The renaming of Gurgaon as Gurugram should have been a no brainer, since it is claimed to came from the same name source and has been returned to it. But there seems to be a repeat of mainstream media angst at it almost as if any inconvenience to an Englishman’s tongue is a travesty of some sort.
We are all for continuity if it serves purpose but shouldn’t be against change if it re-configures a people’s idea of themselves, their origins, their heritage or their history. That would be a bit like arguing against the Native Indian’s right to his village names in face of the White man’s hegemonic drive to oust him along with his cultural hooks, syllable by syllable.
It makes sense to wonder why name changes matter when they bring with them no plausible or verifiable changes in living conditions. But is that all names signify? Aren’t names significant markers of who we are, where we came from and where we want to go? Isn’t a name a material indicator of our aspirations our hopes and our dreams? Why are children named by parents after famous and successful people, or mythical Gods? Because, names are like arrow boards, little poles with directions stuck on them; with subtle messages to where you came from so you know how to find your way to where you can go.
Names are the first declaration of intent. It is the only identity before you have an identity. Names must come from source; they cannot be plastic, they cannot be assumed or imported. Names must come from the roots.
Let us not undermine the power of names to implant values in our polity. If Mumbai is what the people of Maharashtra know their city to be, why do we need an Englishman to propose his limited pronunciation as the official version. Isn’t a modification of a name that came from Mumba Devi an assault on their traditions, their belief system, their religion, as it were?
The English did pretty much the same everywhere when they changed the names they were uncomfortable with to favour their tongues – or their strategy. Generations have lived with the dichotomy of having names of their cities and villages known by variations they cannot fathom to pronounce. The Haryanvi can say Gurugram without a hitch, as his ancestors were doing for ages. He can not say ‘Gurgaon’ in the anglicised way we have come to learn and he must then call it ‘Gudganwa’ as any local will tell you. This is a corruption of the word that followed the corruption of the word by the Anglican enunciation.
Every political regime brings with itself its own priorities, based on which it believes it won public approval. For those who did not care for the rechristening of Gurgaon to a name the state recognizes at its own, it is perfectly valid to suggest that it did not matter. But to a regime that believes that our cultural heritage is the bedrock of future greatness, names are symbols.
If this was the land where Dronacharya lived and if this is the mythology that we have all embraced, we should have no problem accepting this minor correction. It is in the nature of things to revert to the centre, return to roots. A name is more than a name. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose only as long as it is not called a Lotus. So let's not pride ourselves in the phonetics of phoneytics. Let’s learn to say it like it is.
Sanjay Kaul is a member of the BJP and tweets @sanjay_kaul