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Numerologists beat geolinguists in India

india Updated: Jul 24, 2011 21:50 IST
Parthasarathi Swami

One king is a queen. A second is henpecked. A third has been sailing so close to the wind these past few years that he has become a giant gasbag. They are among the top 50 business barons in India and the most respected Indian businessmen year after year.

What keeps them at the top? Is it just their wealth? Is it the power they have? If you look deeper, you will find that the original entrepreneur commands respect for what he is and what he has achieved. His progeny are simply riding on the power of a name. Take away the name — or alter it a bit — and their universe might change.

The whole world is dropping names these days as numerology (the basic stuff of A+B and the more advanced version such as Elliott Wave analysis) gains ground. So Sanghvi becomes Sangghvi, though it sounds like a wet cat sneezing. And Sheena Nayyar becomes Sheena S. Nayyer, a new queen of the jungle.

Would a Kumar Mangalam Birla be locking horns with Vijay Mallya in the brewing industry? Would a Bijoy Mallya be entranced by the fish-football-fight culture? (Actually, he already is. He sponsors the two leading Kolkata football clubs and his favourite dish is the Kane Rawa. That's lady fish; it had to be.) Would a Ratan Toota be divorced instead of unmarried? Would a Ratan Tota be hunting parrots rather than jaguars?

Talking about parrots, an interesting recent finding is that baby parrots learn their names from their parents, says Discover magazine. How on earth did they discover that? Scientists from Cornell University went to a large parrot colony in Venezuela and mixed up eggs in the nests and waited for them to hatch. Hear it from Karl S. Berg, the leader of the birdwatchers: "We studied contact call learning in video-rigged nests of a well-known marked population of green-rumped parrotlets in Venezuela. Both sexes of naive nestlings developed individually unique contact calls in the nest, and we demonstrate experimentally that signature attributes are learned from both primary care-givers."

Some other learnings, though not part of the Berg report: some parrots are cuckoos. Scientists have discovered little green chicks before discovering little green men. Papa Parrots have now joined Daddy Dolphins in giving names to their chicks. Nobody else in the animal world does that excepting man. And man's forte today is more renaming than naming.

In the corporate world, there are several forces at work. Some companies need a disguise; tobacco major Philip Morris became Altria as a smokescreen. Some want to globalise – Sunx became Panasonic, without which it would have been sunx.

The late Osama bin Laden wanted to rebrand Al Qaeda to make it more contemporary. The New Yorker has some suggestions: aQ ("I can already see the campaign: 'Q: aQ? A: aQ!'"); Terrora; and Boomtown. Osama is dead and gone. Before him was the word — Microsoft Word. In a recent version of Word, Osama passes muster as correctly spelt while Obama registers as a mistake. Such is fame. It may be one of the reasons why Digvijay Singh, before he started hitting out at the RSS, stirred a controversy by referring to the dead terrorist as Osama-ji.

Branding today is a global exercise. In India, a war is on between the numerologists and the geolinguists "who provide language and cultural assessments of brand names to ensure that they mean what they are supposed to mean... here or abroad." That's the description from Lexicon, which has a 77-member geolinguistics team and a network of Ph.D. linguists (representing 53 languages). Lexicon has created billion dollar brands such as BlackBerry, Pentium and PowerBook.

Does all this give any clue as to why Indian brands find it so difficult to go global? It may be because many of the men who steer them have never heard of geolinguistics. At the top of the barrel, they rely on a numerology aficionado — Niira Radia who has decided that two eyes are better than one. Given her broadcasting virtuosity in the 2G scam, she should have left the 'i' alone and changed the Radia to Radio. But no one can deny that she has networked successfully since her numerological excursion. She may be the one reason why the numerologists in India are winning over the geolinguists. She has support in high places and has walked with kings (and queens) nor lost the common touch. This 50-plus queen of good times is a king.

The writer is Managing Editor, Business India.