Bombay Diary

January 9, 2017


About a month ago, the Maharashtra government changed the name of Mumbai`s Central Railway terminus and its international airport. Again. To recap, the railway terminus at Bori Bunder, a prime example of the Indo-Saracen style of architecture as well as a UNESCO Heritage site, was commissioned in 1887. For the next 109 years, of which 49 were in independent India, the station was spruced up from the outside and modernised from the inside with no one throwing stones at its ‘Victorian’ name. The reason for that could be one of the following two, or a mix of the two, or neither of the two. Firstly, no one called it Victoria Terminus in the first place: old-timers called it Boribunder station, while everyone else called it VT. Secondly, no one actually cared what it was called as long as the trains left and arrived on time.

Then in 1996, the Shiv Sena government, encouraged by its success in changing a whole city (Bombay to Mumbai) a few months earlier, changed VT to Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus. Again, our predeliction for abbreviation prevailed, and that soon became CST. Acclaimed (by itself) for this innovative and bold move to erase our history, the government (Sena again) in 1999 christened (or hindued) Mumbai’s hitherto happy-though-unnamed airports, again after Shivaji. The best thing about the new name, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, was to hear the contortions Air France air-hostesses had to go through to pronounce it correctly, which they never did, forcing many a flight to circle around endlessly. Apparently that`s the reason Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic decided to only fly from Delhi. They could have, instead, followed the local practice and called it CSI airport.

What`s the change now? CST will be called CSMT and CSIA will be called CSMIA. The M stands for Maharaj: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. Apparently, the BJP government thinks this brilliant move will blind agitating Marathas into submission and they will now turn into grateful Marathas. I understand politicians who think up these things are also men and women like us. Difficult to believe, but apparently true.

In a sense, things and places have always been named for people who had only a marginal connection with them. Queen Victoria didn`t even see VT, nor was the Prince of Wales interested in antiquity (except to know something about his grandfather) to have Mumbai`s museum named after him. The connection, in both cases, was that the rail terminal and the purveyor of ancients both came up during their reigns. Shivaji`s, sorry Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj`s connections are even more tenuous: neither the airport nor the terminus nor the museum came up while he was Maharaj. In fact, it`s likely that air travel, the railways and collecting old things weren`t in vogue during CSM`s time. Since my knowledge of history is as shaky as the next politician`s, I may of course, be wrong here.

However, the last word, or several words, aren`t the politicians’, but of we, the people. We, the people cope with time and place and things that suddenly change in the night by claiming that nothing actually happened. So, the once beautiful central traffic island in Mumbai nee Bombay, is still called Fountain, and not Hutatma Chowk, although the change is two generation old. Even the Soviet-style statue depicting the martyrs of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, now sits less oddly with Flora, the Roman goddess after which the fountain is named, because the place now teems with so much traffic that the island is no longer one.

In the same vein of shutting off that which is decreed by political rulers, Kemps Corner is still that, and not Godrej Chowk, though Kemps’ was a mere chemist`s outlet while Godrej was a far more worthy personage. VT will still be VT and not CST, and certainly not CSMT. Our airports will still be Santa Cruz and Sahar, called popularly by we, the people after the areas in which they are located. I haven`t heard anyone call Pedder Road by its altered name nor Marine Drive called anything else (officially they are Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Marg respectively). And even the fairly new Sea Link is called that, and not the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link as a Congress government decided it should be named on the excellent principle that RG had nothing to do with it.

So on to the rest of 2017, with we, the people continuing to fight our small, insidious battles.

– Anil Dharker

This article was first published in MyDigitalFC