It’s Pather Panchali of a very different kind. This ballad of the road is scripted by the mayor of Calcutta, it revolves around a name-game and aims at “reviving the international appeal” of the city.
Subrata Mukherjee has now set his sights on doing his bit to woo foreign capital. And if that involves pushing “CPM-christened names” of city streets into the background, so be it. Convinced that the path to the foreign investor’s heart — and pocket — is determined by the name the roads of the city bear, Mukherjee feels it’s time to highlight the older names that lend Calcutta a more international touch and which are, anyway, more popular than the revised one.
“The time has come for a U-turn," the mayor told Metro on Tuesday, referring to the Left Front government's “gimmick” of wiping out “the British names” and replacing them with “local” names. “Names which foreigners don’t have any difficulty pronouncing, contribute enormously to the international image of a city and promote a feeling of greater proximity among outsiders," reasoned Mukherjee, explaining why the more “recent local names” should be written in Bengali below the “original” names in English.
Mukherjee said he would meet state municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya next week and call for a review of the practice and demand a burial for the road-renaming committee constituted by the state government.
Despite decrying the Left’s political name-change gimmicks, the mayor remains convinced that his proposal to rechristen Park Street is justified. “There is nothing wrong with renaming Park Street after Mother Teresa," he insisted, referring to his push to change the name of one of Calcutta’s best-known streets. “But if the Left Front government agrees to my scheme regarding street names, I could think of another way of paying tribute to Mother Teresa," he added.
The Left Front, soon after coming to power in 1977, took to changing the city’s street names with a vengeance. Any name that sounded like a throwback to Calcutta’s “colonial past” was scrapped and a more Bengali-sounding name — or that suiting the Marxist sensibility (names of communist heroes) — took its place.
Questioning that change- for-change’s-sake move, Mukherjee demanded: “Are we really paying tribute to the martyrs by naming Dalhousie Square after Benoy, Badal and Dinesh' Aren't we insulting them when everyone refers to the place as BBD Bag, instead'”
The British, Mukherjee said, were “smarter”. They did not tamper with the old names like Chitpur, Colootala, Sealdah — even if some of them were twisters for the Anglo-Saxon tongue — and stuck to naming the roads they themselves constructed.
“Calcutta will gain immensely if the state government takes up a programme to lay new roads and then name them after Bengal’s heroes,” said mayor Mukherjee.
More than 400 roads — and even historic structures like the Ochterlony Monument (or rather, Shahid Minar) — have seen name-changes and very few have found a place in the popular Calcuttan lexicon, even among people who haven’t left the city for years, if not decades.
Then public works department minister and RSP leader Jatin Chakraborty had even taken it upon himself to remove “colonial statues” and dump them at the police lines in Latbagan, Barrackpore. These statues, too, could make their way back, hinted the mayor.