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

ven old New York was once New Am­s­ter­dam, why they changed it I can’t say, peo­ple just liked it bet­ter that way,’ goes the fa­mous song called ‘Is­tan­bul’ (not Con­stantino­ple).

Ev­ery now and then, cities shake off their un­com­fort­able pasts and change their names. Can­ton is Guangzhou, Saigon is Ho Chi Minh City. In the late 1990s, states across In­dia also de­cided to break with colo­nial his­to­ries, and go with older or indige­nous city names. Bom­bay, Madras and Cal­cutta chose new iden­ti­ties, and so did Ban­ga­lore and Cochin. It is an­other mat­ter that some of the old names still trip off the tongue; of­fi­cially, the new names are what mat­ter.

But now, BJP gov­ern­ments across In­dia are on an­other re­nam­ing spree. From Mughal­sarai sta­tion and Au­rangzeb Road, now en­tire towns and dis­tricts like Al­la­habad and Faiz­abad are be­ing re­branded to con­vey a mythic land­scape of Praya­graj and Ay­o­d­hya. Ahmed­abad might be­come Kar­na­vati. Even the fate of Hy­der­abad and Au­rangabad is in doubt.

This new rash of re­nam­ings is dif­fer­ent from the ear­lier at­tempt to In­di­anise British names. Now, the agenda seems to be to erase all Mus­lim-sound­ing names and re­place them with names that evoke past Hindu glory. It is to sug­gest that th­ese “alien” names were im­posed by past in­va­sions and con­quests, and that this wrong is now be­ing avenged.

How­ever, the fact is, Faiz­abad was al­ways lo­cated out­side Ay­o­d­hya, built from scratch by the new nawab as the cap­i­tal of Awadh. There was no his­tor­i­cal wrong, no as­sault on an ex­ist­ing Hindu her­itage. The word Awadh it­self is a trib­ute to Ay­o­d­hya. “So in the case of th­ese cities, there was no an­cient past be­ing erased. The very names call up a his­tory of con­flu­ence,” says cul­tural the­o­rist Ran­jit Hoskote.

“The re­nam­ing has over­looked syn­cretic tra­di­tions of both Faiz­abad and Ay­o­d­hya.

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