Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Immortal Daughters

Dads have a history of moving heaven and earth for their daughters. Mike Micka hacked an entire video game to let his daughter play saviour instead of Mario. Tom Cruise blew up 3 million pounds to hire a private jet to see his daughter Suri on her seventh birthday. Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan actually went all the way to the moon to etch the initials of his little girl (Tracy Dawn Cernan) on the lunar surface!

Entrepreneurs wow their daughters with a simple trick. They name their brands after their favourite child to give them the gift of immortality. When Karsanbhai Patel lost his daughter Nirupama to a car accident, he brought her to life again by christening his detergent as Nirma (her pet name). Just to make sure no one forgets her, he put her illustration on the pack and in the TV commercial. Result: Nirma lives in millions of households today and everyone knows her as the girl in that billowing white frock.

Steve Jobs’ case was slightly different. When he named Apple’s first ever PC as Lisa, it was to overcome his guilt as he had denied paternity in court by disclaiming the physical ability to procreate a child. So he couched it by planting stories that Lisa was an acronym for Local Integrated System Architecture. But later, he admitted that it was a nod to his daughter Lisa Nicole.

The commercial failure of Lisa brought to fore the inherent risks attached in the ‘immortalise my princess’ strategy. But the stupendous success of Barbie (nick name of Barbara, daughter of Mattel’s cofounder) doused the fire of doubt and emboldened Mattel to launch one more doll in the name of Barbara’s brother Ken!

Sara Lee, Wendy’s and Skoda Felicia are three more illustrious examples where daughter names have proved to be veritable blockbusters. The home appliances brand Usha and the fabric whitener company Jyothi Laboratories are some Indian success stories in this ‘beti brand’ genre. But fame for one daughter can cause needless sibling rivalry. The only way out of this logjam is to launch another brand in the other daughter’s name!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Caste of Characters

India is neither a sleeping elephant nor a buzzing beehive.  She’s akin to that unlimited thali served in your neighbourhood restaurant offering a bewildering array of katoris, filled to the brim, with spicy and sweet, light and heavy side-dishes that either leave you with a satisfied burp or a Delhi Belly.
The thali is but a simplistic metaphor. In reality, we are a much more complex package. We are more like a giant platter with 3000 main courses (make that ‘castes’) and 25,000 side dishes (read ‘sub castes’). Anyone with a remote appetite for sociology will be in a perpetual state of salivation as we offer more variety than any civilisation on the planet. 

Studying the rainbow coalition of castes and sub castes can be a fascinating subject as it provides clues to decoding the wonder that was India. Let’s skim the surface by exploring the world of caste nomenclature. 

Have you ever wondered how the Gounders got their name? No. Gounda Mani had nothing to do with it. Linguists say that Gounder is from Kavundan or Kaamindan, the Tamil word for ‘noble protector of the country’. 

What about Vanniars? For all that Tamil talk by Dr. Ramadoss, did you know that Vanniar is a derivation of the Sanskrit word Vahni (meaning ‘fire’)? The fire connection is because the Vanniars believe that they are Agnivanshi kshatriyas. 

Vellalars, the agricultural landlords of Tamil Nadu, trace their lineage to the Velirs – migrant warriors from the lost city of Dwaraka! Kayasths, have a mythological connect too. They are of the view that Chitragupta (Yamraj’s accountant) is the progenitor of their race. Now Chitragupta was created out of the body of Brahma. And Kayastha in Sanskrit means ‘from the body’. That’s why. 

Quite a few castes owe their names to their professions. Kurmis from ‘krishi karmi’ or agriculturists. Gujjars from ‘gau charana’ or ‘cow grazers’. Bhumihars (‘landmakers’), Kapus (from ‘kaapu’ or ‘protector’) and Vokkaligas (from ‘okkalutana’ or ‘agriculture’) also have pastoral roots. While Lingayats (‘one who wears the linga’) and Kammas (from the Buddhist concept of ‘Karma’) have a religious basis.  There are a million more stories to share. But I am forced to hold them back lest I be branded as a casteist!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Lions of Lanka

The tigers and leopards in Tamil Nadu are growling in anger four years after the annihilation of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The belated outburst of manufactured rage has been further fanned by political hyenas hoping to checkmate the old foxes in the cynical game of one-upmanship. Buddhist monks are being mindlessly targeted. Friendly cricketers not spared. And Rajakapaksa’s republic has been hastily branded as an ‘enemy country’.

But there is still hope. The soldiers of this peaceful war against Lanka are students. So, to uncover the devious game of the politicians, all they need to do is to study a little history before demanding a slice of geography.

And history tells us that the Lankans are not aliens out to exterminate Tamils but descendants of our very own Indian blood. The first king of Ceylon, Vijaya Singha (the Singha that gave rise to Singhala or Sinhala), was widely believed to be from Simhapur, which happens to be the modern-day Sihor in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. The Karavas, the second most dominant Sinhalese group, draw their roots back to the Kauravas of Mahabharatha! Theravada Buddhism, the lead religion in Sri Lanka, was exported to the island nation by King Ashoka’s children Mahinda and Sanghamitra.

Even the names used by its people owe its origins largely to Sanskrit. I’ll demonstrate it by decoding some famous surnames. The Jayawardene in Mahela Jayawardene means ‘one who promotes victory’. Sangakkara aptly translates to ‘the group’s leader’. Ranatunga, the spearhead of the world cup victory, amazingly works out to ‘chief of war’. Herath (remember, Rangana Herath?) is synonymous with ‘Shivaratri’.

Samaraweera is ‘war hero’; Tillakaratne is ‘gem of the necklace’, Wettimuni is ‘sage who can perceive’, Jayasuriya is ‘victorious sun’, Mahanama is ‘holy name’, Kaluwitharana is ‘truly a gift’, Chandana is ‘sandalwood’, Taranga cues ‘sea waves’,  Kapugedera implies ‘protector from torrent’ and Kulasekara, ‘god of the commune’.

Let’s analyse surnames of leaders. Rajapakse connotes ‘loyal to the king’. Premadasa ironically suggests ‘servant of love’. Bandaranayake spells ‘storehouse captain’ while Kumaratunga alludes to ‘chief’s child’. Despite all these linguistic, historic and genetic linkages, if we continue to perceive the Lankans as adversaries, then we deserve to be consumed by the beast of hatred.