Thursday, January 30, 2014

Raining cats and kitties.

To most nerds of my generation, CAT conjures up imagery of a much reviled entrance exam that decides whether you’re IIM-material or not. To civil and sometimes uncivil engineers, Cat is a pet name for dozers, loaders, pavers and excavators. And to a few kind souls, it’s a meowing and purring furry little thing with more oomph and charm than a mere doggie.

The essayist and poet, TS Eliot, was a legendary cat person. Among his greatest works was ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ – an anthology of humorous verses that dishes out practical wisdom on the feline species on a range of topics including naming. He’s of the view that every pussy must have three names: ‘Tiger’, ‘Oscar’, ‘Jasper’ and ‘Felix’ kind of trite monikers he’s often bestowed; ‘Jellylorum’, ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Monkustrap’ type of quirky names that cats react and respond to; and a mystic name that no one but the cat knows to be true.

Eliot put his naming wisdom to use when he picked ‘George Pushdragon’, ‘Pettipaws’, ‘Wiscus’, ‘Mungojerrie’ and ‘Rumpelteazer’ as his pets. Ernest Hemingway (the writer who lived with 30 cats) was far more adventurous with his nomenclature. ‘Crazy Christian’, and ‘Friendless Brother’ were among his favourite ones. Relatively speaking, Mark Twain was a little inventive. He didn’t settle for anything lesser than ‘Satan’, ‘Beelzebub’, ‘Sin’, ‘Pestilence’ and ‘Famine’.

Charles Dickens was easily the most unimaginative author. He named his kitty as ‘William’ and then abruptly changed it to ‘Williamina’ when it gave birth to kittens. Wonder why he didn’t better it. Cat got his tongue?

The best bunch of cat names, that I’ve come across, is from America’s business magnate Martha Stewart. ‘Beethoven’, ‘Mozart’, ‘Vivaldi’, and ‘Verdi’ make up her clowder. The names are so musical, it befits a Cat Stevens instead of Martha Stewart. Anyways, her inspiration could have been ‘The Great Gatsby’ novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. He apparently had a cat called ‘Chopin’.

Among politicos, George Bush’s ‘India’ and Bill Clinton’s ‘Socks’ are fairly popular. What’s less known is the fact that Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith’s cat was originally named Ahmedabad. When he shortened it to ‘Ahmed’ there was a ruckus. So he renamed ‘Ahmedabad’ to ‘Gujarat’! Now that I’ve let enough cats out of the bag, I shall vamoose.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Healthy Dose of Trivia

We, the people, have an intimate relationship with our medicines. Some of us share our beds with the blue Vicks bottle. Many folks, I know, spend their quality time in the loo with a tube of Volini. The women of the house in several cities wear a perfume called Amrutanjan. Crocin is the 3 AM friend that a lot of families turn to when a crisis strikes. Despite being such thick pals, we know very little about these guys. Let me lift the veil once for all and reveal a few nuggets about them.

The sore throat reliever ‘Strepsils’ has been around since 1958. Those with a secret crush on Doordarshan will remember how the lozenges have the power to turn even a meow into a roar. But have you ever wondered why it’s called Strepsils? The name is derived from Streptococcus (the bacteria that causes throat infections) and Pastille (the word for a flavoured tablet). I bet you didn’t know that.

Another story you may not be aware of, involves a Burmese gentleman named Aw Chu Kin. On his deathbed in the 1870s, he’s said to have asked his two sons Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par to improve his herbal formulation that provided external pain relief. The product was apparently named after Aw Boon Haw which translates to ‘Gentle Tiger’. Today, we know the brand as ‘Tiger Balm’.

One more surprising fact: ‘Eno’, the antacid, was invented in the 1850s by James Crossley Eno. Hence the name.

And ‘Vicks’ owes its moniker to Dr. Joshua Vicks, the brother-in-law of Lunsford Richardson, the genius behind the Vick’s Vaporub. Richardshon chose Vicks as it fit neatly into the packaging label on the now famous bottle. Incidentally, Vicks was dropped in Germany as the Germans pronounced it as Ficks which happens to be an embarrassing four-letter word. To save the blushes, Vicks assumed the avatar of Wick over there.

More often than not, active ingredients have a major say in medication naming. Headache cure ‘Anacin’ is a conflation of Analgesic and Caffeine. ‘Botox’ is a derivation from Botulism Toxin. And ‘Iodex’ is but an ointment made from Iodine Extract. Now that you know more about your pain killers, you will hopefully raise a toast in their honour.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mirthful Mergers

Have you heard of the 2.5 billion dollar blooper? It was committed recently by Gazprom, the largest natural gas extractor in the world. It all happened when the Russian giant signed a joint venture with Nigerian state enterprise NNPC. The new company was called ‘Nigaz’ – a seemingly harmless portmanteau crafted from Nigeria and Gazprom.

Now, anyone with some sense will tell you that Nigaz sounds suspiciously close to the racist pejorative ‘Niggas’. Somehow Gazprom never saw it coming. The result was severe embarrassment. The Guardian billed it as the ‘branding disaster of all time’.

If super rich conglomerates can act super stupid, I wouldn’t put it past mid-sized enterprises to commit bigger goof-ups. Anyways, Gazprom’s costly mistake has put the spotlight back on funny merger names.

Old jokes are being dusted up and packaged as new. The classic of course is: ‘What happens when FedEx merges with UPS?’ The answer, dear Einstein, is FedUp. Another pearl: If Swiss Air and Cheeseborough-Ponds were to tie the knot, will the new company be christened, ‘Swiss Cheese’? The gold standard among the merger jokes is ‘What happens when Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush and WR Grace Co become one? You get Hale Mary Fuller Grace!’

Instead of recycling the same stale ale, I was thinking why not pour some fresh juice into your empty glass. So here goes: Standard Chartered should consider taking over Subway Sandwiches. That way we all can munch into ‘Sub Standard’ junk food!

The next one is not exactly family-friendly. Shut your eyes, oh Victorian prudes! Okay, what do you get when Blowplast decides to acquire Times Jobs? Yeah, it’s exactly what you thought. It’s the unpleasant euphemism for the job that sucks.

Let’s get more desi. Let’s say, Sahara takes over Oyzterbay. Will the resulting outfit be named ‘Bay Sahara’? One more. If and when Richard Branson buys out Marie biscuits, will he re-launch it as ‘Virgin Marie’?

Or for that matter, when Yahoo takes a stake in Vodafone, will they insist on renaming the brand as ‘Yodafone’? And when Blackstone buys out Sharon Plywood, will they make it sexier by calling it ‘Sharon Stone’? Whatever the mash up, make sure it doesn’t become the butt of all ridicule.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Alphabet People

The first time I read about U Thant was in my history class. What fascinated me about him was not his Burmese origin or the fact that he happened to be the third Secretary General of the United Nations. The most intriguing aspect about the man was clearly his quirky first name.

When I probed deeper, I discovered he had three brothers: U Khant, U Thaung and U Tin Maung. U must be kidding me, I thought to myself. But then I calmed down when I discovered that U was no initial or name. It was just the Burmese equivalent of ‘Mister’!

Despite my obvious disappointment, my quest for one-letter names continued. Every time I read newspapers, watched movies or browsed like hell, I was always on the lookout for this rare breed. I was totally chuffed when I uncovered the Korean surname ‘O’. Apparently 7 lakh people in the world carry it on their passport.

A Bengali director who goes by the mystery moniker ‘Q’, recently caught my eye. My interest in him waned when I found out that it was his way of drawing attention to his rather contrived name: Qaushiq Mukherjee.

Just when I had given up hope, some severely pithy movie titles saved the day. ‘Robot’ director Shankar is currently shooting ‘I’ a film starring Vikram. ‘I’ has inspired newbie Ashik into launching ‘Vu’ (pronounced as ‘oo’ - the Tamil letter used as a surrogate Ganesha squiggle when you put pen to paper). But much before these blokes, we had SP Jananathan’s ‘E’ – the Jeeva starrer about a character named Easwaran.

In Bollywood, we’ve had two such instances so far: ‘D’, the Ram Gopal Varma release about Dawood Ibrahim and the soon-to-be premiered ‘X’ – an experimental flick about the ten ex-girlfriends of the protagonist.

The earliest gentleman to realise the potential of the one-letter name was Fritz Lang. He had originally titled his 1931 film as ‘The Murderers Are Among Us’. He had a hunch that if he shortened it to ‘M’, the movie would fare better. It did. His gut feel led to a rash of films with titles ranging from A to Z. Since there are just 26 possibilities, there’s still scope for 24 new blockbusters from Bollywood!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The One That Won

Everyone and their grandma are now busy tracing the rise and rise and rise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A year ago, the same political pundits were scornfully equating AAP with failed fringe experiments like Lok Satta. What exactly has changed in 12 months? Nothing at all.

Arvind Kejriwal still wears untucked shirts. Yogendra Yadav continues to talk in the measured tones of Mr. Know All. Manish Sisodia is yet to make that leap from the backstage. And Anna Hazare is very much playing the part of the jealous friend. The only visible difference is in how the mass media views the AAP.

The party is no longer accorded the ‘also-ran’ status. Instead the honeymoon phase of courtship is on. A large part of the credit for the perception change goes to the Delhi Election success which in turn was fuelled by truth, purpose, hard work, idealism, audacity, leadership and a liberal dose of disgust with the establishment. I, for one, feel numbers had a small say in the unfolding of history.

Numerologically, AAP is associated with two name numbers: six and one. 6 is the sum total of Aam Aadmi Party and 1 is the numeric count of letters AAP. Since AAP is the commonly used moniker in the election campaign, it had a larger say in influencing the course of events.

Take the final tally of AAP in the Delhi Assembly. The cap-wearing dudes who chant ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ with equal relish, bagged 28 seats. 28 is 2+8 which works out to one!

You’d be surprised to know that the words ‘Government’, ‘Power’, ‘Throne’, and ‘Leadership’ add up to numeral one. Mega brands such as Google, Tata, Citibank, Garnier, Marlboro, Disney, Gillette and Coca Cola have the name number 1.

Someone at AAP obviously knows the power of one. Otherwise, the swearing in ceremony of Kejriwal & Co wouldn’t have been held on 28th December 2013. Twenty Eight as you know is but a reflection of numero uno. What’s impressive is the whole date 28/12/2013 also summates to one. Only time will tell if AAP will ever emerge as the Party No.1. When it does, just remind yourself that you read it here, first.

Footnote: The AAP government won its trust vote on 2/1/2014. 2+1+2+0+1+4 = 10 = 1. I rest my case.