Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I was trying to clean up my e-mail a few days ago, when I came across a bunch of e-mails sent by my friends who had just named their children. Now, each generation goes through a different trend of "name choosing". For instance, around the time I was born (will keep both the decade and the year a secret :)), one fad was to name kids after communist leaders. So, many kids were named after Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Che Guevera, and similar leaders. Another was to name kids simple, non-godly names. So, out went the Gopals, the Krishnas, and the Ramachandras, and in came Anils, Sandeeps, and the like. My good friend, (who shall remain unnamed) once told me that in the 70s, there was a movement, not just a fad, amongst Indian Christian families to give their kids Indian names. So, out went the Johns and Michaels, and in came Ajits, Ajays, and the like.

Freakonomics writer Steven Levitt talks about how so many people decide to name their kids using similar "principles". He shows that educational levels are a factor. As are income and upward mobility. (I would go on about this, but you should simply read his book. It is AWESOME.)

A trend I observed in the recent times, particularly amongst my friends, relatives, and distant relatives, is one where they name their kids names starting with the letter "A". Anwesha, Anahita, Anagha, Arya, Ankita, Anandita, Anusha, Apoorva, Ananya, Ayush, to enumerate a few. I wondered, Freako-style, why this was the case?

One answer seems to be that there is a trend, particularly amongst the IT folks, to use Sanskritized names. Maybe, it gives an impression of being in touch with Hindu tradition - imagine, someone asks your kid's name, and you say "Anwesha", you can be sure that the next question will be, "oh, what does that mean?", giving you an opportunity to show off your knowledge of ancient Hindu names. :) Or maybe, just maybe, people tried reading Maneka Gandhi's book of Hindu names from cover to cover, and couldn't get past the letter A! :)

Well, I pitched this idea to a couple of colleagues, and one of them responded: "Maybe the names start with A because they want their kids to become accomplished researchers, and become first authors of every collaborative paper they write!". [Editor's note: If a paper has nearly equal contribution from all its authors, the accepted "policy" is to put author names in ascending order of either their first names or last names.]

So much for working in a research lab! Well, what do you think?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to become a hero?

So, you are a politician and this is election year. You've done nothing towards solving big ticket problems in your constituency, or ministry (if you are a minister) for the last four, and now people want to know why they should elect you.

What do you do? Well, simple. You find a trivial issue, sensationalize it, and pretend to solve it by victimizing someone.

Let's see some examples. Our health system maybe in shambles, we may have 74 children out of 1000 dying below the age of five (27 in China), 0.8 beds for 1000 people (2.38 in China), 47% of our children are underweight (10% in China), only 42% of births are attended to by qualified personnel (70% in China), and...well, you get the picture. But our do-good minister of health affairs is not interested in these numbers. After all, how can you explain to the electorate that the number of hospital beds is now 0.82 per 1000 - how will they understand? Instead, you can wage a jihad on something visible - cigarettes, for instance. Not satisfied with banning smoking in movies, and not satisfied with having large skull-and-bones pictures put on packs, our worthy minister even tried to edit old movies to remove cigarettes from them! Luckily, saner minds prevailed. Next, the minister targetted alcohol - the no.1 cause for malnutrition deaths, high infant mortality, and maternity deaths. Now, he is targetting junk food - your next meal at Mc Donalds might actually come with a lecture on good eating habits! Or, the next time you buy a can of saturated fat, you could be made to attend a refresher course on the evils of cholesterol.

Anyhoo, another candidate in this space is the most cultured home minister of Maharashtra. Now, I don't know much about Marathi culture, but if you believed the minister, it would mean antagonism towards bargirls, towards cheerleaders, and towards "modern" clothing, while turning a blind eye to the violence perpetrated by goons supporting one political family. It would mean supporting weird notions of Marathi pride, including burning books written on Shivaji - who in his time, established a kingdom of tolerance and respect. It means targetting the innocent, and letting the vile go scot-free.

India, my friends - the latest "super-power".