Friday, December 30, 2016

Best Names of 2016

I’ve always wondered why there’s no Nobel Prize for Naming or an Oscar for outstanding nomenclature. Surely in a universe with more than a billion names, we need to ensure the good ones get celebrated, right? That’s why I created the Rumpies.

‘Rumpies’ is a nod to Rumpelstiltskin, the most unusual name of a fairy tale goblin legendary for turning straw into gold. After scouring through thousands of names across multiple categories, I’ve whimsically picked the winsome candidates worthy of a Rumpy by using my subjectively objective judgement. If you agree with my choice, applaud. If you disagree, you still have no choice but to applaud.

My first Rumpy is for the Best English Movie Title. I almost awarded it to the war comedy ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ for clever usage of the NATO phonetic alphabet to convey the ‘WTF’ feeling. But then I changed my mind in favour of the Clint Eastwood biographical drama ‘Sully’. Why ‘Sully’ you may ask? Well, the film is about Captain Sullenberger aka ‘Sully’ and a federal invesigation that threatens to tarnish his heroic reputation. The subtle use of wordplay to capture the plot, was quite ingenious, in my view.

Among the Hindi movies, two titles caught my fancy: the zen koanish ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ and Balki’s ‘Ki & Ka’. My final vote was for ‘Ki & Ka’ as it felt very refreshing to the ear, given it was woven around the same old plot about a Ladka and a Ladki.

Siddharth starrer ‘Jil Jung Juk’ was the clear winner in Tamil. It’s derived from an old Vadivel dialogue that classifies the world into three kinds: Jil (the good), Jung (the average) and Juk (the unworthy). To me, ‘Jil Jung Juk’ felt funky, intriguing and very original. Talking of intrigue, the mallu movie title that got me all excited was ‘Amoeba’, a film that revolves around the fear of endosulfan poisoning. In Telugu, it was ‘Ism’, the Kalyan Ram flick about a protagonist who practises good journalism.

The Best Book Title, by a mile, was the very poetic memoir ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. My Rumpy for the ‘Best New Band Name’ went to ‘Kississippi’, the Indie folk duo from Pennsylavnia. The Best Baby Name was Saifeena’s ‘Taimur’ for starting a whole new conversation on history. And the Best Indian Brand Name was ‘Jio’ for being a mirror image of Oil, the real money spinner for Reliance. There are many more that deserve recognition. We’ll reserve it for the happy new year.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sound of Music

Carnatic music is like the Rubik’s cube. Only a few practitioners of the art are able to ‘get it’. The rest of us gyana soonyams (dimwits) don’t have a clue as to what permutation or combination of the sapta swaras can make or unmake a raga.

Since the kutcheri season is unfolding, I thought it’s just the right time to get ourselves a quick primer on ragas so we won’t have that vacuous Rahul Gandhi smile whenever anyone choses to embarrass us by launching into a discussion on Harikambhoji or Hanumatodi.

Let’s begin with ragas. Literally, they mean ‘colours’ or ‘hues of emotion’ the mind experiences when you listen to harmonies. While mathematically there can be 5040 fundamental ragas, the masters of the craft have identified 72 melakarta ragas (parent melodies). Within these, there can be potentially 26,864 janya ragas (offshoot melodies). Around 950 janya ragas have been discovered, till date.

Saint Tyagaraja was considered a super dude, because he composed songs in 212 ragas and invented 66 new ones. In stark comparison, the maestro of our age Illayaraja has one raga to his credit – Rajalahari; the genius Balamurali Krishna has 18 in his kitty - including one dedicated to our former CM (Jaya Jaya Lalithe); and Pandit Ravi Shankar has an incredible 30.

Like the periodic table that follows a numerical order, the melakarta ragas have been named following the Katapayadi nomenclature that assigns letters to numerals. For example, the 1 st , 11 th , 21 st , and 31 st raga can start with one of the following letters: K, T, P, Y. Incidentally, they’ve been named Kanakangi, Kokilapriya, Kiravani and Yagyapriya. Kiravani, by the way, decodes to ‘voice of the parrot’. And is also the name of a Telugu music composer. Kokilapriya (cuckoo), Rasali (eagle), Hamswadhwani (Swan) and Chakravakam (Brahmany Duck), are the other bird themed ragas.

Since composers were often inspired by religious devotion, many ragas are open tributes to gods. Kharaharpriya (one who defeated demon Khara) and Gowri Manohari (one who stole the heart of Parvati) are Shiva-centric. Shanmukapriya is an ode to Muruga. Raghupriya and Ramapriya are inspired by Lord Rama. Varunapriya and Amritavarshini are paeans to the rain god.

I suspect that many Tamil actresses have been named after ragas. Bhanupriya, Manorama, Revati and Madhavi come to mind. At least, director K. Balachander, had a penchant for naming his lead characters so. One gathers that he tried that trick in Apoorva Ragangal, Sindhu Bhairavi and tele-serial Sahana. Hope that gave you enough to chew on when you gorge on the sabha sappadu, this season!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Elements of Surprise

Gold is not the most expensive substance in this world. Sorry, it ain’t platinum either. Nor diamond. If you had cared to look beyond the test tubes in your chemistry lab, you’d know by now that it’s Californium. The element number 98 apparently costs $27 million per gram. But those who dug out this figure perhaps didn’t know that our planet produces just half a gram of the substance in a whole year. That’s why it costs a bomb!

Talking of elements, you must have read by now that we have four new entrants into the periodic table: Nihonium (Nihon translates to Japan), Moscovium (a nod to Moscow), Tennessine (after Tennessee), and Oganassian (homage to scientist Yuri Ogansasian). If you’re wondering when we’ll have a Delhium or Bangalorium, I’ll make your day by revealing that at least two chemical elements owe their names to Sanskrit. They are ‘Beryllium’ (from the green gem Vaidurya) and Sulphur (from Sanskrit word ‘shulbari’ meaning ‘copper’s enemy’). Bet you didn’t know that.

Actually, there’s a lot they didn’t teach us in the classroom. For example, I never knew Copper is the only element that’s naturally anti-bacterial. May be that’s why our forefathers stored water in copper jars. Another thing I didn’t know is, J and Q are the only letters missing from the periodic table.

Had our teachers got to the root of element names, we’d have probably shown as much interest as Dmitri Mendeleev and remembered the entire thingy. Anyways, it’s never too late to make a start.

To my knowledge, there are 10 elements named after places of origin. Copper, for example, is derived from Cyprus, and Scandium from Scandinavia. Nine, are an ode to heavenly bodies – Helium (Sun), Selenium (Moon), Mercury. Tellurium (Earth), Uranium (Uranus), Neptunium (Neptune), Plutonium (Pluto), Palladium (Pallas) and Cerium (Ceres). Eight get their appellations from famous scientists – Einsteinium, Bohrium, Fermium, Roentgenium, Copernicium Curium, Rutherfordium, and Nobelium.

Mythical characters have had their share too: Tantalum (Tantalus), Vanadium (Vanadis, Norse goddess of beauty), Thorium (Thor) and Titanium (Titans). Colours also had their say: Indicum (Indigo), Iodine (Violet), Rhodium (Rose) & Zirconium (Gold).

Among the quirkiest ones is Gallium. It’s a pun on the surname of the discoverer Paul Emil Lecoq. Le Coq is French for the ‘Rooster’ which happens to be ‘Gallus’ in Latin. Also his homeland was France (referred to as ‘Gallia’ by the Romans). Hope that passed your litmus test of news you can use!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Think Pig

One of Gabbar Singh’s favourite expletives was ‘suar ke bacche’ (progeny of swine). Logically speaking, it should have never gained traction as a filthy cuss word as the pig is supposedly, a very clean animal.

They say, even a new-born piglet, will leave its nest to go to a makeshift toilet nearby within hours of birth, unlike us humans who created an entire diaper industry with our propensity to wet our pants at unannounced hours.

Sadly, despite a wealth of information available to the contrary, the pig is a much slandered beast. In the sixties and seventies, feminists labelled men who regarded women as an inferior species as ‘male chauvinistic pigs’. Thankfully, the P in MCP was not an allusion to the hoofed mammal with a flat snout. It was in fact a derogatory British slang for ‘policemen or authoritarian men’.

‘Lazy pig’ is another myth that deserves to be busted. Pigs are caged or kept in a pen with other pigs. They have no option but to lie around in the little space they’re provided. If they had the privileges of a solo pet, they’ll be as adorable and active as dogs because pigs are supposed to have an IQ of a 3-year-old and they can run a mile in just about 7 minutes!

Wallowing in the mud is often cited as one more reason for the negative perception of the swine. But the poor thing has no say in the matter as it doesn’t have sweat glands. To control its temperature, the pig has to spend a lot of time in shallow murky waters.

So dirty, stupid, fat and ugly, they are not. In fact, the billion odd pigs on the planet have up to 185 uses ranging from the production of insulin to giving the shampoo its pearl-like appearance. Apart from a famous guest appearance on your food plate as bacon, pork, or ham, the pig has also come in handy in over 60,000 human heart transplants worldwide.

Although the piggy bank is the most adorable advertisement for the sus scrofa domesticus, the animal has no connection whatsoever with the savings habit. There’s a nice story behind its deployment. And it concerns an orange-coloured clay called ‘pygg’.

During the Middle Ages, metal was very expensive. Therefore money was stored in clay pots made from ‘pygg’. The Europeans referred to them as ‘pygg pots’. With time, when English craftsmen got instructions from their masters for replication of the pygg pot, they took it literally and crafted the first ever piggy bank. Now that you’ve hogged on a whole lot of porcine stuff, how about adopting one as a pet?