Tag Archives: Etymology

Namasté Mars

27 Sep

On an early Wednesday morning, while most Indians were yet to shake off their slumber, the world woke up to a band of scientists who had quietly achieved what Prime Minister Modi would later describe as a “near impossible” task: India had become the only country to reach Mars in its first attempt at an incredibly low cost of just Rs 450 crore (not even a sixth of Hindustan Unilever’s reportedly astronomical spends on advertising).

It was a Wednesday but Mangal was within sight. And Twitter went crazy. For many of us, tweets spiralling down the timeline told us what mass media could only replicate a little later. But, among the many trending topics and tweets, one stood out: Curiosity, NASA’s counterpart in the race to the Red Planet, was the first to tweet with a greeting, “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.” Forget the fact that it was immediately retweeted along with @ISRO’s cheeky “Howdy @MarsCuriosity ? Keep in touch. I’ll be around”… India’s scientists were finally getting their place in the sun and reveling in it.

BBC News   Mangalyaan  Nasa s Curiosity tweets greeting to India s Mars probe

Tweets from space

But, pause. Look deeper at the paradox of these tweets: an intrinsically Indian entity uses the typical Texan “Howdy” whereas the all-American NASA salutes ISRO with a “Namaste”.

In a society where English is rapidly becoming cool and Hindi uncool, it isn’t just metro students and professionals who have abandoned native languages and adopted English with alacrity, but even blue-collared working classes. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear drivers in your building greet each other with a handshake and “good morning”. Maids will bid the house mistress adieu with a “goodbye” and not the customary Hindi or Bangla term; the latter being the other lingua franca in Gurgaon where the ABCD class is dominated by Bangladeshis with Aadhar cards. (ABCD being Ayahs, Bearers, Cooks, Drivers…add rickshaw-pullers to it too.) When did Namasté become alien? And why?

Again paradoxically, at the very upmarket, and reportedly elitist, Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, however, the default greeting is not “Good Morning” but “Namasté” among students and teachers, parents and teachers et al. No handshakes but the traditional folded hand and a slight bow that expresses the meaning of the word at its very best in a school that enshrines Indian culture and has been consistently ranked as the best in the country.

Etymologically, “Namasté” is a sandhi of the Sanskrit ‘namah’ and ‘te’. ‘Namah’ means ‘bow’ or ‘obeisance’ or ‘a reverential salutation’ or ‘adoration’ and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. Therefore, ‘Namas te’ literally means ‘bowing to you’. The word is naturally spoken with a slight bow and with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing up, thumbs close to the chest in a gesture is called AñjaliMudrā or Pranamasana. In Hindu scriptures, it means “I bow to the divine in you.”

Namasté (or Namaskar) is used as a greeting usually acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger with very high respect.

So, when NASA tweeted “Namaste” (sic…without the accent in é) was it unknowingly paying tribute to the higher order that is now India? Think about it while you bask in the reflected glory of Mangalyaan.

Namasté ISRO. Namasté Mars.



30 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, I joined the league of people who tweet away.

It started as an exercise in educating myself to figure out what the 140-character-microblogging syndrome was all about. And to see if it could be put to any productive use because it seemed like an addictive distraction. Some of it is useful – especially if you follow NYT, Economist, Wired, O’Reilly, GigaOm, Guy Kawasaki and a few real-life acquaintances who aren’t busy tweeting about inane stuff like going to the loo or listing out what they ate for breakfast (before they went to the loo)! And it could be more useful if Maruti Suzuki evolved its Traffic Beat service from FM radio to Twitter to tell people which roads to avoid in real time, or if a helpful Jat could update others on shops that still stock beer in Delhi/Gurgaon when the temperature’s hitting 43 Celsius and there’s no Kingfisher to be found nearby…or even the best deals on veggies in the morning (why does Pizza Hut insist on wasting paper slipping in offers into newspapers?).

But, yes, Twitter can be addictive and distracting. In this multi-tasking era of hyperactive thumb-texting, it’s a fad worth considering only if you don’t get carried away: interestingly, a research reports that over 60% of Twitter users drop out after the first month.

On a particularly distracted day – alternating between Facebook and Twitter and between their web and mobile versions – I realised how unproductive life could be. Which is how the term fwittering was coined and submitted as entry no. 13 to Urban Dictionary: ‘a verb which describes the act of frittering away valuable time between Facebook and Twitter by posting status updates or tweets on both.’

No pun intended but go thumb it on UD.


29 Mar

This one’s not just about entry no. 12 in Urban Dictionary… it’s about a few friends as well.

To start with, it’s about Abhijit Pradhan who was a colleague twice over – in two different organisations – and is one of the few people I know who turned a passion into a means of livelihood.

I met him, after a hiatus of a few weeks last Friday, and our conversation turned towards the Microsoft Corporate Challenge where I was fortunate to lead two of the finest teams I’ve ever had. The first in Goa in 2005, the next at Hua-Hin in Thailand in 2007 – and we came third in the inaugural event and second in the 2007 one! I happened to be telling him about the sheer brilliance of the concept, the organisation of the event, the fact that it is arguably the most powerful team-building tool I’ve come across and that it’s mandatory to have at least two women in a team of seven (the inaugural event had one woman in a team of six)… that’s when he quipped “not mandatory, but womandatory!”.

So, this entry to Urban Dictionary is dedicated to Abhijit.

And to Manjula, who made the first year’s triumph possible. As well as to Anupa and Arti who powered us to the runner’s-up position in the last event (sadly, the Microsoft Corporate Challenge doesn’t have a sponsor today, so the Hua Hin one was the last).

It should be womandatory to have more women around…


26 Mar

Another Urban Dictionary entry and this one’s courtesy Garima whose id it is somewhere…

The word is Galbum; it refers to a girl’s album on Flickr; and not her rear 🙂

Go, thumb it!


19 Mar

In 2003, I left not just the advertising agency that had been home for 16 years, but also the industry. And I’ve watched award parades turn into painful charades, with a handful of agencies fighting like children to win trophies for campaigns that get published in obscure media for non-existent brands.

One part of the advertising industry calls them scams. I thought I’d call them scampaigns – and tried my luck on Urban Dictionary. Now, it’s entry number nine in there 🙂


12 Mar

When one half of your team operates out of the US and starts work around the time you’re supposed to be logging out, the better part of your evenings is usually spent on trans-continental conference calls. Doing serious business, negotiating royalty payments, running through presentations on an hour-long phone call takes some getting used to, but once you’ve figured it out, it can be fun as well.

Sometimes, the team at one end of the call goes into a huddle discussing something that just can’t be deciphered by the other party. This happened earlier this week, prompting me to create ‘mumble-jumble‘: Intense mumbling that some people do in a conference-call when they start discussing something at one end, oblivious of the fact that it can’t be heard – or understood – by participants at the other end.

And, like always, I submitted it to Urban Dictionary… where it now rests, waiting to be voted. Go, thumb it!


3 Mar

Every day, one reads of jobs disappearing by the thousands as entire companies/industries/countries go under… that’s what led to the creation of Jobsolence on, where else but… Urban Dictionary.