In­dian cities have al­ways had mul­ti­ple names, with Be­naras co­ex­ist­ing with Kashi and Bom­bay with Mum­bai. But as the clam­our for name changes grows, this syn­cretic ap­proach is un­der threat

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL -

speak­ing English. This is the ‘Indic’ way, this is the nat­u­ral code-switch­ing from one reg­is­ter to an­other, the many ver­sions that we are com­fort­able with. It is a West­ern, ‘Carte­sian’ men­tal­ity where you an­ni­hi­late one thing and re­place it with an­other,” says Hoskote.

But this project to re­duce In­dian so­ci­ety to a clash of re­li­gions, to iden­tify Hin­dus with the na­tion, and cast Mus­lims as out­siders and in­vaders, re­quires ig­nor­ing his­tor­i­cal facts, it means ig­nor­ing the non­re­li­gious mo­tives of rulers, the di­ver­si­ties of both Hin­duism and Is­lam, and the ac­tual min­gling of cul­tures that de­fines us.

Even in the Gangetic plain, for all the com­mu­nal ten­sions of the last cen­tury and the fric­tions be­fore, it is im­pos­si­ble to sever the con­nec­tions strength­ened over hun­dreds of years — in the lan­guage, the clothes, the food, the mu­sic and dance. Whether it is kathak or thumri, the churi­dar pajama and the names we have, th­ese cul­tures have been too tightly in­ter­twined for us to even tell them apart now. “The Bhakti and Sufi move­ments in­flu­enced each other. Even the Go­rakhnath or­der (the Nath yo­gis where UP CM Yogi Adityanath is con­nected to) had con­nec­tions with the Chishti tra­di­tion,” says Rana Safvi, who spe­cialised in me­dieval his­tory and syn­cretic cul­ture. She points to the re­spect­ful aadaab greet­ing, a sec­u­lar ges­ture rather than a re­li­gious one. As the mu­si­col­o­gist Peter Manuel writes, Hin­dus­tani mu­sic tells a story of Mus­lim pa­tron­age and con­nois­seur­ship and Hindu themes, and its per­form­ers and tra­di­tions can­not be cat­e­gorised as Hindu and Mus­lim.

Ran­domly re­nam­ing an ex­ist­ing city is an easy thing to do. Build­ing one would be the real achieve­ment, says Safvi. While the UP gov­ern­ment may count on the new city names stick­ing af­ter a gen­er­a­tion or two, old mem­o­ries are also stub­born. For in­stance, 62 years af­ter its re­nam­ing, peo­ple still call Varanasi both Benares and Kashi. Sign­boards may change but it’s dif­fi­cult to undo the past that pro­duced us.

— With in­puts from Shail­vee Sarda

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