Thursday, October 23, 2014

Simply Slurreal

In 2012, a cop was fired in America for shouting out a racial slur at baseball star Carl Crawford. Believe it or not: he was sacked for using the word Monday. Innocuous as it may sound, apparently ‘Monday’ is a cryptic put-down used for blacks by white supremacists. Their warped logic being: Nobody likes Mondays!

In an ultra-touchy universe where the politically incorrect are hastily labelled as ‘racist’ and ‘bigoted’, it’s better to know what not to say to whom. That’s why, I’ve put together a quick primer to get you clued into the secret world of ethnic insults.

When in an Asian joint, never utter the word ‘Oreo’. The famously cream cookie can get you crunched, licked and creamed as it’s a snide way of saying ‘Oriental’. Never ask for ‘Pepsi’ aloud, while in Quebec, as the fizzy drink is supposedly a vile taunt at French Canadians who are ‘empty from the neck up’. Also, if I were you, I wouldn’t walk into a multiracial store and order for ‘Heinz’ as the company’s ’57 varieties’ slogan is manifestly a disdainful surrogate for people of the mixed race.

Coded abbreviations are a favourite with racists. Any normal Tamilian would think SPIC is a fertilizer company from Chennai. But in the USA, it’s a scornful acronym for Hispanics derived from Spanish, Indian and Coloured. UFO is far worse. It’s likely to alienate you from fellow Asians as it means ‘Ugly Frigging Oriental’. Likewise, MD is not the doctor you think. It’s a dig at the white man for being ‘Melanin Deficient’!

Even regular fruit names sometimes take the avatar of invectives. ‘Coconut’ implies an Indian who is brown on the outside and white on the inside. ‘Apple’ is a dig at those Native Americans who seem red but have a white core. ‘Banana’ applies the same analogy to the yellow skinned.

‘Cookie’ (an allusion to the Chinese fortune cookie), ‘Burger’ (the collective noun for Jewish names that end with ‘burg’), and ‘Bacardi’ (the rum that gets made in Puerto Rico) act as ethnic pejoratives as well.

‘Double A’ (African Americans), ‘Eight Ball’ (the colour of the 8-ball in pool), and ‘November’ (the N-word in the phonetic alphabet) are Monday-like words best avoided in a ghetto.

With Jews, steer clear of rhyming words and the number 539 as it corresponds to J-E-W on a phone. And lastly, if you encounter someone from Musharraf-land in Britain, never say ‘Pac Man’ unless you wish to cool your heels in a prison!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The City of Seven

Maths writer Alex Bellos carried out an interesting online poll recently to determine the world’s favourite number. His survey threw up a surprise. The most popular number was neither one nor three. It wasn’t even pi. Seven won the sweepstakes by a mile!

To use an immortal Ravi Shastri expression, the number ‘7’ has always occupied the “upper storey” of human consciousness. The days in a week, the biblical sins, the musical notes, the colours of the rainbow, the wonders of the world, the chakras in the body, and even the number of heavens in the Abrahamic religions work out to seven.

So why is everyone so obsessed with it? Mr. Bellos attributes it to the relative uniqueness of the number vis-à-vis others from 1 to 10. As in, it can’t be divided, and when multiplied, it will always yield a figure higher than ten.

Numerology has its own version of the truth. Seven, apparently, is very intellectual, spiritual, philosophical and hence mystical.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The numerological name number of Chennai is seven. What that means is the city is more likely to be teeming with nerdy homebodies who enjoy their culture and relish inventing, researching, writing or creating.

If one goes purely by the name number: wisdom, knowledge, analysis, specialisation and logic will be the core competencies of Chennai; and argumentativeness, narrow-mindedness, rigidity, stagnancy and aloofness will be its shortcomings.

If that felt like a near-accurate picture, wait till you hear the other seven connections of Chennai. The first organised water supply in Chennai began with the Seven Wells Scheme in 1772. Mylapore, one of the oldest residential parts of the city is best known for seven great Shiva temples. Incidentally Kapaleeswarar Temple is seventh in the pecking order and it was built during the 7th century. The great renaming of Madras happened in 1996. If you add the digits of 1996, it adds up to 7.

Even words that you normally associate with the city such as Academy, Actress, Alcohol, America, Bargain, Buffalo, Capital, Central, Coconut, Chicken, Doctors, Digital, English, Fanclub, Jewelry, Mercury, Modesty, Obesity, Scandal, Seafood…all have 7-letters. Including your very own Indulge!

(Penned on the 7th anniversary of Indulge Chennai, the Friday Supplement of New Indian Express)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Scars of Mars

Everyone has their reasons to get to Mars. For MOM, it was the sheer audacity of carrying a billion dreams to a destination far beyond the celestial realms of human imagination. For Alia Bhatt, it could be the attendant bliss of landing on a planet full of chocolate bars. For someone like me, it’s the joy of seeing a topography teeming with interesting names.

Talking of topography, the red planet is one massive scarface with a staggering 635,000 impact craters caused by crashing meteorites, asteroids and comets. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has taken the pains to label around 1000 of these craters. A quick glance at their nomenclature will make your day.

At least 8 craters have been named after Indian cities. They include Amet, Bhor, Broach, Kakori, Poona, Rayadurg, Sandila and Wer. If you’re scratching your head as to why they chose low profile cities, well here’s the logic: all the small craters on Mars are a nod to places on earth with a population of 100,000 or less. Poona, with 5 million residents, lucked out though. Just like Madrid, Johannesburg, Canberra, Bristol and Amsterdam. But I am not complaining.

The Bigger Craters list reads like an all-star line-up of scientists and explorers. Apart from the usual suspects such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe, Isaac Newton, Ptolemy, Kepler, Columbus, and Balboa, the beauty of the entire thing is, one can find an assortment of littler giants who pique your curiosity. There is: Wilhelm Beer, the man credited with creation of the first globe of Mars; Hipparchus, the founder of trigonometry; Nathaniel Green, an astronomer whose pencil drawings of Mars was world famous; and Carl Sagan, the brain behind the Mariner9 and Viking missions.

The only Hollywood star to be immortalised is Orson Welles, the man who caused a scare by broadcasting the Mars Attack saga ‘The War of the Worlds’. Star Trek fans would be pleased to know that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the TV series we all adore, has a crater in his name along with fellow writers Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs (aka the Tarzan guy). Although Arthur. C. Clarke is a strange omission considering his first novel was titled ‘Sands of Mars’. Who knows they might name a desert after him, someday!