The futile exercise of renaming

The futile exercise of renaming
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Highlights

Can it wipe out past, erase scars, restore glory?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose/by any other name would smell as sweet." That is Juliet telling Romeo that a name is nothing but a name in 'Romeo and Juliet,' by William Shakespeare.

Ever since the erstwhile Bombay metropolis was rechristened Mumbai, the chauvinistic wave caught on in the country, with a flurry of name changes, Madras to Chennai and Calcutta to Kolkata being prominent examples. In the case of Kolkata, there was justification for the change, as the original 'Kalikata' was derived from the Bengali word 'Kali Kshetra' meaning "Holy Ground of Goddess Kali." Not so, however, in the case of Bombay. Shiv Sena, the ruling party in Maharashtra state saw that name as a legacy of British colonialism, and wanted to rename it to reflect the Maratha Heritage, and to pay tribute to Goddess Mumba Devi. Not a restoration of historical fact, as in the case of Kolkata. The change in the case of Madras to Chennai was also not a historical matter as Chenna Pattanam was the name of a nearby town, named by one Venkatadri Nayaka, in honour of his father Chennappa Nayakudu.

Having born in Chennai, I have, despite the most diligent effort, yet to come to terms with the changes in many names of the roads, streets and areas in that city. Mount Road, Madras, for example, has a nostalgic and familiar ring to most people of my generation. A roadway dotted with many landmarks, such as the Midland theatre, the Buhari restaurant and the New Elphinstone theatre (in the ground floor of which was a soda fountain, where one could savor delicacies such as Peach Melba and ice cream soda). As one continued along the road, a point came where Sir Thomas Munro's statue, on horseback, was the landmark where one turned left towards either the Madras Central railway station or the General Hospital, straddling the Grand Western Trunk road. Less than a hundred yards from there, was the Moore market, now demolished to make way for the MGR Central Station. One remembers the exciting visits to Moore Market as a child, where my father used pay special attention to secondhand books lying on the pavement on the roadside; and many types of curios and toys, new and used were available.

And as the renaming virus spread, and reached the capital city, we now have the erstwhile Rajpath becoming Kartavya Path to mention just one example. And in Hyderabad, James Street is now Sardar Patel Road and Kingsway, Mahatma Gandhi Road.

In the Telugu speaking states, while Hyderabad has, so far, survived an attempt to rename it Bhagya Nagar, Vijayawada and Rajahmundry have been fortunate in reacquiring their original names, namely Bejawada and Rajamahendravaram. As has Kakinada, which the Britishers called Coconada. Not renamed as such. Only correcting the inability of the British to pronounce the names correctly. Just as Singapore was originally Simhapuri, or Kampuchea wasKambhoja.

Many cities and towns in America carry the names of places originally in England, where the forefathers of their present citizens came from. Boston, for instance, the capital of Massachusetts State, is the most expensive place in the United States, but its UK counterpart is just a quiet coastal town in England's east coast. Likewise, there are three American cities named London in Arkansas, Kentucky and Ohio respectively. London one in Kentucky hosts the World Chicken Festival annually. New York gets its name from York, the county town of Yorkshire a Cathedral city, one of England's most historic urban areas founded by the Romans in the year 71 AD. And, unlike its counterpart in England, which is home to the most famous academic institutions in the world, Oxford, in America, is just a sleepy New England town, on the banks of Thompson Lake.

Whether it was 'Porus,' who fought 'Sikander,' who invaded India, or they were actually called 'Purushottam' and 'Alexander the Great,' does not change the historical fact, that the battle of Hydaspes took place on the banks of Jhelum river in the Punjab region, and that a close study of unbiased historical accounts shows that the great conqueror was humiliated, defeated and sent back.

Some authors, painters and sculptors are also in the habit of using what is called 'nom de plume,' postpaid or a pen name, in order to conceal their identity, either to avoid publicity, or for others reasons of convenience. The legendary BPR Vittal, a senior civil servant and noted economist of undivided Andhra Pradesh State, used to write under the pen name 'Nirbhayam (or 'fearless)'. His equally eminent son, Sanjay Baru, the noted author of 'The Accidental Prime Minister' about Dr Manmohan Singh, formerly Prime Minister of India, writes a column called 'Sanjay Uvacha,' the title being a reference to Sanjaya of Mahabharata relating the happenings in the Kurukshetra war to the blind Duryodhana.

The whole point being made is that, once a place has been given a name, and things have happened there, changing the name, or artificially altering the nature of what really happened, cannot undo historical truth. The best thing is to learn lessons from what happened, in order to improve the chances of sustainable development, and rapid growth, of the world economy in the future. We must learn to possess, the courage, and boldness, to live with memories of unpleasant past happenings, treating them as a learning ground for the future.

When a scar formed as a result of an injury sustained in childhood, it is often seen, that years later, the brain 'mimics' the pain, although the wound had healed long ago and the physiological cause for that pain is no longer obtaining. Unpleasant memories of past happenings are precisely like that. The scars remain, though the wounds healed long ago. The thing to do, therefore is to treat the scar as something that cannot be wished away, but as a reminder of an experience that has made a person the better for it.

When all is said and done, even if the whole world calls it Parr-ees, the correct pronunciation of Paris is Pah-gee, with the 'g' pronounced with the bottom of the tongue touching the top of the roof in the mouth, a sound other languages are not accustomed to in their phonetics. Similarly even if all of us call it Thay-mes, the river's name really is Tems, just as Sir Thomas Munro ought to be called Sir Tomas Munro. Why, I, myself, have been called by various names such as Mohan, Babu, Ayya or Sir depending on the context and situation. But I remain I, the names used by others notwithstanding!

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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