Thursday, February 26, 2015

Say it with flowers

All of us are guilty of reducing flowers to the level of the Facebook ‘like’. It’s become the default placeholder reaction when you have pretty much nothing to say.

No wonder, it’s raining bouquets on birthdays, death days, victories, defeats, induction ceremonies, farewell bashes, wedding receptions, and after-divorce parties. The ugly truth is that but for a handful of florists no one knows a thing about any flower – be it daisies or daffodils. All we can talk about is the superficials.

Let me attempt to change things around by serving you some dew fresh trivia that will hopefully make your conversations more flowery.

For every sunflower you’ve chanced upon, there’s a moonflower (a species of morning glory that resembles the full moon) blossoming at night. And somewhere in the North American woodlands, during May and June, one can sight the starflower belonging to the Primrose family.

Talking of the rose, several stars have had variants named after them. Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lady Gaga and Dolly Parton, are among the beauties who got lucky. Among male celebs: Cary Grant, Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent, have been chosen for the rare honour. Aishwarya Rai is the only Indian to enjoy this privilege. She has a Dutch tulip against her name.

Quite a few famous flowers have been christened after its discoverers: 'Dahlia' is not a nod to Roald Dahl but Swedish botanist Anders Dahl; 'Plumeria' (aka Frangipani) is an ode to seventeenth century French naturalist Charles Plumier; the world’s largest flower ‘Raflessia Arnoldi’ is a twin tribute to the founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Raffles, and his friend Dr. Joseph Arnold; while 'Gardenia' owes its existence to Scottish zoologist Dr. Alexander Garden.

Sometimes shapes influence the moniker. 'Dandelion' is derived from the French phrase dent de lion which is a reference to the ‘lion tooth’ like leaf. The orchid’s tuber resembles the testicles, hence orchi (Greek word for the male gonads) was deployed as the root word for the flower name. Since science is gender neutral, you also have the ‘Clitoria Ternatea’, an efflorescence that bears a striking similarity to the female genitals!

Some flora are the offspring of colours. Lilac (from Sanskrit word ‘nilak’ meaning bluish), Chrysanthemum (Latin for ‘golden flower’) and Iris (Greek for ‘rainbow’) are the most fragrant examples. My mind is budding with many more tales. Will weave that garland, some other day!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nicked And Taken

If there were a world cup for creating nicknames, the Aussies would walk away with all the honours. Unlike the run-of-the-mill fare served by others, the Baggy Green coinages are invariably cutesy, clever and capricious.

David Boon, the batsman who scored 7,422 runs from 107 tests, was immortalized as ‘Kegs on Legs’ for his incredible feat of glugging 52 cans of beer during a famous flight to England. The New South Wales pacer Aaron Bird was whimsically referred to as ‘Flu’ during the times of the avian flu. Merv Hughes, the sledgehammer par excellence, who once taunted a struggling Robin Smith with the classic troll, “If you turn the bat over, you’ll get the instructions,” was christened ‘Fruitfly’ by his mates. The allusion was obviously to his pesky nature.

Classy jibes at fellow players has always been the norm, down under. When Mark Waugh scored four consecutive ducks, he was anointed ‘Audi’ (as a nod to their logo). Forecasting a fifth duck, his well-wishers were eager to label him as ‘Olympic’ but Mark got out of jail with a fighting 39 against West Indies.

Perhaps the most inspired choice was the smiling assassin Brett Lee’s. He became ‘Oswald’ as he batted after Lee (Shane Lee) and Harvey (Ian Harvey)!

England has its fair share of pearls. Tweaker Ashley Giles was often mocked by his colleagues with the nick ‘King of Spain’. The reference was to a club incident when commemorative mugs praising him as ‘King of Spin’ was wrongly printed as ‘King of Spain’.

Among the South Africans, the most lovable moniker belongs to fast bowler Mfunko Ngam. He was called ‘Chewey’ because his name felt like Chewey Ngam. Mean, no?

Even the Pakistanis have a better sense of humour than our stuck-up willow wielders. Umar Gul was designated as ‘Guldozer’ for his various demolition jobs. In contrast, Misbah-ul-Haq was blessed with ‘Mr. Tuk Tuk’ for his ability to grind the opposition to death with his stodgy defence. ‘The Wall’ just pales in comparison to the earthy charms of Mr. Tuk Tuk.

Let me round off with the sobriquet I liked the most. It was for the 6-foot-6 Kiwi batter Peter Fulton. He was called ‘Two-Metre Peter’. You can’t beat that, can you?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Numbers Game

Forecasting is risky business. You often end up looking like an embarrassed ass. But if and when you get it right, you can strut around smugly pretending to be an avatar of Nostradamus.

Although nearly all exit pollsters got the broad contours of the Delhi Polls right, nobody even came close to predicting an AAP tsunami and the BJP decimation. As an amateur numerologist, may be I should have given it a shot and used the mystic power of numbers to prognosticate about the polls. Anyways, it’s never too late to use the magic of hindsight to see if numerology could have got it right.

Before we start, it’s important to understand that the three most important numbers in numerology are birth number, destiny number and name number. For AAP (born on 26/11/2012), the triad of key numbers is 8, 6, and 1, as per the Chaldean system. For Arvind Kejriwal (born on 16/8/1968), his numerical coordinates are 7, 3 and 4.

The 2013 Assembly Elections were held on 4th of December 2013. Now if you notice 4th is in synchrony with Kejriwal’s name number. You’d be zapped to know that four is also the name number of Harsh Vardhan. So naturally, the last election was a stalemate between Kejriwal and Harsh Vardhan.

This year, the elections were held on 7th of February. As luck would have it, 7th is in resonance with Kejriwal’s birth number. Neither Kiran Bedi (born on 9/6/1949) nor Ajay Maken (born on 12/1/1964) had this advantage. Also, the counting was done on 10th, which again is in sync with AAP’s name number. Given these double edges, the race was totally loaded in favour of the Mufflerman.

So, is there any way Amit Shah could have staved off defeat? He could have, had he chosen Satish Upadhyay (born on 6/3/1962). Satish’s name number 8 matches with the destiny number of the election date. AAP smartly rendered him ineffective by cleverly doing an expose on his nexus with the power discom BSES.

In summary, it’s quite apparent that AAP was destined to storm to power in Delhi. Last time around, they had bagged 28 seats (2+8 = 10 = 1), which is identical with the name number of AAP. This time, they ended up with 67 (6+7 = 13 = 4), which mirrors Kejriwal’s name number. Either way, numerology was the winner!

POST SCRIPT: The swearing in ceremony is on 14/2/2015. Do the math. 1+4+2+2+0+1+5 = 15 = 1+5 = 6. Whose destiny number is 6? AAP's! Don't you see a pattern now?

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Almirah of Etymologies

Okay, quiz time.

Which European empire lasted the longest in India?

I expect quite a few of you to get this wrong. No, it’s not the Brits. Even accounting for the East India Company, they ruled us from 1612 to 1947. That’s like 335 years.

In contrast, the French sphere of influence lasted for 288 years. While the Dutch presence was for 220 years. The guys who beat them, fair and square, were the Portuguese. They lorded over Goa for nearly 450 years!

With such a long footprint, the Portuguese naturally influenced our culture in ways we can’t even fathom. For starters, they gave us the potato, tomato, pineapple, guava, papaya, cashew, capsicum, chilli, tapioca and the cheeku fruit. May be I should add peanuts, corn, okra, litchi, vindaloo, kalkals and tobacco too.

A bouquet of words in our native lexicon owe their origins to Vasco da Gama land. The Tamil word for key is nearly the same as the Portuguese ‘Chave’. Dravidian purists would be aghast to know that ‘jannal’ (window), ‘rosa’ (rose), ‘koppai’ (cup), ‘mesai’ (table), ‘pena’ (pen), ‘pippa’ (barrel), mestri (mason) and ‘verandah’ (porch), have a mystic Lisbon connect.

Hindi has been a liberal borrower as well. ‘Balti’ (bucket), ‘santra’ (orange), ‘ayah’ (nanny), ‘kamra’ (room), ‘pav’ (bread), ‘chai’ (tea), ‘biskut’ (biscuit), ‘sabun’ (soap), ‘padri’ (priest), ‘almari’ (almirah), ‘kameez’ (clothing), ‘kaju’ (cashew), ‘batata’ (potato), and ‘madira’ (wine) derive their roots from words minted in Portugal. Even colloquialisms such as ‘istri’, ‘toliya’ and ‘iskuul’ come from Portuguese words ‘esterar’ (to press), ‘toalha’ (towel) and ‘escola’ (school).

Some very familiar angrezi shabd have a similar linguistic connection. Labrador, for example, is named so because it was first bred in the Labrador Peninsula in Canada. Incidentally, the area was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Joao Fernandes Lavrador.

Emu, the largest bird native to Australia and a synonym for Ponzi schemes in Tamil Nadu, is etymologically a Portuguese word that means ‘ostrich’.

So many more Indianisms like palanquin, mosquito, indigo, commando, coconut, caste, buffalo, banyan, breeze, cobra, jackfruit, pomfret, tank and teak, wouldn’t be around, had a 15th century bearded sailor not uttered, ‘Eastward Ho!’.