Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Gem of a Story

Sharon Stone is not the only precious stone known to mankind. Apparently there are other pretenders to the throne. My first exposure to uncut gems was through movies.

There was this old-world multiplex in Chennai with theatre halls that went by the names: ‘Safire’, ‘Blue Diamond’ and ‘Emerald’. As a callow kid, I used to wonder what Safire really meant as it sounded rather distinguished.

Thankfully, Etymology Online solved the puzzle for me by pointing out that Sapphire is derived from the Greek word for ‘blue stone’. The label was chosen because the Greeks wrongly assumed that they were describing Lapis Lazuli. As it turns out, Sapphire is an Aluminium Oxide mineral while Lapis Lazuli happens to be a silicate.

That brings us to the next question. How on earth did they hit upon the exotic name ‘Lapis Lazuli’? Well, Lapis means ‘stone’ in Latin and ‘Lazuli’ is from the Persian word for ‘Azure’. What better way to allude to the bluish hue, no?

Aquamarine and Turquoise are two more blue stones that get a lot of press. For the curious minded, Aquamarine literally means ‘sea water colour’ and Turquoise is the French way of saying ‘Turkish stone’.

Amethyst has a beautiful yarn. Named after ‘Amethystos’ (meaning: ‘not drunk’), a nymph who was supposedly being stalked by the Greek god of wine Dionysus. Amethystos spurned his advances and wished to remain chaste. So she prayed to the deity Artemis who turned her into a pure white stone. A remorseful Dionysus shed copious tears of wine over the stone thereby turning it purple!

Another myth involves Persephone (daughter of Zeus) and Hades (god of underworld). As the story goes, Hades abducted Persephone and when he was forced to part with her, he handed out some magical pomegranate seeds that had the power to draw her back to the underworld whenever she consumed the fruit. Granatium is the Greek word for pomegranate seeds. And that’s the origin of the red Garnet.

Incidentally, Ruby is Latin for ‘red’. Zircon is Persian for ‘gold-coloured’. Onyx is Greek for ‘finger nail’. And Emerald is derived from the Sanskrit/Tamil word ‘maragata’.

Opal and Topaz have an Indian origin too. Opal is from the Sanskrit word ‘Uppal’ or ‘precious stone’. While Topaz is inspired from ‘Tapas’ or ‘heat’. Hope you’ve enjoyed these pearls.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Panty And Friends

Panty is a very coy word. At least in India. It’s not to be bandied about in public. But if you’ve ever been to any of the IITs, chances are you’d have heard the boys talking about Panty excitedly as if it’s their chaddi-buddy. That’s because anyone with the surname ‘Pant’ is often addressed with this nickname!

Scandalous, smart and striking nicks are a common feature, particularly in IIT Madras, where everyone is rumoured to have one. If you’re skinny, you’ll probably be called ‘Paper’. If you look undernourished but have a prominent rump, you’ll be christened as ‘Paperweight’. A little obesity may earn you an ‘Appu’ (remember, the Asiad elephant?). A lanky fellow may become ‘Ganna’ (Hindi for sugarcane). A rather well-endowed girl gets ‘Oops’ (Out of proportions). A typical thayir-saadam case may be branded as ‘Fruit’. And the one who gets the most moist-eyed is ‘Senti’ (short for sentimental).

Apart from these usual suspects, sometimes your name decides your nickname. If you happen to be Badrinarayanan, expect to be hailed as ‘Battery’. The Prabhakarans of the world can’t escape the ‘LTTE’ tag. G Ram Prasad may get zipped into GRamP or just ‘Grumpy’. Ram Bhaskaran will be reduced to the geeky ‘Rhombus’. A Bhoopalan may be surgically altered into ‘Boobs’. An Aravind Kuttan may get a firang makeover with ‘Orkut’. But the Balakrishnans have, for centuries been, blessed with the same old ‘Balls’!

Mannerisms and behavioural traits also have a say in the choice of nicknames. Gadget freaks attract the label ‘Q’ (the man behind the crazy weaponry in James Bond flicks). Flatulent blokes are given missile names such as ‘Scud’. Those who butter up get ‘Soap’. The one with the access to colourful reading material is ‘Pondy’. The sleepy ones get ‘Charasi’. And the rote champions are always ‘Maggus’.

Campus sobriquets with stories are the most liked. There was once a lad from Goa. During ragging he was mocked as ‘Son of a beach’. Someone saw the potential in it and hit upon the name ‘Marina’! Another chap had a hairdo that resembled a porcupine which incidentally sounds like ‘Porukki Payan’ (or rascal in Tamil). From that day, his hostel mates termed him as ‘Porki’. Although that may sound like name calling the fact remains that nicks are always meant to be taken in jest the right spirit!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Not OK Kanmani

Article 15 of the Constitution of India specifically prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Wonder why our founding fathers didn’t add language to that list. If they had, the patently discriminatory policy of discouraging English titles by providing tax incentives for Tamil names wouldn’t have stood legal scrutiny.

Before you jump at me for defending a foreign language, allow me to point out that English is one of the two official languages of the Indian Union. And usage of English in our movie titles has been prevalent since 1936 when Miss Kamala hit the screens.

From that era till now, filmmakers have always taken care to choose only those words that would resonate with the masses. The most preferred tactic was to prefix a name with a degree, profession, or designation. ICS Mappillai (1940), Server Sundaram (1964), Major Chandrakanth (1966), CID Shankar (1970), General Chakravarthy (1977), Justice Gopinath (1978), Lawyer Suhasini (1987), Sethupathi IPS (1994) and Suyetchai MLA (2006) are a few celebrated examples in this sub-genre.

If you really analyse, how does one think of Tamil equivalents for IPS, CID, Major, and MLA? You have to accept these words as part of your language, no?

The logic is the same with usage of Christian names in titles. Does the Rajnikant movie ‘Johnny’ not qualify for being ‘Tamil’? Why must the Vijayakant starrer, ‘Alexander’, be perceived as any less local than the Karthi flick ‘Alex Pandian’? Didn’t Tamilnadu queue up to watch the Satyaraj film ‘Walter Vetrivel’? Why should the Tamil movie ‘Romeo Juliet’ be paying 15% more entertainment tax just because it chose to be true to the original play?

Another question that must be posed is: Haven’t words like ‘Hero’, ‘Pass Mark’, ‘News’, ‘Youth’, ‘Five Star’, ‘Pizza’, ‘Star’, ‘Jeans’, ‘Time’, ‘Duet’, ‘Whistle’, ‘Junior Senior’, ‘Boys’ and ‘Autograph’ become a part of the everyday lexicon in Karunanidhi land? So why shouldn’t they be treated as part of the Dravida culture?

Somehow, for reasons I’ve never fathomed, our artists keep accepting these diktats so meekly. Perhaps the time has come to reopen the debate on what constitutes our culture. Else, even a Mani Ratnam will be forced to settle for the watered down ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’ for a few dollars more.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bang In The Middle

Kiefer Sutherland, the actor best known for playing Jack Bauer in the popular TV series ‘24’, is worth remembering for one more reason. He’s the guy with five middle names!

No. I am not kidding. Kiefer Sutherland is actually ‘Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland’. But that didn’t get him into the record books as Adolph Wolfe+585 (the man with 585 more characters in his surname) beat him hollow with 25 eye-popping middle names.

That raises the question as to what is a middle name. Technically, it’s the thing that appears between a given name and a surname. For instance, Damodardas is the middle name of Narendra Modi. You would have known that had you paid more attention to his 4.31 crore pin striped suit!

Anyways, the point to bear in mind is, middle names were largely a Western tradition (even in India, it’s a Western Indian phenomenon). It came into vogue around the nineteenth century when there was a sudden rush to take an alternative first name as the centrepiece. A few folks who were not particularly happy with their given name chose to flaunt it, instead. W. Somerset Maugham, J. Edgar Hoover, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Joseph Rudyard Kipling are some famous examples.

In Russia, the middle names are patronymic (derived from father’s name). They usually occur with an –ovich suffix for males and –vna for females. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Anna Sergeyvna Kournikova are cases in point. The Chinese don’t have any concept of middle names just like us South Indians.

A few weeks ago, twitter went crazy coining befitting middle names for celebrities. The creations varied from the downright insulting to the terribly funny. Virat *beep* Kohli was a nod to his sledging. Robert DLF Vadra was a tribute to his notorious land deals. Rajdeep Buy My Book Sardesai was a dig at his shameless plug of his tome.

Beyond trolling, many indulged in some delicious wordplay. Here are some pearls: ‘Hashim Dabur Amla’, ‘Naomi Kilo Watts’, ‘Stevie Seven Day Wonder’, ‘Stanley Rubik Kubrick’, ‘Cat On-A-Hot-Tin-Roof Stevens’, ‘David Take A Bowie’, ‘Wayne Loonie Rooney’, ‘Tiger Lost-In-The Woods’, ‘Charlie Sexma Sheen’, ‘Jim Cash N Carrey’, ‘Rock Paper Scissors Hudson’, ‘Lady GooGoo Gaga’, ‘Paul I Feel Like A Newman’ and ‘Whitney I Think We Have A Problem Houston’. The most ingenious one was reserved for the American Rapper ‘Jay ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY Z’. Ain’t that cool?