Thursday, September 26, 2013

Filmy Ways to Count

Teaching a child to count is not exactly rocket science. But it’s even more complex - especially if your kid has the attention span of an excited mosquito. Thankfully there’s a fun way to do the job: just do it through movies.

Let me demonstrate how. Start with the one and only Salman Khan. Screen ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ at home. And tell your little one, Ek means ‘one’. If your boy has a more evolved taste, log onto YouTube and showcase the Pankaj Kapoor drama ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’. If he loves it, then make him eligible for the Amitabh comedy ‘Do Aur Do Paanch’. Remember to point out that the title defies all laws of algebra.

The triple dimensions of three can be dinned into his head with the Aamir starrer ‘3 Idiots’. Hugh Grant’s romantic comedy ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ is a deft means of seeding ‘4’ into his vocabulary. And Tamil actor Bharath’s new release ‘Aindhu Aindhu Aindhu’ should educate him about five.

Six is a cinch. Try Manoj Night Shyamalan’s ‘Sixth Sense’. An easy method to memorise seven is by disclosing to your son that ‘Saat Hindustani’ was Amitabh Bachchan’s debut film. The arachnid horror flick ‘Eight Legged Freaks’ is enough to tell all about number eight. Sivaji Ganesan’s 9-role act ‘Navratri’ should be a melodramatic reminder for the Hindi ‘nau’. And Kamal Hassan’s 10-role blockbuster ‘Dasavatharam’ will teach him a thing or two about being a jack of ten trades.

David Dhawan’s ‘Ek Aur Ek Gyarah’, Bruce Willis’ film ‘Twelve Monkeys’, the American slasher ‘Friday the 13th’ should get him up to speed on pre-teen numbers. If that whets his appetite, the Stephen King psychological thriller ‘1418’ and Robert DeNiro’s crime thriller ’15 minutes’ should initiate him into the teens.

Bharathiraja’s ‘Padhinaaru Vayadhinile’ that featured a 14-year old Sridevi playing a 16-year old Mayil is a good advertisement for the kind of mess, sweet sixteen could get him into. ’17 Again’, ‘Enakku 20, Unakku 18’ and ‘Unees Bees’ are films that can take him to the twenties. ’21 grams’, ’Catch-22’, ‘The Number 23’, ‘Iruvathi Naalu Mani Neram’, ‘25th Hour’ and ‘Special Chabees’ should round up the exercise. And if he asks you about zuk, there’s always ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Magic of Modi

In 12 dramatic years, a right wing introvert who was never known to be popular, has taken some giant saffron strides to emerge as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Even his most ardent critics concede that his achievement is spectacular considering the odds he faced. A riot that nearly buried his career, a hostile national media that was baying for his blood, and his own double-faced party colleagues who were plotting his downfall, couldn’t stop the unstoppable Gujarat rath from reaching 11, Ashoka Road.

It is my view that Narendra Damodardas could never have squared the circle had it not been for his snappy surname. Let’s face it: without Modi, there’ll be no NaMo cult. The humble 2-syllable that means ‘owner of granary’, is the mystic element that makes Mr. White Beard magnetic.

Before you dismiss it as one more kooky theory from me, let me reveal the secret sauce that makes Modi so powerful. Modi, as per Chaldean numerology, corresponds to the number 7 which represents ‘masculine energy, quick wittedness, good fortune, ability to bear hardships, streak of independence and dangerous adversary’. All of which are traits displayed by the ‘Chhappan Chaathi’ man.

The significant thing to note is Narendra also adds up to 7. When combined, Narendra Modi works out to the name number 41 (25 + 16). Forty one, as anyone will tell you is a potent number borne by the likes of Napoleon, Fidel Castro, George Bush and MG Ramachandran. By a quirk of fate, if the man had been just ‘Narendra Damodardas’, his name number would have been 56 – not exactly associated with strong leadership!

That’s the difference ‘Modi’ brings to the table. If you study the fortunes of two other Modis, you’ll see the beauty of the surname. Take Lalit Modi, the once upon a time IPL supremo. Remember his meteoric rise? He used to lord over cricket by wielding unbridled power. Another benign dictator was Russi Mody of the Tatas. He used to run TISCO like he owns it. What gave them the bounce was the Modi tag. Unfortunately their name numbers don’t work out to 41. May be that’s why nobody knows their namo nishaan now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Hindu plays it safe.

After agonising over the matter, till the eleventh hour, ‘The Hindu – India’s national newspaper’ seems to have decided it’s better to milk its existing equity rather than create a whole new native brand for the Tamil market.

The launch of ‘தி இந்து’ is a happy moment for Tamil Nadu but from a branding angle it’s rather unimaginative, limiting and utterly ambitionless.

The Suppans and Kuppans in the pattis and thottis of our state refer to the Hindu as the ‘Hindu paper’. Certainly not ‘Thee Indu’. Even ‘Tamil Hindu’ wouldn’t have been a bad idea. But ‘Thee Indu’ reeks of the transliteration mind-set that most North Indian brands have.

Let’s face it. ‘Thee Indu’ doesn’t sound like a patchai tamizhan brand. Neither does it sound too Peter-ish. The name falls between two stools and ends up looking like a Higgins Bhagavathar queuing up for a Dravidian fancy dress contest.

Thankfully for ‘Thee Indu’, it has an Asokan (an Ananda Vikatan veteran) helming it. That’s the silver lining really. Otherwise, the name gives an impression that ‘Thee Indu’ must be ‘The Hindu’ created with Google Tamil Translator.

My sympathies are with Asokan and team. Now they have the ‘left leaning, play it safe’ baggage of The Hindu to carry when they write with passion.

The only ones rejoicing must be competitors like Dina Thanthi, Dina Malar, Dinakaran and Dina Mani. Because they know in their heart of hearts that now they have nothing to fear. ‘Thee Indu’ is no competition.

It will remain a niche newspaper targeting Tamilians who vote for the Congress and BJP, and have Mani Ratnam, Crazy Mohan, Subramanian Swamy and other upper middle class Tamil icons as their idols. I am hoping they prove me wrong.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Secrets of Syria

The whole world is discussing, debating and dissecting Syria. The average Indian couldn’t care less. To him, Bashar al-Assad is as remote a name as the Brontosaurus. In his pecking order, the Sarin Gas would be twenty notches below the LPG Gas. You can’t blame him for his apathy as the only chemical weapon he knows is the Mortein insect repellent. If Syria had been a country that outsources nurses, cabbies or software engineers, perhaps he would have shown more interest.

One more reason for the apparent detachment could be the perceived lack of any geographic or historic links except for the odd Syrian Christian story. Perhaps things will change if we reveal the startling Indian roots of Syria.

First up, let’s examine the Arabic name for Syria. It’s Suriya. Does it light up the zero-watt bulb in your head? If it doesn’t, allow me to remind you that sun god is a recurring theme in the culture of Ancient Syria.

Now for the Mittanis. They were the imperial race that ruled Northern Syria around 1500 BC. Coincidentally they used to worship Indra, Varuna, Agni and Mitra. Their numerals included eka (one), pancha (five), sapta (seven) and nava (nine). Ashva was their word for horse, babhru for brown and parita for grey. All of these are almost identical with their Sanskrit equivalents. Among the famed Mittani kings were Kirta, Shuttarna, Parattarna and Tushrata. Doesn’t Tushrata sound like Dasharatha?

Let’s dig a little deeper. Euphrates is the largest river in Syria. The Hebrew name for it is Prat. The Arabic version is al-Furat. There’s a Sanskrit word called Suvrata. It means ‘fragrant plant’. Considering Euphrates flows through lands teeming with oaks, roses and pistachio, could it have been derived from Suvrata?

Even the lake names might give you a sense of déjà vu. In Golan Heights, near Mount Hermon, there’s a crater lake called Lake Ram (Dasharatha’s son?). Localites refer to it as Birket Ram. Bhrikta in Sanskrit is ‘roasted’ and that seems to makes sense given the volcanic nature of the terrain. There are many more dots waiting to be connected, if and only if, we make a little mind space for Damascus.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Symphony of Names

The other day I truly, madly, deeply wanted to find out why the guitar was called the ‘guitar’. Uncle Wikipedia gave me a rather unsatisfactory explanation that it may have originated from the Greek ‘Kithara’. A music buff named Paul Guy made me wonder if Sanskrit may have played a role here.

Because the Ektara is a one-stringed instrument. The Dotara has two strings. Tritara (or as the Persians say ‘Setar’) has three strings. By that logic, Chauthara must have been the one with 4-strings. The Italians might have interpreted it as Chittara. The Arabians may have made it Qithara and in Spanish it could have become Quittara - from where we get the original renaissance period 4-stringed Guitar!

Sanskrit also gave us Ghatam (meaning ‘pot’), Mridangam (‘clay body’ – those days it was made of hardened clay) and the Bansuri (‘bamboo melody’). Sanskrit’s country cousin Prakrit is said to have birthed Pakhawaj (‘side instrument’).

Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man owes the Arabs his name. They say Tambourine is derived from Tambur (‘drum’). Even Amir Khusro’s invention the Tabla (‘drum’) is Arabic in conception.

The violin family has an interesting story. The Roman goddess of joy is Vitula. Now Vitulare in Latin also means ‘to sing or to rejoice’. Vitula evolved into Fiddle (I sense a German angle as they have a habit of pronouncing ‘V’ as ‘F’) and it also spawned the Old French word ‘vielle’ which later became Viola. In the initial days, ‘Violone’ meant the big Viola, ‘Violine’ the smaller version and ‘Violonecello’ the intermediate size. With passage of time Vilonecello became ‘cello then the apostrophe was dropped. Today, there are just 3 sizes - Violin, Viola and Cello.

Let’s change our tune to the exotic. Morsing is from the Rajasthani Morchang. My surmise is that the instrument shape resembled a peacock’s mouth. That explains the Mor. ‘Chang’ could be onomatopoeic. Didgeridoo is also said to be mimicking the sound made by the instrument. Oboe is a French loan word from ‘haut buoy’ or ‘loud wood’. Ukelele is Hawaiian for ‘the gift that came from here’. And Trombone is Italian for ‘large trumpet’. With that we end our name orchestra.