Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dial M For Music

Of all the 26 letters of the English alphabet, only one is richly associated with music. That’s M. We chanced upon this discovery when the news of MS Viswanathan’s earthly demise trickled in, last week.

The 13th letter throws up many links to musicians. Leading the Grand M Orchestra is Mozart. Mahler and Mendelssohn can ably assist the maestro with his compositions. MS Subbulakshmi, Maharajapuram Santhanam and Madural Mani Iyer are at hand to lend their blessed voices for Carnatic melodies. Mallikarjun Mansoor and Shubha Mudgal can form a great Hindustani jugalbandi. Michael Jackson, Muddy Waters, Madonna, and McCartney will pitch in with anything remotely pop or blues. Meanwhile Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mehdi Hassan, Lata Mangeshkar, Mika Singh, Shankar Mahadevan and Manna Dey are on stand-by to provide back-up vocals for light melodies. And bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Motley Crue, and Motorhead can amp it up if the need arises.

Before you doubters can point out that such a line-up can be put together for any letter, let me stack up more evidence to back my case.

Have you ever wondered as to why so many music terms begin with M? The rhythm of the composition is ‘Meter’. In the Tamil film industry, the lyric is referred to as the ‘Matter’. The tune is universally recognised as the ‘Melody’. Then, the two primary types of scale in tonal music are ‘Major’ and ‘Minor’. Changeover from one key to the other is called ‘Modulation’. Pieces of symphonies are defined as ‘Movements’. ‘Medley’ is a creation made by overlapping a series of pieces. Meanwhile the recurring element in compositions is the ‘Motif’.

One can feel the power of M even in Carnatic music. The parent ragas are labelled as ‘Melakarta ragas’. There are 72 Melakarta ragas in all. From these are derived thousands of other ‘children’ ragas. The 15th Melakarta raga ‘Mayamalawagowla’ is invariably the first raga taught in all Carnatic classes. And ‘Mangalam’ happens to be last song belted out in all concerts. Another interesting concept is ‘Mudra’. It’s the composer’s moniker embedded in a song. To illustrate the point, Carnatic great Muthuswamy Dikshithar is said to have used the mudra ‘Guruguha’.

Lots of music instruments have the initial M. To name a few: Mandolin, Mridangam, Morsing, Mouth Organ, Murali, Marimba, Mohana Veena and the MIDI Keyboard. Curiously the most popular music channel is MTV and the most famous file type for storing music is MP3. Now, doesn’t that ring a bell?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Emperor's Tale

History text books rarely chronicle history. They are as selectively factual as government press releases. To develop an objective view of the past, one has to first unlearn all the ‘facts’ that were handed out at school.

The Mughals, for example, were not Islamic conquerors. ‘Mughals’ is the Persian way of saying ‘Mongols’ which is an allusion to how the dynasty perceived itself as descendants of Tamerlane, the warlord from Central Asia.

Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire, was in fact an Uzbeki who fancied Kabul a lot more than Delhi. He made his way to Punjab on an invitation from Daulat Khan Lodi and on realising the weakness of the Ibrahim Lodi Empire, demolished them in less than half a day in the much touted First Battle of Panipat. BTW, Babar was born as Zahiruddin Mohammad and his name literally means ‘Tiger’.

Babar’s son Humayun (meaning: ‘the fortunate one’) was not a patch on his dad when it came to military tactics. Driven out of India by Shershah Suri, he wormed his way back after Shershah’s demise and is best remembered as the bloke who died in a library accident after tripping over his skirt.

Akbar (‘The Great’), born as Abu’l Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, was rightly renowned for his tolerance and empire building. But he had a more colourful streak. Apart from the syncretic way of living he put together, he was also a prolific inventor. Among his creations included a method to fire seventeen guns simultaneously and a machine to clean sixteen barrels at once!

Jehangir (‘World Conqueror’) was a total dopey and a sucker for booze in addition to being a pious Muslim. He stole Nur Jehan from one of his subordinates, got his first son blinded for rebelling against him and was gullible enough to let the Brits into our country.

Shahjahan (‘King of the world’), the eternal romantic who built the Taj Mahal was a ruthless brother killer famous for staging a coup to oust his dad. But his karma had a funny way of boomeranging on him when his much loved son Dara Shukoh was beheaded by his other son Aurangzeb (‘honour to the throne’).

Aurangzeb, the much reviled humourless bigot, is often portrayed as a hater of music. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was an accomplished player of the rudra veena and he never forbade artists from performing for his wives and daughters. One more interesting truth that is rarely publicised is the birthplace of Aurangzeb. Like our Prime Minister, he was born in Gujarat. Wonder what the saffronwalas have to say about this.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

All Greek To Me

For a country with a population as much as Bangalore, Greece has indeed piled up a mountain of debt. As per experts, the Greeks owe their creditors nearly 353 billion dollars. To put things in perspective, that’s twice the size of the IT industry in India!

While the Greek tragedy unravels yet again, it might be a good idea to explore what the business world owes the nation that gave us democracy, philosophy, Olympics and more.

Nike, the 25 billion dollar conglomerate, began its journey as Blue Ribbon Sports. A chance decision to rename the company after the Greek Goddess of Victory, made all the difference to its fortunes.

ASUS, the world’s largest PC vendor after Lenovo and HP, is a 13 billion dollar corporation. As per the company’s own admission ASUS is derived from Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. Only the last four letters were picked from Pegasus as it would help in directory listings.

Olympus, the 7 billion dollar Japanese camera giant, is named after Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek gods. Even Canon Eos, the bestselling autofocus SLR has a mythical connect: Eos happens to be the Greek goddess of dawn.

Two big companies in India – Apollo Tyres (Turnover: $2 billion) and Apollo Hospitals ($750 million), derive their names from the very handsome and strong, god of light, who is also known to be the chief patron of medicine.

Even demigods have been milked to create business propositions. Atlas (the titan who supports the heavens on his shoulders) and Hercules (the son of Zeus synonymous with superhuman strength) are two of our leading cycle brands clocking revenues in hundreds of crores.

Trojan, America’s No.1 condom, is an ode to the virility of Priam, the last king of Troy. Priam is said to have fathered 50 sons and innumerable daughters!

Another colourful character from the past who’s been converted into a money spinner is Milo. The ancient wrestler who was the grand slam champion of the sport in his times was immortalised by Nestle as a chocolate malt beverage.

One can go on recounting. From Eidos (meaning: ‘species’) to Omega (the last letter), there are so many brands that have leeched off the Greek cornucopia. If only the good people of Athens had found some way to demand royalty, they wouldn’t be in such a soup. Or should we say Fasolada?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Gender Benders

Bruce Jenner was the ultimate male icon. At least during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He bested the Soviets in Decathlon and was celebrated as an American Hero and even billed as ‘the world’s greatest athlete’. Cut to 1 June 2015. Jenner smashed another record. This time as a woman. She became the fastest to clock one million followers on twitter (FYI: 4 hours and 3 minutes)!

In less than 40 years, Bruce Jenner morphed into Caitlyn Jenner by becoming a transgender via the hormone replacement therapy. Along the way, he dropped enough hints that ‘he’ was actually a ‘she’.

Lana Wachoswki, the director of Matrix trilogy, didn’t have it as easy. After contemplating suicide and being lampooned as a freak, Larry decided to come out of the closet and proclaim himself as Lana.

Like Lana, Georgina Beyer had her moments of self-doubt. But a prescient decision to change her name from George Bertrand, made all the difference to her destiny. She became the world’s first transsexual mayor and then went on to be the world’s first transsexual parliamentarian.

Ramesh Venkatesan would have been yet another web designer had he overlooked his urge to start dressing as a woman. The courage to openly embrace his feminity led him to assume the identity of Rose Venkatesan. Today Rose is a celebrity TV anchor with a thriving movie career.

The journey from Ramesh to Rose is not a particularly simple ride. One has to face a lot of red tape to assume the new identity. The first step is to get a gender change affidavit backed by a psychological assessment. Next you’ll have to place two newspaper ads citing your name change. Then you’ll have to repeat this procedure in a government gazette. Using these notifications, you can eventually apply for change of gender and name in your passport and other things official.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how transgenders choose their new name. Some like a legacy name (Alexander to Alexandra). Some prefer a polar opposite (Raja to Rani). Some opt for dedications (Bruce Jenner considered Brigitte as a nod to Brigitte Bardot). Some others revel in the whimsical (Mr. Hillard to Mrs. Doubtfire). Whatever you choose, you’ve got to realise that it’s no longer odd to be queer.