By Suresh Pattali
The key wouldn’t turn, so I hesitantly pressed the bell, wondering why she was awake well past her bed time. The door was opened after we exchanged our passwords. All the lights were on in the living room as if she was in the middle of a celebration.
“What’s up? Why are you awake?”
“Eat man,” wifey said, and pointed to a spread of Indian sweets on the table.
“Motichoor Laddu, Dehati Rasgulla, Shahi Tukda,” she said mimicking the typical Allahabadi accent. Her accurate pronunciation of those north Indian delicacies surprised me. How I sum her up when it comes to the national language is, she doesn’t know Hindi and Hindi doesn’t know her.
“What’s so special that you even forgot you are a diabetic?” I enquired.
“Yogi Adityanath made my day,” she said, licking the rasgulla syrup from her fingers.
“Who? The Uttar Pradesh guy? How?”
“He has renamed Allahabad to Prayagraj. That’s MY name plus Raj. Actually, you know, you should have been a Raj, to make us a confluence,” she smiled coquettishly and switched on the computer.
“Don’t spoil the keyboard with your greasy fingers,” I warned. “What are you going to do? I need it to write my column.”
“To search ticket fares to Prayagraj. One has to touch base with the roots.”
“A one-way ticket wouldn’t be a bad idea,” I said with intent to pull her leg.
“If you meant my renunciation, not so early, my raja.”
“By the way, why are you so happy about the Allahabad renaming?”
“There is now a city by my name, so I am proud. Second, we are just reinventing our Sanskriti, our heritage. The holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet there, so the word prayag, which means a confluence, is the right name for the city.”
“Do you know the politics behind the renaming?”
“Whatever!” She shrugged.
At that point, I started to get furious. I am not a steadfast preacher of status quo, but I certainly hate name change due mainly to the political conspiracy that runs underneath. The hysterical renaming spree following Independence in 1947 made some sense because people emancipated from colonial slavery were clamouring to erase memories of their tormentors. Consequently, a number of roads and streets across India that bore the legends of the British Empire were rechristened. Kingsway and Queensway in Delhi became Rajpath and Janpath respectively.
In the following decades, various governments which came to power in different states on the sons-of-soil platforms indulged in a renaming race. Madras thus became Chennai, Bangalore was changed to Bengaluru, Bombay was renamed Mumbai, Trivandrum became hard-to-crack Thiruvananthapuram, and Calcutta was changed to Kolkata — as was it pronounced. There wasn’t much heart burn as these changes were still intended to wipe out the symbols of colonialism, though some believed it was easier to decipher their English nomenclature. Such as VT (Victoria Terminus) instead of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Trivandrum instead of Thiruvananthapuram.
Renaming peaked during the rule of Mayawati as Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 2007-2012. She renamed eight districts after Dalit ideologues. Amethi became Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar, Sambhal was rechristened Bhim Nagar, Hathras became Mahamaya Nagar, Shamli was named as Prabudh Nagar, Khalilabad became Sant Kabir Nagar, Bhadohi was changed to Sant Ravidas Nagar, Kasganj was named as Kanshi Ram Nagar and Amroha was Jyotiba Phule Nagar. However, when Akhilesh Yadav came to power in 2012, his Samajwadi Party government reversed the changes.
For present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a former head priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt, well known for his eccentricity, renaming seems to be his birthright. During his tenure as MP of Gorakhpur since 1998, he engineered the renaming of many places in the city – Urdu Bazar as Hindi Bazar, Ali Nagar as Arya Nagar, Miya Bazar as Maya Bazar, Islampur as Ishwarpur, Lahaladpur as Alahaladpur and Humayun Nagar as Hanuman Nagar. It’s the pattern of the names that make Adityanath stand apart as a religious conspirator from his predecessors like Mayawati and Akhilesh who are no more than silly political manipulators. The symbols of Islam and the Moghul Empire in the original nomenclature were changed by Adityanath to names affiliated to Hindutva. It’s his declared mission to saffronise India because he believes Moghul rulers like Akbar, Aurnagzeb and Babar were invaders who had erased India’s rich Hindu heritage.
A day before he was named chief Minister, Adityanath said in a TV interview, “Abhi toh aur naam badalne hai (More names need to be changed).” And changes he made. The list is growing longer by the day. A recent decision that shocked the nation was the renaming of the Mughalsarai railway station, one of the busiest on the Eastern Railway network, after BJP ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. The rechristening of Allahabad, the ancestral home of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which produced three prime ministers including Jawarharlal Nehru, because of the word’s Islamic phonetics, is a blatant, insensitive decision to be resisted by all right-thinking Indians.
Adityanath’s hate for the Moghuls is misplaced because their arrival in India was chiefly facilitated by the weaknesses of various Hindu kings and their greed and disunity. In the following 300 years, India got only richer by culture with the fusion of Islamic and Hindu faiths. This religious and cultural integration was more visible in the art and architecture of Mughal India. The greatness of a leader lies in preserving such heritage that had evolved through centuries of cohesion, not in destroying or rewriting it in the name of hate politics. Pseudo-glorification of Hindutva will lead to a cultural Holocaust in India.
Hindu fanatics are now demanding the rechristening of Ahmedabad as Karnavati, Bhopal as Bhojpal, Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar, Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, and Goa as Govapuri. Adityanath has said he will not hesitate to change Taj Mahal to Ram Mahal. Since there is no dearth of icons in India, we may soon have cities named as Narendramodi Nagar and Amit Shah Pur.
Adityanath and his ilk are best advised to take a lesson from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country which celebrates rather than annihilates its glorious Hindu past. As Pallavi Iyer once wrote in The Hindu, “For all of Hinduism’s vaunted tolerance, it is arguably better to be Hindu in Indonesia, than Muslim in India.”
“How about one more Rasgulla?” wifey Prayaga jolted me out of my thoughts.
“Thank God, I was not born in Uttar Pradesh,” I said, refusing a second serving of Rasgulla.
“Adityanath would have changed my name. There is an Ali in it, PATT-ALI.”
Suresh is senior editor. He believes procrastination ruins lives