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Streets short in name game

chop and change formula for stars and sentiments
Premises No. 9 on Ballygunge Circular Road, either side of which has been demarcarted as Suchitra Sen Sarani and Pramathesh Barua Sarani.

Bengal has shortened Pramathesh Barua Sarani to accommodate Suchitra Sen and shifted Ashapurna Devi to Garia to give Kishore Kumar prominence, only to realise that Tipu Sultan is waiting in the wings.

The habit of naming and renaming roads after sons and daughters of the soil to honour or oblige has left the Calcutta Municipal Corporation struggling to find stretches that don’t have a name yet.

Sources said the civic body had already discussed whether to pass on future requests to Salt Lake, administered by Bidhannagar Municipality.

The CMC’s dilemma came into sharp focus after chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on January 17, the day Suchitra died, that Ballygunge Circular Road would be renamed after the actress.

The hitch was that the 2.5km road had already been named after Barua, regarded as the “first star of Bengali cinema”.

The civic body’s road renaming committee, whose brief is to find suitable roads to rename after personalities, didn’t know whether to drop Barua’s name completely or relegate him to a corner.

Barua, who died the year before Suchitra made her film debut, did retain his road but only just.

“Pramathesh Barua Sarani is now the portion between premises No. 9 and AJC Bose Road. The rest of the road, between No. 9 and Ballygunge Phari has been named Suchitra Sen Sarani,” a CMC official said.

Premises No. 9 is next to Max Mueller Bhavan, from where starts Gurusaday Road. Suchitra’s name is on a 2km stretch that previously belonged to Barua, who now has to be content with barely 350 metres.

Every civic board since 1985 has had a road renaming panel. The dilemma faced by the current committee, headed by poet Joy Goswami, while renaming a part of Pramathesh Barua Sarani as Suchitra Sen Sarani is not new either.

A year ago, the Kishore Kumar fan club had written to the CMC demanding that a long stretch of road be renamed after the singer and actor. The civic body, which had decided to name a 400-metre stretch near Karunamoyee bridge in Tollygunge after the singer, didn’t know where to find a stretch long enough to satisfy the Kishore fans.

Ashapurna Devi solved the CMC’s problem. The novelist and poet’s family had requested for a road to be renamed after her in Garia, where she had lived, and the authorities decided to quickly do a give-and-take.

“The Patuli connector, between the Bypass and Raja Subodh Mullick Road, had already been named after the writer. But her family requested that a road be named after her in Garia’s Kanungo Park,” a member of the road renaming committee recalled.

Ashapurna Devi shifted to Garia and Kishore’s name replaced hers on the 3km connector.

Tipu Sultan — ruler, soldier and scholar rolled into one — is among those waitlisted for stretches to be named or renamed after them in keeping with their stature.

“There is a 200-metre road opposite the public service commission’s office near Mudiali named after Tipu Sultan. It was named maybe a decade ago,” a CMC official said.

A year ago, the CMC received a letter objecting to Tipu Sultan’s name being restricted to a small stretch of road. “He fought the British with such bravery. He deserves a longer road named after him,” said Noor-ur-Rahman Barkati, shahi imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Esplanade.

The road renaming committee hasn’t found a befitting alternative for Tipu yet, sources said.

Ballygunge Phari crossing is now Suchitra Sen Square, proclaims a CMC board; (below) a plaque at the gate to a building near Mudiali bears the name Tipu Sultan Road, a 200-metre stretch opposite the state public service commission; Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya, Sanat Kr Sinha and Bibhash Lodh

The practice of naming and renaming roads has been prevalent since the British era. During the first half of British rule, street names were based on the geology, flora and fauna of the place. Sealdah is an example.

In A History of Calcutta’s Streets, P. Thankappan Nair writes that Calcutta was once part of the Bay of Bengal. The sea gradually receded and Sealdah — dah means an island — was so named because it was an island in a sea or river where jackals were found.

During the later phase of British rule, streets were named after governor-generals and viceroys who served the empire. Queen’s Way near Victoria Memorial was named to honour Queen Victoria.

Post-Independence, Indians who contributed to the freedom movement were honoured by naming roads after them. Russa Road in Tollygunge was renamed Deshpran Sasmal Road after Birendranath Sasmal in 1957 and Mirzapore Street was rechristened Surya Sen Street in 1956.

Then politics took over. Harrington Street was named Ho Chi Minh Sarani in September 1969, allegedly to needle the US, whose consulate was housed on that stretch. Dharmatala Street was renamed Lenin Sarani in July 1969. The trend continued over the 34 years of Left rule.

Mamata has shown herself to be keen to rename not only roads after personalities she admires but also Metro stations. Sources said about 35 roads in the city had been renamed since July 2011. These name changes affect courier companies the most, especially if the roads have long been known by their original names.

“I was once asked to deliver a letter to an office on Abdul Hamid Street. I asked around but nobody could help. Then I called an information service, which told me that British India Street had been renamed Abdul Hamid Street more than three decades ago!” said a delivery boy of a courier service.

Although British India Street was named Abdul Hamid Street in the 80s, most people still know it by its former name.

Civic officials and members of the current road renaming committee don’t know where to look if requests continue coming in. “We had planned to ask Bidhannagar Municipality to accommodate some of the proposals but didn’t do so because they might be short of roads too,” an official said.

Mahatma Gandhi probably has the highest number of roads in the world named after him because of his universal image. All Indian cities have at least one road after him. Calcutta has two.

Subhas Chandra Bose has two roads in Calcutta named after him, one in the Dalhousie-Burrabazar area and another connecting Garia and Tollygunge in the south.

But not many might know that the country’s most famous drive — Marine Drive in Mumbai — is officially named Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road!

Which roads with new/old names confuse you? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com