Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Name Game....

Our attitudes towards names, is , to say the least,  intriguing and even confusing.

It is even a function of time.  In personal and public spaces.

In Maharashtra, in the personal space, we all bear complete names made up of our given name, then father's name and then surname/last name.  After marriage , the father's name and last name gets replaced by the husband's name and last name.  When i first ventured into what was IT 40 years ago, and did programming, I always thought that this system , with appropriate linkages, would display amazing family trees and the evolution of various families. I knew it was not  that simple, but possible.

Then women started keeping their maiden names and just appending the husband's last name, sometimes with a hyphen, and sometimes without. That too made sense. It may have raised a few eyebrows.  But it also elicited a few hurrahs.

Legally, it is not necessary for anyone to change names.  X and Y can be married to each other and still keep their names.  But its bothers folks with attitude, in places like government registration offices,  passport offices , ration card offices and so on and they often complicate matters by insisting on extra odd paperwork.

In public spaces, things go pretty much haywire.  Changing names in public spaces , is steeped in political patronage, vote mongering , and money.

While scant attention is paid in Mumbai , to arterial roads being constructed, and the subsequent rehabilitation of displaced folks and commercial entities, those on the fringes of power often get agitated over the naming of these places. Chhatrapati Shivaji, the various Gandhis, and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar are almost always the leading choices.  Sometimes, local and state leaders manage to  win , but it is always more about satisfying a vote bank rather than honoring the departed great soul.

Despite the massive renaming of roads and squares , as is evident from the destination boards on Mumbai's iconic BEST buses,  people still refer to the various roads, by their original names.  I doubt if folks know the new names of Pedder Road, (Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg) ,  or Marine Drive  (Netaji Subhash Chadra Marg) , or Nagar Chowk (Boribunder).  Such is the desperation to  rename  roads that towards the end of the last century, the Municipal Corporation had actually renamed 2500 roads and squares in a 3 year period. While the government passed a rule allowing renaming of places that carried names of pre independence British rulers in 1950,  today there is a renaming spree happening.   The famous Laburnum road in Gamdevi was in danger of being renamed, as someone thought it was a British Officer's name, till someone pointed out at the eleventh hour, that it was named after the profuse laburnum trees that made the road special. There was a Ropewalk lane in Fort, named so because in earlier days, ropes were supplied to the ships in the dock (by the Fort Officials) , and the rope makers would use this lane to stretch the jute fibres.  Today this piece of urban history has been celestially wiped out; the road is now known as Saibaba Lane.                 

The sad part is when names are changed due to money power.

Long ago in my childhood in Pune, there were a bunch of very well regarded schools for both girls and boys, in various localities named after a person called Bhave. I had friends who attended these schools, I had relatives who taught there for years. My late mother once told me that the Mr Bhave after whom these schools were named, was a very dedicated, hardworking, not very financially well off teacher,  who brought up these institutions from scratch.

Sometime in the last few decades of the last century, there was a donation to those schools,  from a very well known industrialist family in memory of the family matriarch.  The old man was relinquished to history, and all the schools were now renamed after the matriarch of the donor family.   A lot of us were saddened by this. But i guess this was a sign of the times to come.

Today, almost all naming of public places has immense political overtones, deals, quid-pro-quids , rather than a sense of gratitude.  

There has always been something in the news about renaming universities.   Nothing much is said or publicised about the infrastructural facilities, the standards, etc at these universities.  Most such renamings are politically motivated.  

The latest is about renaming Pune University after the late Savitribai Phule, who  besides being a freedom fighter, was instrumental in ensuring and making possible, education for women. While I have the greatest respect for Dynaanjyoti Savitribai Phule, I have always felt, that instead of just renaming, it would make more sense, if the government offered funds, and prime land,  for a state of the art  Women's University named after her.  This would necessarily include, besides various colleges and disciplines,  schools for girls in rural areas, with free education and mentoring. Such a University would have the freedom to grow according to its needs, and not within the rules incumbent on an old university.

Unfortunately,  we live in times where everyone wants quick returns.  Votes, prestige, social standing, and many times, revenue.

I wonder why we do not rename jails . The Arthur Rd jail in Mumbai, presumably named after a Britisher, could be renamed . So could Tihar Jail in New Delhi. All have seen star prisoners. There are even other regional jails  in various states, where powerful types are currently domiciled.  But this is a catch 22 situation.  As a politician , you may be at the forefront naming the jail, after its distinguished resident(s) , only to be in a scam later and inhabit it yourself.

I wonder why we do not name the numerous flyovers that we desperately construct.   It would shame those who participate in shoddy constructions  in connivance with unnamed others,  once the potholes, and breakdowns start happening.

I wonder why we do not name the huge official municipal garbage dumps after people.

I wonder how the recently opened Eastern Freeway offering a fast North South connection on Mumbai's eastern seaboard, has escaped a naming controversy ? On second thoughts, has it ?  

But then I think back to the various small local temples,  that dot the original city of Pune, the city of my childhood.  They bear names like Khunyaa (Murderer) Murlidhar , Patryaa (leaf-like) Maruti, ChimNyaa (tiny ) Ganpati, Sonya MarutiHatti (elephant)Ganpati., Garud (eagle) Ganpati, Jilbyaa (fond of jilebis, a sweet food item) Maruti; all names indicating some kind of backslapping familiarity of the locals, vis-a-vis these gods. None of these names, are respectful; on the other hand the names are indulgent.  I wouldn't be too thrilled to be referred to as Khunyaa (murderer).

 The dedication to the Gods continues  regardless of these indulgent , often shocking names.   No one has ever tried to change these names, and no builder has ever dared to rehabilitate these small temples , which are now in the prime city area.

I wonder why .

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