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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 45 New Delhi October 27, 2018

What’s in a Name? A Lot!

Sunday 28 October 2018, by Humra Quraishi


Frustrated lot, the rulers of the day can do no better than to go hacking names of our cities and villages and roads! Plucking off the traditional names. Planting new names to further the chaos unleashed by third-class governance tactics.

Re-naming Allahabad to Prayagraj could just be the start. News reports bare the future disasters awaiting to unfold. Political perverts’ narrow-mindedness peaking to such an extent that they do not wish to hear or see or even glance at any of the ‘Muslim names or even the Muslim sounding names’ of our centuries -old cities ...making these politicians all too frenzied, their allergic reactions compounding by the day. And if these politicians have their way they would want the name of Ahmedabad to be changed to Karnavati, Bhopal to Bhojpal, Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar, Patna to Patliputra, Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar, Goa to Govapuri, Kerala to Keralam, Nagaland to Naganchi...Correct me if I’m wrong but this name-changing mania would carry on till this Right-wing government remains in power. Needless to add their mania will wreck the already dented and damaged system.

In fact, the Right-wing’s allergy and hatred for ‘Muslim names’ was writ large soon after the Babri Masjid demolition and the communal rioting that followed in several cities and towns of the country. I recall that it was around that time that charged goon brigades were unleashed all around, to take on commuters and travellers with Muslim names and surnames. Even homes and residential complexes with nameplates displaying Muslim names were targeted. Not to overlook another hitting offshoot—men and women with Muslim names found it difficult, if not impossible, to get jobs. Mind you, all these are not temporary ‘happenings’ but these are there to stay to this day.

It shouldn’t really shock, if any of these political perverts come up with their next wish list: all those citizens with Muslim or Christian names will about have to hack their names and surnames and the state will fix new names for them! Our families and parents are no longer our name-givers but the BJP rulers—the new name-fixers of the day! Amen!

This political mania to change names should be halted right now, before we reach the dead-end, before we are at a loss to figure out just about where we are!

Pran Nevile, Diplomat-Author, fascinated with of those Singing Stars of Yesteryears, passes away...

Last week, diplomat-author Pran Nevile passed away at 96...well, almost close to 96, as he died just a few days before his 96th birthday.

I was travelling last week and got to know of his demise when his son, Rahul, called up and told me that his father had passed away peacefully...In fact, Nevile wrote till the very end and his last book was launched this July. He was fascinated by the past and with the characters who had then held sway. This was amply evident from the volumes he has authored. The titles telling enough — Love Stories from the Raj; Nautch Girls of India; Beyond the Veil: Rare Glimpses of the Raj; Stories from the Raj: Sahibs Memsahibs and Others; K.L. Saigal: Immortal Singer; Lahore—A Sentimental Journey.

It’s those emotions for those bygones that perhaps plodded him on ... as one’s roots play a definite role in building the personality and perception, so, perhaps, the biggest blow that can come one’s way is to be forced to leave one’s country or city. As Nevile wrote in his preface to his book on Lahore, “This book on the Lahore of my days was conceived in the lonely dining room of Hotel Astoria in Geneva in November 1963. I was having breakfast when I heard someone calling me in Punjabi, ‘Motian aleo, Hindustan de o ke Pakistan de?’ (Prince of Pearls, are you from India or Pakistan?) I looked back, responding promptly, ‘Bashao aao baitho, main Lahore da han’ (Your Royal Highness, please come and sit down, I hail from Lahore). In no time we became very friendly, a blend as it were, of ghee and khichdhi (clarified butter and curried rice) and talked about our glorious city. The conversation released a flood of memories deeply impressed on my mind for decades. I have tried in these pages to commit them on paper.”

And what could be termed refreshing and positive is that in the epilogue, written after he re-visited Lahore after several years, in 1997 and again in 1999, he does not come up with any sort of bitterness and nor Pak-bashing fact, the epilogue seems a furthering or say stretching of his emotional bonding with that city and its people. As though none of the political dents, created by the politicians there and here, had managed to disrupt his bonding with the people of his birthplace. And it’s through music and those musical geniuses of the past, through those singing stars, that he wanted to connect the people of this sub-continent.

As a retired civil servant, he could have just about sat back and relaxed with the frills hanging around; but he chose to clutch a pen and write on. No, no computers for him, but with the very basics—with the simple pen—that he wrote on.

If one were to move further, from the books he authored, to the musical programmes he hosted, then once again, what hits is the focus on the performers of yesteryears—K.L. Saigal, Suraiyya, Talat Mahmood, Begum Akhtar and so many others who had left a mark.

I particularly liked his essay on Noor Jehan, who was rightfully titled—Malika-e-Tarannum. Let me quote him, “On a personal note I have been an ardent fan of Mallika-e-Tarannum for as long as I can remember. I had the privilege of meeting her in 1978 during her visit to Chicago where I was then the Indian Consul General. There was no Pakistani mission there at that time and the organisers of her concert asked Noor Jehan if she would agree to my being invited as the chief guest. I learnt that she readily agreed to the suggestion when told that I was a great fan of hers and also a Lahoria by birth and upbringing. The concert hall was overflowing. There was a roaring welcome and standing ovation as Mallika-e-Tarannum made her appearance on stage. A thundering applause followed as she began the programme with the eternal melody awaz de kahan hai. I requested her to sing one of my favourite songs laga hai misar ka bazar dekho, and she smilingly responded with the remark that she was thrilled to find an Indian diplomat familiar with her latest film songs.”

In fact, his knowledge of the arts and cinema of the subcontinent was remarkable. ”We in India first made the film Anarkali and later they in Pakistan made that film with the same title. Then, they in Pakistan first made Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan ...yes, both these two films with these titles were first made there in Pakistan and then later we made them here. And one particular Pakistani Punjabi film—Naukar Woti Da—was copied here, totally copied, scene to scene ...the only thing is that the title was changed—from the Punjabi to Hindustani. Here it was titled—Naukar Bibi Ka.”

Once when I had asked him, how we, the masses, living in this sub-continent could co-relate and he’d quipped, “The bureaucracy doesn’t seem interested in people-to-people connect. After all, what happened to those earlier talks of ‘no visas’ for senior citizens—for all those over 60 years—keen to visit each other’s countries. All those hyped promises of people-to-people connect failed for the bureaucracy doesn’t seem interested, not really bothered.”

He wrote on any given topic, except on politics. There was a sense of determination in his voice as he would say that he never allowed politics to enter his writings. “I have seen to it that no matter what happens, I’m not going to comment on the political situation and nor on politics... Till date I have avoided writing or focusing on any type of politics. Even when I’m invited to literature festivals in Pakistan I never comment on politics. I tell the audience that I’ll not entertain queries related to diplomatic or political relations between the two countries... it’s the same set of rules I follow here. I can write volumes on any given topic related to music and arts and culture but not on politics! Never going to break this rule!”

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