Lindsay Pereira: By any other name, really

Some bright spark wants to rename the Gateway of India, because we have a long tradition of missing the wood for the trees

An MLA describes the English name 'Gateway of India' as a symbol of slavery under British rule, and wants it to be called Bharat Dwar, instead. Pic/AFP
An MLA describes the English name 'Gateway of India' as a symbol of slavery under British rule, and wants it to be called Bharat Dwar, instead. Pic/AFP

An MLA wants the Gateway of India to be renamed. This, during a month that saw a number of Indians being lynched for all kinds of reasons, farmers protesting across the state, outbreaks of monsoon-related diseases across Maharashtra and a bunch of other things that, in a country with its priorities right, ought to have given the MLA more important food for thought. Unfortunately, none of those things mattered as much as a monument that has been making Bombay look a lot more beautiful than it actually is since 1924.

The MLA describes it as a symbol of slavery under British rule, and wants it to be called Bharat Dwar, instead. In other words, he wants the name to stay exactly the same, except in Hindi, which means it is not the monument itself that is giving him sleepless nights, but the fact that it has an English name. This isn't new to residents of this city, of course. We have grown up with all kinds of MPs, MLAs, corporators, amateur and professional politicians who have sought their 15 minutes of fame by using their limited education to come up with a new name that no one who lives in this city will ever use.

For instance, I have yet to meet a Bombayite who refers to Peddar Road as anything but. It was renamed a few years ago, apparently, but I will have to Google to find out what that new name is. I won't Google though because, like millions of people who live in Bombay, I have more important things to worry about, such as poorly maintained roads, overcrowded public transport, illegal hawking and the many ways of dying that the monsoons will leave me vulnerable to. The renaming of streets or monuments is a luxury for those who don't really have to work for a living.

Naturally, those who oppose this ridiculous idea will be branded anti-national, because that is what everyone who opposes the government has been reduced to. We can no longer have a dialogue, put forth counter arguments, or laugh at the absurdity of wasting crores on rebranding exercises when our infrastructure is crumbling, because a refusal to toe the line is now akin to an act of treason.

At the risk of being accused of treason, then, I must persist in laughing my head off at the stupidity of those who spend their waking hours dreaming up new names for our city's roads and monuments. If the British weren't here, we wouldn't have some of those robust buildings that continue to house our government and its many departments. If the government of Maharashtra were tasked with the construction of iconic structures like the Victoria Terminus, Bombay High Court, Prince of Wales Museum or Town Hall, they would either still be in the process of being built, or would have collapsed a few times over by now. This is, after all, a bunch of people who have been struggling to build roads for decades. It is also a government mired in corruption at every level, as our long history of scams continues to prove every other week.

Someone ought to drag the MLA kicking and screaming back to school, where history textbooks that haven't already been rewritten will show how, if it weren't for the British, we wouldn't have our railways or our Army. It was the British who passed a Compulsory Vaccination Act in 1892 to prevent smallpox and helped eradicate dubious practices like Sati, child marriage and untouchability. That some of these evils continue to plague us in 2017 is testament to how little our current leaders care about things they ought to care about. And then there is the English language, without which India wouldn't occupy the unique space it currently does globally, and on which so much of our development continues to rest.

There were a thousand awful things that the British did while they were here. They ruined us financially, plunged us into a world of insecurity that we struggled to shake off for decades, and consigned millions of us to death with thoughtless stokes of their pens. To obsess over what they did is an exercise in futility though, when confronted with the daily struggles of living that still continue to bog us down. Our MLAs would do well to focus on the present for a change, and leave the past for a time when we have the luxury to put our feet up and look back.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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