Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tango with Mango

It takes a lot to be the national fruit of India. To be precise: 5000 years of expertise in enchanting people into having a pulp-squishing, elbow-licking and mouth-watering time.

Truth be told, the mango is no ordinary creation. From Alexander the Great to Akbar the Great, everyone has surrendered to the charm of the aam.

So Wikipedia must surely be wrong. The word ‘mango’ cannot have originated from the Portuguese word ‘manga’. It has to have sprouted from our wet earth, we call bhoomi. My own theory is ‘mango’ draws its roots from the Tamil word ‘maan kaai’ – the fruit the deer feasted upon – a coinage perhaps minted when South India was one massive canopy of trees.

Etymology aside, the thing to marvel at, is our obsession with mangoes. We consume bazillion tonnes and export a gazillion tonnes. Last I checked, 65% of the world mango production was from India.

But the sweetest news is: like Kamal Hassan, our mangoes come in 500 different avatars. From Amrapali to Zardalu, we mass produce it all, with a liberal dash of Mother Nature’s ‘maa ka pyaar’.

The Alphonso is the mega star of our line up. Named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese warlord who’s supposed to have imported this luscious variety into Goa, the Alphonso or the mispronounced Haphus, is the marquee product of just three districts in our country – Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad.

The other cultivars are regional divas in their own right. From Andhra comes the voluptuous ‘Banganapalle’ (place of origin that literally means ‘golden village’), Varanasi has given us the delectable ‘Langda’ (a reference to the lame planter of the original tree in Malihabad), Gujarat has bestowed us with the saffron-hued ‘Kesar’ (this was long before NaMo arrived on the scene), while Tamil Nadu blessed our world with the tangy ‘Kili mooku’ (shaped like the parrot’s beak).

I was about to attribute the ‘Malgova’ to Goa, but something wasn’t adding up. I am now convinced that the milky taste of Malgova could have had a hand in the matter. In my view, Malgova probably owes ‘Malai Khoa’ (hilly milk treat) its name. Just like Palgoa came from Paal Khoa. If that sounds incredulous, may be I am barking up the wrong tree!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Boys From Brazil

When the entire world was losing sleep over whether Brazil will live up to the hype, I was busy wracking my brains about why footballers from that region have names longer than reticulated pythons. I mean, why on earth, would a mom give her child a 48-letter moniker like Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira.

I solved the puzzle when I discovered how Brazilians go about naming their offspring. Apparently, they follow the Portuguese tradition of handing out multiple surnames. So if your dad was a ‘de Caravaca’, your mom a ‘de Cruz’ and your husband a ‘de Vectores’ you might end up with a name like Julia de Caravaca de Cruz de Vectores. Got it?

Although saddled with a conveyor belt of letters, nearly all Brazilian players opt to flash only their first names or nicknames on their jersey. Understandable, no? Edson Arantes de Nascimento, for example, famously preferred to proclaim himself as ‘Pele’.

Analysing the nicknames of legends reveal the friendly nature of the largest Portuguese speaking country on the globe. In sharp contrast to India where demigods are given labels like ‘Master Blaster’ and ‘The Wall’, Brazil believes in light-hearted intimate names.

Midfielder Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri was referred to as ‘Dunga’ (the local equivalent of ‘Dopey’, a dwarf from the Snow White tale). His uncle had bestowed him the nick due to his short stature but the name was catchy and it stuck even as Carlos bloomed into a five foot nine incher!

The best dribbler in history - Manuel Francisco dos Santos – suffered a similar fate. He was the puniest looking child in his family. His sister used to make fun of him by calling him ‘Garrincha’ (the little wren). Pity, that’s how the football world remembers him, even today.

‘Careca’ (literally: bald head), the star of the 1986 World Cup, earned the name as he used to be a fan of the clown Carequinho.

Kaka’s real name was RiCArdo. His kid brother could never get it right. He kept muttering CA-CA. Hence the nickname. Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, the most capped Brazilian, was luckier. He was a livewire forcing his team mates to draw a parallel to another attacking player who went by the name Cafuringa. As a nod, they called him ‘Cafu’. He went on to be the game changer, we know.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Games People Play

Everyone has their own acid test to identify ‘nice’ people. For a lot of folks of my generation, it was Calvin & Hobbes. Declaration of fandom, invariably earned you brownies and a surprise 10-year visa to the united states of friendship.

Back in the eighties, Pac-Man did the job of Calvin & Hobbes. A simple proclamation of interest in the computer game earned you instant respect from fellow slackers. A quick discussion on high scores and levels of proficiency would ensue, followed by a mating call for a face-off.

The concept of gobbling dots in a maze while outrunning silly ghosts may look juvenile by today’s standards but in the era of the 386 (Pentium’s grandpa), it was as addictive as weed for millions of bored gamers.

For all the hoo-ha, not many know that Pac-Man was Japanese in origin. Designed by Toru Iwatani in 1980, he labelled it ‘Pakkuman’ after the onomatopoeic ‘pakku-pakku’ chomping sound made by the lead character. He tried to anglicise it as ‘Puckman’ for the overseas markets, but the possible confusion with a much censored four-letter word, veered the gaming company towards ‘Pac-Man’.

Tetris was another fixation for those who wished to swap precious office time for private pleasure. Steven Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, was rumoured to be a champ at it. Derived from Tetraminoes (the 4-square blocks) & Tennis (the founder Alexey Pajitnov’s favourite sport), the falling blocks puzzle is now the world’s most successful game having sold 150 million copies over 30 years!

Among the blood and gore games, Mortal Kombat was a universal favourite with those who got their kicks from violence. Originally planned as a gaming version of Jean Claude Van Damme movie ‘Blood Sport’, MK became a bigger brand within a few years of launch.

Single player shooter games Wolfenstein 3D (German for ‘Wolfstone’) and Doom (name borrowed from a Tom Cruise dialogue in ‘The Color of Money’) gave us wussies, the jollies of playing a rampaging hero in the virtual world.

The deprived goofballs who didn’t fit into any of the above slots usually sat in a lonesome corner plodding over ‘Solitaire’. But irrespective of whether one played ‘Prince of Persia’ or ‘PC Pool’, the fact remains that there’s nothing to beat the old charm of nostalgia!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Inner City Express

We are all frogs in our own shallow wells with little or no interest in what the other toads are up to. We show a semblance of interest in the rest of the world only if it fills our time or adds to our utility in any way. I am no exception. My universe begins at home and ends at office. Any place outside this radius is another galaxy.

So when somebody asked me, the other day, about the origins of the name Secunderabad, I just froze like a zombie. A little demon in my head whispered: make something up and sound knowledgeable. With all seriousness I could muster, I told my audience very authoritatively that since Secunderabad happens to be the twin city, they coined the term ‘Second-rabad’. And over time it became Secunderabad. My friends nodded wisely and left me in peace.

Ashamed at myself, I decided to atone for life by learning about as many cities as I can. I decided to start with India. And swore to figure out the etymology of all the places I’ve never been to. I call this mental journey the ‘Inner City Express’. Hop on and take the window seat to catch a glimpse of what I’ve picked so far.

Agartala is not an iffy lock. It’s a made up name from Agar (a perfume tree) & tala (a store house). Apparently, the capital city of Tripura was teeming with these trees once upon a time. That’s why!

Buxar has no connection with boxers. It’s a derivation from Bagh-Sar or Tiger Tank. The story goes that Rishi Vedshira who had been cursed by badass Durvasa to have a tiger face, got back his handsome looks when he took a dip in the tank.

Aizawl literally means a field of wild cardamoms. Warangal is from ‘orugallu’ or ‘the city built from one stone’. Cuttack is the anglicised version of the Sanskrit ‘Katak’ (fort). Gulbarga is Persian for ‘flower garden’. Ludhiana was originally called ‘Lodi-Ana’ (the Lodi’s Palace) - after the dynasty that established the city. Nainital got its name from the Naina Devi temple near the tal (lake). Likewise, Mangalore is named after the local deity Mangaladevi. I’ve got many more stories. Will share them the day you find out about Secunderabad!