Thursday, November 24, 2016

Team of Oddballs

Everyone’s been so blinded by the inclusion of four British Asians (Moen Ali, Haseeb Hameed, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari) into the English test team, that they’ve missed one little gem.

Among the other members of the squad is a six foot medium pacer and batsman by the name Jacob Timothy Ball. Jake has an elder brother – Jonathan Joseph Ball. He is an off-spinner who plays for Nottinghamshire. Together they are the Balls of England.

If that tickled you, you must savour some of the quirkiest names in the pommie cricketing history. My first exhibit is a left-arm bowler named Edward William Bastard. Apparently, one critic who thought he was undeserving to play for Oxford University, may have coined the term ‘Lucky Bastard’. Another fascinating county cricketer is Christopher Beech. Rumour has it that whenever he notches a poor score for his team Staffordshire, his mates refer to him as ‘Son of a Beech’. Harry Butt had similar problems. He was the wicketkeeper for Sussex for nearly 20 years. A dropped catch or missed stumping made him the Butt of all ridicule.

One can only blame the mockery on the surname. Charles Allcock, the right hand batsman who donned the jersey of Cambridge University in the 1880s, would have certainly vouched for it. When he was going through a lean patch, he must have been introduced as ‘Meet Charles. He’s all cock’.

Two test players of yore, Leslie Gay and Arthur Fagg, would have faced a lot of ribbing had they been born in our times. I can imagine a Tony Greig screaming, ‘Got it, got it, Faggot it!’ It would have been even more difficult to fill the large shoes of elegant batsman Joe Hardstaff (played from 1930 to 1955). His captains couldn’t have resisted the urge to slip in a cheeky ‘Hard on or not?’ query during team selection meetings.

Cheesy double entendres aside, for every Ryan Sidebottom, there’s a family friendly name like Christopher Batchelor. But I’ve always wondered if Batchelor only dealt in singles.

A popular anecdote among cricket buffs concerns a county game between Kent and Durham in 2007. The bowler was Graham Onions and the batsman Simon Cook. When Cook nicked one to the keeper, the scoreboard read: Cook c Mustard b Onions. One could have easily mistaken that for a MasterChef moment. Let me sign off with a delightful piece of trivia. Charles Marriott and Malcolm Hilton have played tests for England. With a Marriott and Hilton, you can’t get more five star, can you?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

On The Money

The currency bomb has been dropped. And we can’t stop talking about it. The believers seem to think that the Darth Vaders of black money have been caught with their masks down and the giant money laundering machine has been short circuited. While the doubters view it as an apocalyptic event engineered by Narendra Bin Thuglaq that has unleashed more pain than a tsunami, earthquake or famine.

Obviously the truth lies somewhere in between. We’ll know the real results not in 50 days, but may be in 50 weeks when people on both sides grow a brain and see things as they are. Till then, all we can do is to queue up for change and improve our knowledge of money. A baby step in that direction is to figure out why a rupee is called a rupee and a dollar, a dollar.

A good way to make a start is by browsing dusty history books and musty dictionaries. From what little I’ve gathered, the original precious metal in which the currency was minted, played a big role in the naming.

When the great Afghan Sher Shah Suri lorded over Delhi between 1540 and 1545 AD, he used three metals to serve as instruments of exchange. The Gold coins were called ‘Mohur’, the Silver coins were the ‘Rupiya’ and the Copper ones were deemed as ‘Dam’. Incidentally, the phrase ‘I don’t give a damn’ may have its roots in the tiny copper coin. For those who know their languages, Rupiya is derived from ‘Raupya’, the Sanskrit word for ‘Silver’ and Mohar in Persian means ‘seal’.

Even the Dollar’s story has a silver lining. It all began in 1520, when Bohemia minted coins from silver mined in St. Joachim’s Valley or ‘Joachimsthal’. The coins were referred to as Joachimsthaler or ‘thaler’ for short. With passage of time, the ‘thaler’ became the ‘dollar’. Another currency with a silver connection is the Russian rouble. ‘Rouble’ literally means ‘to chop’ and it’s probably derived from the practice of chopping silver bars to create transactable money.

The moolah from some other countries have interesting etymologies: the Polish zloty translates to ‘golden’; the Japanese yen is from the Chinese ‘yuan’ which implies ‘round object’; the Arabic ‘riyal’ is from the Spanish word for ‘royal’; the Chinese renminbi decodes to ‘people’s currency’; the Scandinavian krone is from the Latin ‘Corona’ (crown); and the euro (the short form of Europe) was coined by a Belgian named Germain Pirlot in 1995. That was my two cents on money. Hope you’ll spend it wisely.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Back to the roots.

In a nation that has innumerable conversations over trifling matters such as Arnab’s noisy exit and the return of ‘Koffee with Karan’, it helps to keep injecting more trivial topics for discussion just to keep the chattering classes busy.

So I’d like to formally table the need for toponymic surnames to the grand conveyor belt of inane national confabulations. Now, ‘Toponymic surnames’ may sound like a yawn-worthy dissertation topic but it’s actually far more interesting than you think. Simply put, these are last names derived from place names.

To give you a lightning speed crash course, let’s examine the name Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, as you know, is one of the greatest composers of classical music. His surname literally means ‘someone who lives by a stream’. Next, let’s put Quentin Tarantino under the microscope. Tarantino is an indication that Quentin’s forefathers might have been from Taranto, a city in South East Italy. Charles Lindbergh is another name worth exploring. Lindbergh, was the first person to do a transatlantic flight all by himself. His last name is European in origin. If one breaks it down, Lind in Swedish, is ‘lime’ and ‘Bergh’ is ‘mountain’. It’s a cue that he draws his roots from an area with a lime mountain.

That in a nutshell is a toponymic surname. Leonardo DiCaprio has it. So do Sachin Tendulkar, Jane Fonda and Bob Marley. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t overtly give the ears any inkling of gender. Nor does it drop a hint of the class or caste. Which is precisely why, I think it’ll make a fab master template for India.

For long, we’ve been stuck with surnames that have a caste overtone. A ‘Chaturvedi’ is an in-your-face assertion of punditry. While a ‘Chamar’ is a harsh daily reminder of social inequity. Given what we’ve gone through for centuries, it’s time to outgrow the narrow confines defined by surnames.

And it’s time we asked as to why an Agarwal should be perceived as a Bania all his life? Why must an Iyer always be viewed through the prism of his sacred thread? Isn’t there a way we could arrive at a surname without any social baggage and yet be rooted to our culture?

Place-based surnames offer that freedom. Some liberal poets discovered this secret way before us. That’s why you have a Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and a Hasrat Jaipuri. If you wish to carry on their tradition, perhaps you should start with your hometown and add it as your appellation.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mum's the word

October 29th was a red letter day for Indian sport. That was the day, when Mahendra Singh Devaki, Virat Saroj, Rohit Purnima, Ajinkya Sujata. Amit Chandrakala and six other mamma’s boys teamed up to beat New Zealand in a series tilting victory.

The ODI stunt to promote the ‘nayi soch’ theme of Star Plus, may have been just that - a stunt. But the message it sent out to our suffocatingly patriarchal society was earth shattering. Because for long the ‘father’s name’ has been a burdensome thing that many people have been forced to carry all their lives as an adjunct surname or a vestigial initial.

Ask the children of single mothers and they will tell you how they are made to squirm at schools and colleges for not having a masculine sounding surname. ‘Why no father’s name?’ and ‘What, no father-ra?’ are some thoughtless questions that are routinely flung, like red hot daggers poked into a suppurating wound.

I’ve often wondered why, in families where dads are wastrels and moms wear the pants, children should not proudly proclaim that they are the fruit of their mother’s labour. My respect from Sanjay Leela Bhansali went up manifold when I learned that his middle name is a tribute to his mom who brought him up almost single-handedly after his dad passed away.

Which is why it was truly heartening when I read a news item that several Dalits in Gujarat were dropping their caste-laden surnames and replacing them with their mother’s name. Kaushik Parmar, for instance, has now become Kaushik Jamnaben Babubhai. What an elegant solution to an age-old curse!

Internationally, there have been many celebrities who have opted for a matronymic nomenclature. Zorro actor Antonio Banderas was born Jose Antonio Dominguez Banderas. He preferred to drop his patronymic surname for his mother’s maiden name.

British musician Eric Clapton should have logically been Eric Fryer but he chose to model himself after his mom Patricia Molly Clapton. Even the Kasparov in Gary Kasparov is a Russian variation of Gasparyan, his Armenian mom’s maiden name.

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, perhaps put it best, on why he chose his mother’s Italian surname, “Can you imagine me calling myself Ruiz? Pablo Ruiz?” That’s entirely the point. Sometimes mom’s works best.