The game of the name

Some years ago, a friend from the UK needed to go to Dadar, the heart of the Maharashtrian locality of Bombay, for a meeting. I put her in a taxi and asked the cabbie to take her wherever she wanted and also bring her back home.

She was back in just over an hour, past her appointment time and very harried. “No one had any idea where this place was. We drove round in circles asking hundreds of people but no on could direct me to the place.”

“How can that be?” I asked. “That’s such a famous locality here. No one can simply not know!”

But as I probed further, I turned out, she had been looking for ‘Dud-aar’ and pronouncing it with such a, well, pronounced accent that no body could connect it to ‘Dadar’.

“Its not ‘Dudaar’, its ‘Daadur’ and you should go light on the Ds. No wonder nobody could recognise that name,” I laughed.

I wonder how people like her would fare if, at all, the name of Dadar is changed to ‘Chaitya Bhoomi’, as Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale, who recently joined hands with the Shiv Sena, has demanded. Chaitya Bhoomi is just a little off Dadar railway station, close to the sea where thousands of Dalits congregate on Dr B R Ambedkar’s death anniversary each year.

Of course, the demand comes ahead of the corporation elections in the metropolis and, considering that the Shiv Sena already rules the BMC, it should not be too difficult to accomplish.

But now another dimension to this competitive politics has been added by the demand of Bombay Congress president Kripa Shankar Singh to name ‘Dadar’ as ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar’. To which Athawale has retorted that that name will do very well for Bombay Central station, which according to Singh is already known as ‘Mumbai’ Central and so needs no further Indianisation! As thought ‘Dadar’ was in anyway a British flavour!

I must admit I am rather sick and tired of this game of the name. In a state where everything is named after either Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (museums, railway termini, airports, gardens et al) or Dr Ambedkar (airports again, roads, libraries et al) I wonder why they need more. After all, there are other eminent personalities like Bal Krishna Gokhale, Lokmanya Tilak (he has only one railway station named after him), Dadabhai Naoroji (only one road, though he kick started India’s freedom struggle, unrecognisable as such, in the early days); closer to our times there is former Prime Minister Morarji Desai who belonged more to Bombay than he did to Gujarat; Madame Cama, who tore up her saree at a freedom fighters’ meeting in 1907 to make a flag that would provide the template of what eventually emerged as our tiranga – I could go on and on. None of these people are relics of the British era, they are as Indian as they come.

Though much of the name change has been effected by the Shiv Sena, I notice that while ‘Bombay’ is referred to as ‘Mumbai’ by Bal Thackeray, he himself is loathe to change his own name from ‘Thackeray’, a remnant of a colonial hangover, to the more Indianised ‘Thakre’.

Of course, Thackeray inherited the name from his father who was so inspired by William Makepeace Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’, that he promptly changed the spelling of his name to match that of the British writer. Imitation being the best form of flattery, of course.

Then, again, Thackeray has for years wanted to change the name of Aurangabad, a city founded by the Moghul emperor, to ‘Sambhajinagar’ after Shivaji’s son who was brutally murdered by Aurangzeb but the religious dimension to it has made it impossible for him to do so – the courts forbade it.

Still, I do not think Thackeray has appreciated very much the bid to rename Dadar as ‘Chaitya Bhoomi’ or even ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar’. Even he knows that these demands are a flash in the pan and will last only until the municipal elections. Had they really wanted to rename these places, both the Sena-BJP and the Congress-Nationalist Congress could have moved on it long ago.

Now, with even the NCP joining the bandwagon, I wonder how far these political parties will carry their cynicism. I would rathee they let our landmarks be – even today Bombay’s cabbies refer to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus as ‘VT’ (after the old name, ‘Victoria Terminus’) and no one (me, neither) knows what the new name for Kemps Corner might br, though the name change was effected at least a decade ago.

I do not mean any disrespect to any of the leaders after whom our cynical politicians wish to name various landmarks in the metropolis. But ‘Dadar’ evokes the flavour of thaali peeth and kotmir vadi in a manner no other name would and I would rather future generations take in the full flavour and history associated with these places than fall victims to cynical politics of modern times.

Long live Chaitya Bhoomi. But, so also, long live Dadar!

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