Friday, August 12, 2005

DEHLI chalo?

That's what I'll be saying soon enough. At least if Prof. K M L Misra et. al. have their way.

As reported in the Telegraph and in Instant Kaapi a group of historians from Agra Archaeological Society led by KML Misra former Head of History at Agra College are lobbying with the President of India to rename the capital city (and state) from Delhi to Dehli. He says
"For 800 years Delhi was called Dehli but the British couldn't manage the breathy sound of Hindi and the spelling of the city later came to reflect this."
Absolutely, you agree. Besides, he does not want to come across as a bad-guy.
"I don't want to injure the feelings of the British, indeed I hold them in high regard, but our government is mistaken to cling doggedly to this British mis-spelling of our capital," Mr Misra said.
But while Mr. Misra seeks to forgive and even mollify the British for this piece of colonial dyslexia, did he bother to ask people in Delhi how they felt about it? Moreover, what has archaeology got to do with it? Where, if you must ask, did they dig this idea up from? Or better still, is there nothing left to excavate around Agra that they felt it incumbent upon themselves to repair this damage? Is academic research in archaeology over in Agra?

If my friends and family in Delhi are anything to go by -- they don't dig this renaming at all. We've lived in Calcutta (before it was named Kolkata), in Bombay (while they were trying to change it to Mumbai) and I went to school in Chennai (after they changed the name from Madras) and I can assure you no one within the cities themselves gives a damn. Except for the taxpayers who fund the mammoth bureaucratic exercise of renaming every little name or title or letterhead that had the original name on it. But it does create a lot of activity for the guys who push this initiative and I am sure the Agra Archaeological Society is glowing with the international recognition that it has garnered from this.

If living in the Capital city has taught me anything, it is that Delhi-ites (or Dehli-ites, or Dilli-walas) will not be pushed around. And they are unlikely to let their country cousins from Agra take all the glory that comes with rechristening away. With any luck, in roughly a week's time, someone from Delhi University, or better still JNU will rise to the task, band with an impressive army of academics and send off a letter to the TOI and the President asking for a change of name to something older --- like Dilli, or perhaps Indraprastha (see Delhi's wiki). Professors armed with fellowships and think-tank memberships will sit with their local civil-service big-wig or small-time Member of Parliament over a cup of tea and present eloquent arguments as to why 'Dehli' would be a nod to a past that is hardly reflective of India's present.

Are we never going to get over our post-colonial disquietude? Changing a name from Delhi to Dehli will not undo it's tumultous history.

Taking things to their logical conclusion, by Misra's logic, we should probably look around for what the city was called before it was called Indraprastha ... right through, perhaps, to our hominid ancestors who had barely discovered speech. Maybe soon, we can all swell with pride, as we utter the grunts and screeches of that primitive tongue, for then we'll have claimed our true ancient heritage.