AS I hear about names of cities being changed left, right and centre I see members of the heritage committee, “This building and this and this and this!” exclaim members of the heritage committee as they walk down the roads of a city anywhere in the country. “But we don’t want our buildings to get the heritage tag!” wail the owners, “It means we can’t build something modern here, will have to repair under your specifications. We don’t have the funds, nor will the government give any!”
The heritage committee move on, their job, to identify buildings, they have no money to offer for repairs, they have no powers except trying to preserve a city’s heritage! The question I ask here is, are only buildings part of our heritage? Aren’t names and landmarks much, much more important than just keeping a dilapidated building standing? History isn’t only in concrete!
The other day while driving in America, and hearing strange sounding names which were not English ones, I asked my host, how these names came about, “Why,” he said, “They were the original names given by the original native Indians! Alabama, named after the Alibamu, an Indian tribe, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, and hundreds of names, some so difficult to pronounce, but loaded with history!” In a recent count over eighty-six roads in a city like Mumbai, yes I didn’t say Bombay, have been renamed.
But hold on to that thought with me, it’s not just about the history of a name that is lost, but also our own personal history that is lost. Let me explain; with every name of every street I have lived in comes back memories of incidents and people, of not just my life, but of the city that was then. I tell my children of the Christmases of Clare Road, where mostly Protestants lived once, and about Sankli Street filled with Anglo-Indian families, but it makes no sense talking thus about the new Mirza Ghalib Road which is what Clare Street is now called!
In our country we seem to be afraid of history, maybe because it’s others from outside that have influenced us. So we take a giant brush and with hurried strokes erase all that reminds us of the past. And as we allow name changes to our streets, localities, even railway stations and airports, and now even cities, a heritage committee goes around trying to preserve old buildings!
“Hey members of the heritage committee! Look beyond the buildings, look beyond what you visually see, and preserve history!” “What a beautiful monument, isn’t this the Taj Mahal?” “No, we’ve changed the name!” “No wonder there’s no tourists coming here anymore! You change the name, you erase history! You erase history, you erase interest..!”
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