Monday, June 18, 2007

Changing names

[T]here are the same streets and shops and dishes and hotels, the same Star and Zee TV channels, the same moustachioed men in motorbikes and brisk women working behind the bank counters, the same juxtapositions of colonial and modern architecture, the same squalid streets with boys carrying planks on their heads, and the same wealthy babes schooled on satellited repeats of The Bold and the Beautiful who hang around outside pasta restaurants saying: ‘It’s so boring here, Tina. Let’s go to Maxi’s, yaaah?’

That’s how Patrick French describes the similarities between Lahore and Delhi in his 1997 masterpiece Liberty or Death. Lahore and Delhi, and also quite easily Karachi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Dhaka — the above para could easily describe all major Desi cities. French also described the major difference between Lahore and Delhi — Jinnah is everywhere in the former and nowhere in the latter.

Jinnah is not the only historical personality present in parts of Desh and absent elsewhere. Streets and localities are named after various politicians, poets and sundry once-famous people across Desh. Sometimes, streets and localities are renamed to reflect political changes.

For example, in Dhaka, many streets and buildings built during the Pakistan days were renamed when the association with Pakistan was severed. Jinnah Avenue became Bangabandhu Avenue and Jinnah Hall became Surjya Sen Hall. Similarly, Ayub Gate became Assad Gate and Ayub Nagar became Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. Iqbal Hall became Sgt Zahurul Huq Hall, and of course Pak Motors became Bangla Motors.

As the last link notes, while names associated with Pakistan changed, those associated with the British — Minto Road and Curzon Hall — have survived in Dhaka. This is not the case in Kolkata. Also, while Dhaka’s renames mark Bangladesh’s freedom struggle, Kolkata is more internationalist. Thus, Dharamtala is now Lenin Sarani, Harrington Street is Ho Chi Minh Sarani and Theatre Road has become Shakespeare Sarani. Iqbal has been erased from Dhaka, but Ekbalpur Road has now become Kabi Mohammed Iqbal Road, and Free School Street is now Mirza Ghalib Street. This is not to say that traditional Indian national icons are ignored — that’s why Chowringhee was renamed Jawaharlal Nehru and Red Road became Indira Gandhi Road. And there are many places named after Tagore.

Of course Desh is not the only place this kind of renaming occurs. For example, they are changing names in South Africa these days, with Durban's Point Road (reputed to house many houses of ill-repute) being renamed after Mahatma Gandhi.