I have been watching the brouhaha the renaming of Aurangzeb Road to Abdul Kalam Road. While I do have strong views on the matter, I shall refrain from imparting my wisdom on this issue. Enough said, and this one isn’t about the merits and demerits of the act, or Aurangzeb vs. Abdul Kalam, or the controversy of a heritage, besmirched.
My angst is about another related matter: It is common the world over to name streets after notables, but my question is do we honour our greats (or beloved ones) or do them a disservice when we give their name to a road?
Before I go into that, this is not the first time there has been a hullaballoo (and beyond) for having a road devoted to you. You see it is not just about names. The exercise has religious, political, egoistical undertones. It can just be an indulgence, the mark of a mother’s love, or that of a spouse — like the Taj Mahal, only the taxpayers pay for it. Like when ghazal singer Chitra Singh insisted that the Sophia College lane be known as Vivek Singh road, after her deceased son. In later years, she locked horns with Bandra residents over renaming Perry Cross to immoritalise her husband Jagjit Singh, who will always live on, and oh-so-beautifully through his lyrical, soulful ghazals. One road around the same parts is now called Mohammed Lakdawalla Chowk, though I am wondering who he is, and do ignore my ignorance. Kemps Corner was renamed Godrej Chowk (but we still know it as Kemps Corner), and Crawford Market has actually been Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai for very many years, for all the good that did.
It makes me wonder.
Would I, I ask myself, want to immoritalise myself in this manner, with a road devoted to my name? (I am not being presumptuous, this is for argument’s sake.) Or for that matter, have my ancestors bestowed with such an “honour”?
Think about it. I am not an expert on how roads are actually constructed but the process seems very destructive to me. Trees — old growth, lovely, fruiting, flowering, living trees, cut and chopped; earth cleared of bushes, grasses, shrubs; ponds and wetlands drained, filled up. Sometimes people and wildlife; forests and mountains are cleared (and blasted) away too — to make way for a road.
Stones are broken and blasted, the earth moved and slapped and flattened, with bulldozers and rollers, then have tons of boiling hot sticky, smelly coal poured over before being crushed by heavy roller again.
Even if we do not go into the murky beginnings, look at the way we treat a road. Seriously.
Day in and day out, vehicles — everything from racing bikes to cars, heavy buses and trucks will run over the road 24x7. With no respite at all. If the road happens to be in India or the subcontinent, it will have the pleasure of having some old-fashioned bullock carts, horse carts et al plod over. Benign and non-polluting for sure, but they do have a habit of leaving their mark, er, turds, all through. The other problem of being a resident road in India is that they are not “as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks”, but mostly bumpy, pock-marked and potholed.
Imagine the name of your loved one, or a respected soul being crushed by heavy, poison spewing vehicles, amidst the constant din of loud, jarring horns and not-so-occasionally the venom of the choicest abuses as road rage boils over.
And no matter if the road is named after a Mughal emperor, a people’s president, the father of the nation — it doesn’t stop us, the citizens of India, from rolling down the window and dunking our garbage out, or spitting and peeing on it.
Think about it before you harry for a street bearing the name of someone you love.