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Tangible Value of Names For Tourism Promotion

India will stand taller still if it can happily marry its past with its present, like Singapore and Indonesia, and confidently shine the light of tolerance to an uncertain world.

Names are important markers – thanks to the accumulated cultural cachet and societal romance attached to them. They carry unique characteristics of history, traditions, customs and folklore. It is rarely possible to locate a place merely by its attributes; it is the name that helps to find it. Names resonate in our minds. For the UNESCO the ‘importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a state, and is as important for developing states as for developed ones.’

The Supreme Court’s dismissal this year of the PIL seeking the constitution of a ‘Renaming Commission’ to restore ‘original’ names of ancient, cultural and religious places ‘renamed’ by invaders has helped to draw attention to this recriminatory exercise. The court rightfully said that India can’t be a prisoner of the past and that it will bring alive those issues “which would keep the country on the boil.” This verdict was passed even while the bench acknowledged that “This is a fact that our country was invaded and ruled by a foreign power. We cannot wish out selected part of our history … our country is secular and Hinduism is a way of life, which has assimilated everyone and there is no bigotry in it”. This judgement provides the first level of protection to the renaming of a lot of our places and monuments. The proposed move to rename Churchgate Railway Station in Mumbai has already launched a thousand opposing petitions.

While the call to change colonial practices is timely and appropriate, there is a need to exercise caution while considering renaming places just because they have a colonial ring to them. The declaration by the Indian army, to replace anything colonial with Indian names is a fraught exercise, especially when many names have become part of the military lexicon. Replacements for names like Regiment, Squadron, Regimental Centres, Ordnance, Grenadiers, Armoured Corp and Cavalry will invariably be clunky and unwieldy.

Name changing should not be dogmatic because new names cannot hide the history or the reality. The Uttarakhand government’s directive to all departments and district magistrates to make a list of locations, roads and buildings with a colonial ring is retrograde.  Mall Roads, as exist in Shimla, Mussoorie, Nainital and Darjeeling and many other popular hill stations, have played an important role in cantonment life because they were ‘Married Officers Living Lines’ – will lose not just ‘a ring of slavery’ but a ring of history by any other name. In the natural course, many places in the country have got Indianised names, through a process of local assimilation, thanks to the malleable pronunciation to which they lend themselves: Matkuli, near Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, is the desi version of Mate-Coolie (where the local PWD yard was located) and Fursatganj used to be Forsyth-ganj named after Captain James Forsyth (author of the Highlands of Central India) who worked as a Deputy Commissioner in the Central Provinces, just as Jangpura in Delhi was Young-pur, so named after Colonel Young. In fact, some names are so indelible and immutable because of their popularity – Company Garden in Mussoorie will continue to be called that, no matter what new name it is given, just as Connaught Place continues to be so called, despite being irrationally renamed Rajiv Chowk.

The cultural sensibilities of residents also need to be respected. Giving any other name to Landour cantonment in Mussoorie would be highly disrespectful towards people like Ruskin Bond, Tom and Stephen Alter and the many Anglo-Indians who have made it their home. The name Kamptee, that houses the officers’ training academy of the national cadet corps has so much historical allure, because it was originally set up by the British military as Camp-T, being at the T-junction of the rivers Kanhan, Pench and Kolar.

The world has experimented with changing names of cities, but it has been mostly to restore history rather than to whitewash it. Thus, Leningrad was renamed St Petersburg as it was originally meant to be so called by Peter the Great, and there is a great deal of history attached to that name. Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd, being on the banks of the Volga River. Our role model should be our ‘Look-East’ neighbours who have effectively assimilated their colonial past and integrated it with their current culture to reap the highest advantage for their tourism. Singapore has carefully preserved names like: Raffles, Fullerton, Cenotaph, Chijmes and so on, despite preponderant Chinese cultural affinity. Indonesia, too, has harvested history for the benefit of tourism. It has retained the name of Bali, named after the Hindu mythological character from Ramayana; their national aviation carrier is Garuda, that is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu – despite being a Muslim nation.

Instead of a commission to suggest names of places, perhaps, we should have a protocol by which to judge if the proposed name change is appropriate. The criteria can include the following: That the name change should have verifiable historical basis, that it should not be cumbersome and that it will promote tourism and broader public understanding. This template will apply across the world. The renaming of Turkey to Turkiye and of Durban as eThekwini do not pass this test. It is gratifying that the Bombay Stock Exchange and the University of Madras have been sensible and have retained their earlier monikers despite changes in the city names.

India is a many-splendored medley of vivid native cultures with exploratory foreign ones. To disavow the past is wasteful for a country that aims to march ahead and attract tourists from all over the world. Today, India is a global leader in many fields and the success of the Indian diaspora is the beacon of India’s cultural eminence. India will stand taller still if it can happily marry its past with its present, like Singapore and Indonesia, and confidently shine the light of tolerance to an uncertain world.


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