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Playing The Name Game

Playing The Name Game

November 14, 2011

How Mumbai is changing, one street name at a time.

Have you ever wondered what politicians in Maharashtra do when they’re not poetically accusing one another or switching between political parties? (People from the Congress party are not included, because even their election symbol says, “Talk to the Hand.”) Have you ever wondered what they mean when they say, “We lead busy lives?” There’s a simple answer: they’re all busy renaming every part of Mumbai.

Victoria Terminus, they declared, would now be called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Perhaps they didn’t realize that it is somewhat difficult to picture Shivaji supervising the building of a railway terminus. (The same could be said about Queen Victoria, but at least trains existed in her era.) Substituting Shivaji Maharaj for Queen Victoria signals a shift from imperialism, to, well, monarchy. Many would argue that the name CST signifies a pride in our heroes, but the absolute lack of relevance jars. This SMS forward sums it up quite nicely: “A railway announcement after ten years at CST: The train on platform number 6 will go to Thorale Bajirao Peshwe and will only halt at Babasaheb Ambedkar, Pandit Nehru, Sai Baba, Aniruddha Bapu, Kashiram Hedgewar and Mahatma Phule stations.” Sadly, this SMS isn’t as much of an exaggeration as it looks like. BEST bus tickets already call Flora Fountain Hutatma Chowk.

You can print those names, you can even announce them through loudspeakers, but you can’t make them part of popular culture that easily. CST has had some degree of success, but every single bus conductor will stare at you if you ask for a ticket to Ahilyabai Holkar Chowk (formerly Churchgate.) And you can never, never say “Let’s go waste our time on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Marg” (formerly Marine Drive. I wonder why they call Bose the forgotten hero.He seems to be quite well remembered in Mumbai. Even Linking Road is called Netaji Subhash Bose Marg. Maybe it’s because they forgot the ‘Chandra’.) What’s wrong with the name ‘Marine Drive’? No evil British people are being honoured. Besides, the British weren’t all heartless exploiters. They even named a road ‘Wodehouse Road’. If you ever find out that they didn’t mean PG Wodehouse, it would be kind not to tell me.

“Patriotism” is a shoddy excuse for such renaming. Credit should be given where credit is due, and a possible suggestion is to name buildings after the architects who designed them. Also, patriotism doesn’t explain why Haji Ali Chowk was renamed Vatsala Bai Desai Chowk, or why Dhobi Talao is now K Vasudev B Phadke Chowk. Renaming usually reflects the ideology of the government currently in power, and no citizen participation is ever requested. That’s hardly democratic, and, therefore, hardly betterment.

Maybe it all boils down to one fundamental and soul-searching question: Would you like it if “Shootout at Lokhandwala” was called “Shootout at Swami Samarth Nagar?” 


  • Mr. Money To Burn
    Mr. Money To Burn
    20.11.11 05:34 PM
    You really know how to end a blog. I make my lucrative, unethical business decisions the same way, telling myself "Profit and Prophet don't mix." Then I smoke a cigar and make racist jokes.
    Seriously though. Stop writing.
  • Jaai Vipra
    Jaai Vipra
    14.11.11 06:14 PM
    Thank you, Anonymous. That's a very valid argument (and a very good idea.)
    @Pulkit: Yes, but when have you known many politicians to not take the easy way out?
    @Barnaby: Thank you. I'm a Maharashtrian, and maybe it's because of that, but I like the name Mumbai. Bombay wasn't even an Anglicized version of Mumbai: it was derived from Bom Bahai. (My source for that is Salman Rushdie.) So yes, Mumbai makes it feel like it's my city.
    Thank you, Mary. :)
  • Mary
    14.11.11 10:07 AM
    Really love this piece which reflects my sentiments entirely....
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    14.11.11 09:14 AM
    Interesting read indeed, Jaai - I'd love to know more of your thoughts. For example, what's your view on Bombay v Mumbai?
  • Pulkit
    14.11.11 06:38 AM
    An interesting read. I have issues with the renaming of places too. Names signify a particular history of the place or landmark in question, and history cannot be erased. Unless the name is highly offensive in the current scenario and is an obvious remnant of oppression or abuse of some kind, I don't see the point in renaming streets. Like you said, it only furthers a political agenda as an attempt for whatever political party is in power to leave a legacy.
    If that's their motivation, then I'd much rather prefer these parties build NEW things - hospitals, schools, etc - and name those after whichever local heroes they want to.
  • Anonymous
    14.11.11 06:15 AM
    So true! I dont like how India is slowly coming under control of backward politicians (*cough - from Maharashtra - cough*)
    The whole world is mixing, but these guys just dont want to be a part of it, and are forcing their will on others. I mean, seriously, come on... We are in 21st century.. We shouldnt be caring about names of street! Instead, We should worry about removing poverty from the same streets. Wake up!

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