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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 26.12.00
A rose called by any other name smells as sweet. By this reckoning, a change in the name of a city should alter nothing. Thus, the official sanction, given to the change from Calcutta to Kolkata should only give a false sense of triumph to Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who took the leadership in initiating the renaming. To bring more substance to his triumph, Mr Bhattacharjee will have to take steps to bring about a transformation in the life and culture of the city. Only then will the change in name be complemented and made real by a change in character. Mr Bhattacharjee, as chief minister, has already started this process by his wooing of investment. In the past, Calcutta was the hub of economic activity in India. This was its real strength. Its charm lay in the sense of space the city had. Wide avenues lined by trees marked most areas of the city except in the heart of north Calcutta. The river front had a promenade free from whores and pimps; the Maidan had not been given over to political rallies and fairs; in the south, the Dhakuria Lakes had not been appropriated by small-time mafia. The University of Calcutta took its motto - advancement of learning - seriously and Presidency College was internationally established as one of the best undergraduate colleges. A world class film director made one film a year in the ramshackle studios of Tollygunge. All these, amongst other things, made Calcutta a vibrant and an unusual place. These features disappeared thanks largely to the kind of politics promoted by Mr Bhattacharjee's own party. It is an irony that Kolkata, to earn a place for itself on the map, will have to become more like Calcutta of yore and the new chief minister more unlike his past image. What is implicit in the foregoing analysis is the impossibility of living outside history. Whatever be the name by which Calcutta is officially called, its history cannot be erased by an official diktat. Calcutta has little or no history that predates the coming of the British. It grew from a small village to a sprawling metropolis under the British aegis and with the help of wealth generated by the British presence. The city's golden age, such as it was, was reached under British rule. To call Calcutta by its assumed indigenous name, Kolkata, because the latter has no colonial overtones is to deny a most vital part of Calcutta's history. This denial may bring political dividends but it may also turn out to be a meaningless and somewhat irrelevant exercise. Kolkata is inextricably linked to Calcutta. The colonial history of Calcutta cannot be denied. Mr Bhattacharjee may find history to be a tough enemy to defeat. He would be well advised to get on with the task producing changes in Calcutta and West Bengal that are more fundamental than changing a name.