise, Ben bailed out the Aussies as Hilfenhaus translates to ‘Helping House’ in German. Fast bowling spearhead James Pattinson (Noble supplanter) who replaced injured pace sensation Pat Cummins in the New Zealand tour, didn’t let down his captain as the script was written when he was named!

Don’t you find the performance-lies-in-the-name theory intriguing? The acid test for it could rest with Ryan Harris (little home ruler). If his etymological roots are anything to go by, I am afraid we can kiss the series, a gory goodbye.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reviving a Badey Saab

My tiny brain has extra large spam folders for irrelevant stuff. 99% of what I see makes it to this exalted space. News items related to dieting, fitness, investment, dogs and cars are given ‘Accelerated Access’ to choice sub-folders in my mental trash can. I rarely pause to think about any of these subjects.

But on Christmas Eve, I guess the spirit of generosity suffused my innards. So for the first time ever, instead of automatically ‘Marking to Spam’, I actually spent time on an article about a vaguely familiar automobile brand. The trigger for it was the stark headline: ‘End of the road for Saab’.

Now for those who know their hatchbacks, Saab is no small fry. It’s as iconic as our Ambassador. It was the first ever four-wheeler to make safety belts a standard feature. Having sold over 3 million cars, the 64-year-old Swedish brand enjoys the reputation of being unassuming, smart, efficient, consistent, dependable and affordable.

‘So why are experts writing its obituary?’ was the question playing on my mind. A cursory glance of the sales figures revealed the sob story. In 2010, the company managed to sell just 30,000 cars. That’s one tenth of what Hyundai sells in India!

Does that mean the scrapheap is the final destination for Saab? I am of the view that if Mahindra or any Indian Group were to make a bid for it, they can turn things around. The reason for my optimism lies in one simple fact: Saab is an Urdu word with terrific connotations in South Asia.

It’s a term of endearment that crops up often in conversations. Bhai Saab, Major Saab, Laat Saab and Memsaab are commonly used appellations. To millions of Hindustanis, the expression ‘Saala main toh Saab ban gaya’ means reaching a stratospheric social status - almost on par with a knighthood.

Therefore, milking the linguistic potential of Saab is clearly the roadmap forward for the struggling brand. Imagine the sensation the car will create if we launch customizable models for celebrities that lets a Mister Bachchan announce his name as Bachchan Saab and a certain Sachin flaunt his awesomeness with Tendulkar Saab. We could even have surname models like 'Khan Saab', 'Chopra Saab', 'Kapoor Saab' and 'Ganguly Saab'. The possibilities are endless. With some deft ethnic marketing, me thinks SAAB could just race away with some much needed market share in hamra Bharat. Wonder if anyone can hear me honking.