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In a world where Satyam stands for anything but, I found an antique shop on MG Road, Kochi, with absolutely the right name. AAKRI-ti.


And a designer boutique on Marine Lines, Mumbai, with…absolutely the right name.


Names fascinate me. During the long Friday evening bus rides from REC to Cochin, when too dark to read, too bumpy to sleep, I used to play a game…I would select a random letter, say G, and in my mind compile an alphabetic list of celebrities whose surnames starts with that letter…Art Garfunkel, Ben Gazzara, Clark Gable, Danny Glover, Elliot Gould,…all the way up to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Then to the next letter…

I knew it could be developed into a parlour game…participants picking up random letters from two bins…I got a J and a C…umm…Johnny Cash, yippy…but taime kittiyilla.

Sangham had a name game inspired by Malayala Manorama’s ‘everybody who is somebody is a malayali’ theory – Arnold Shivasankaran, Manisha Kuruvilla, Pete Sambashivan, Boris Bharathan, Sunil G. Bhaskar, Kapil Devassy, Anil Kumbalam, Margaret Thachil, Al Kora. To the list my wife recently contributed Rya Nair.


Sajeev and I took this art form to a higher level in Chennai, awarding all our fav colleagues mallu names: Gupta – Guptan, Aggrawal – Abraham, Popat – Pappachan. And once Sajeev was transferred to Baroda, while talking to him from office, invention of nicknames for colleagues became a necessity. Our friend from Packaging was kuppi, his assistant was dappi; the heir apparent was Yuvraj, the also-ran was Kaif…I can’t reveal more, I happen to like my job.

While in Rajagiri, Biju was Chavali and TV was Thanivali…thankfully the names never stuck. Osa was Achayan and Bob was Cristo for a brief period. Diji, son of Rajappan – RA Japan – couldn’t escape being called Japan. We could never have called Varghese anything other than Mookkan, or Pattar anything other than Pattar. Philip, the only guy who could hit high notes, had to be Top.

While the most bizarre nickname of our generation was Chaly’s – KM-squared KKC (don’t ask) – the most appropriate one was reserved for Varkey’s friend Babu…a very unique character, an absolutely one-in-a-million guy…The Babu.

Friends of Rojo (son of ROsily and JOhn) always had colourful nicknames – Wheeler Pappan, Drummer Babu, Bolt Murali – but the award for the most colourful name would forever belong to Prof. Balasubramaniam from Chrompet…Chrome Balls (Honourable mention – a skinny lady lecturer in REC who was tagged Manchester).

Sona Chandy was my aunt’s student – in Hindi, sona means gold and chandi means silver. I haven’t come across another name that works so beautifully as a translingual pun – except, of course, Rosemary PO (roze meri piyo in Hindi means drink mine everyday). BHH.

Vaal Kashnam 1. 1988. Cricket-Bonji season. Mayan was Suni’s neighbour then. The cricket kit was kept at Mayan’s place and whoever reached the ground first would collect it from the house. One day Mibu was the early bird. By mistake he walked up to Suni’s house and rang the bell. 5.30 am, Suni’s father opened the door.

Mibu: Mayane vilikkamo?
Suni’s father: Enthina
Mibu: Kalikkana
Suni’s father: !@#$%^&*

Suni’s sister’s name is Maya.

Vaal Kashnam 2. A few after graduation, Pattar’s Manipal gang got together at a friend’s house. While they were watching old college/hostel videos on the living room TV, the host’s sis walked up to the TV-stand, bend down to pick up a book…and at exactly the same moment on the screen appeared the image of an old friend, and the entire room erupted…Kundi, Kundi, Kundi

The girl underwent therapy for many years…


First Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. I was new to the job and was happy to have somebody to talk to. She would call me every day and talk about ad size, release date, file format, discounts…then finally, ‘Sir, when can we meet?’ I was like, ‘How about tomorrow?’ The next day, I reached office fully fragrant, expectant…and this huge guy dark ambled over to my seat, ‘I am from yellow pages’.
What? Something was not right, I asked him, ‘Where is Sunitha?’
‘Sunitha?’ the gentle giant knitted his brows, was trying hard to think, then, click…a smile lit up his face, ‘Saar, she is from our call centre’.

Second Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. Ah! You can’t fool me twice; I asked her, ‘Are you from the call centre?’
‘Then why should I talk to you?’
‘Because I am fun’
You can’t argue with that…Sonali was her name. Vadakkan, dad was a prof in Anna U. She was cramming for CAT and yellow pages was for pocket money. One day she told me, ‘Babu, you sound exactly like my old boyfriend’. I had to match that ‘You know what, my ex’s name is Sonali’. We started burning up the telephone wires; she was so good that after her call even the guy in the next cubicle would have a cigarette. Then one day, we met…she read the disappointment on my face, and never called me again.

Third Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. Jyothi was a sardarni, but I did not want to take any chances…so after a few calls I asked her how she looked. She said she was engaged…pretty soon I officially launched my bride-hunt, and Jyothi became my new best friend. In fact, when Velan got married and I had to move out of the Kalakshethra flat, it was Jyothi who got me a PG acco with her friend’s family.
(Aunty and Smitha treated me like a member of the family and I lived with them for close to a year till my sis joined me in Chennai. I had had a great time with them, and when it was time to part, Aunty was in tears, and the stoic Smitha had Don’t Leave looping on her stereo.)

Last Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. A couple of months ago. By then I had taken to snapping at all unsolicited calls, but this voice was electric. Act 1 and 2, same formula. Then one day, ‘You know, my husband works in the movies and he goes on these long tours’. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t tempted…I asked her, ‘What does your hubbie do?’ Seema said, ‘She’s a stuntman’. Halo Halo kelkan mela.

If you are a movie buff and a quizzer, chances are you are familiar with ‘Six Degrees of Bacon’. The game is very simple. You select a film star, and connect him to Kevin Bacon, in six links or less. The game’s name is a pun on the concept of Six Degress of Separation (“anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries” source).

Game Demo:
Clint Eastwood was in Space Cowboys (2000) with Marcia Harden
Marcia Harden was in Rails & Ties (2007) with Kevin Bacon
(2 links)

Mammootty was in Kandukondain Kandukondain(2000) with Aishwarya Rai
Aishwarya Rai was in Singularity (2008) with Brendan Fraser
Brendan Fraser was in The Air I Breathe (2007) with Kevin Bacon
(3 links)

Clark Gable was in The Misfits (1961) with Eli Wallach
Eli Wallach was in Mystic River (2003) with Kevin Bacon
(2 links)

(Bacon is at the Centre of the Movie Universe. Not convinced? Check out University of Virginia’s Oracle of Bacon)

The game has helped me survive many seminars and training sessions over the years. And in the good old days before Google and imdb, the pleasure of finding a link, after racking the brain for hours, can only be described using a word that my firewall wouldn’t approve.

It was a colleague of Velan who introduced me to Six Degrees.

Let us call her Diya. When I called up Velan’s office one day, I happened to speak to her – she had this lovely voice, with a hint of mischief. She was a great conversationalist, and I had time to kill. Soon Diya became a daily habit, I was spending hours on the phone, and dying to meet her. Finally, D-day, her birthday. She said she would wait for me in front of Adyar Bakery. I rode my KB to the Bakery, I saw her standing there, took a U-turn and disappeared…well, almost. To cut a long story short, we became friends, very good friends.

Around that time, a girl working with Diya and her college sweet-heart decided to get married, against the wishes of both their families. Typical Hindi padam: Rich boy – poor girl, Vadakkan boy – TamBram girl, Anupam Kher – Amrish Puri. The boy was going abroad for his MS and wanted to tie the knot before he left. The kids were broke and their friends were scared to support them because of Amrish Puri. Diya decided to sponsor the wedding but asked me to front the operation.

After a week of hectic preparations…Inside Kapaleeshwar Temple. Almost muhurtham. Friends and colleagues hanging around. The lovely couple, he in a sherwani, she in kancheevaram, before getting on the stage, they dive for my feet, and I flee.

PS, posted a day later: I now realize that the last line was a subconscious tribute to one of my favourite books, Catch 22, which ends with “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off“. Six Degrees of Separation again?

RAMS Era. Biju, Chittapps, Paramu and I. Jamming in The Right Place, Residency’s coffee shop…“highly vocal drunkenness” to quote Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the three guys on the next table were getting very annoyed.

After a few rounds, when I went to take a leak, the trio followed me; Chittapps sensed something wasn’t right and came over to the loo. The guys had assumed we were making fun of them and were spoiling for a fight. Chittapps was trying very hard to save the situation – using a combination of physical intimidation and smooth sales talk – but the threat of violence was very much in the air.

Then Biju and Paramu joined us. With the shift in the balance of power, the mood changed…and the guys were suddenly like ‘Some night, Macha!’. We exchanged cards. They were into some computer-related business. They took one look at our cards and froze. ‘Macha’ became ‘Saar’, they bought us a round, wanted us to join them for desserts, were all of a sudden very nice, and promised to keep in touch…

Peace. Harmony. Happiness.

Vaal Kashnam – The visiting card that one of my friends handed over was that of a customer he had met that day…some bigshot in a hotshot company, a company with which the trio had some business links…

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