Sudhirendar Sharma reviews Mapping Place Names of India, by Anu Kapur

 thehindu.com  05/22/2020 09:35:30 

William Shakespeares assertion that names dont matter, as a rose will smell the same even if called otherwise, makes some sense as names do not necessarily mean what things really are. Names may not always define the nature of a thing but certainly represent historical lineage when referred to a place. As the past matters, it carries the legacy that provides continuity to existence of places. Names provide a sense of purpose and a reason for the place to be, illustrate the struggles and triumphs that a culture has faced and help people discover their identity with the place.

Political considerations

In present times when names of places and roads are being swapped to align with political allegiance of a kind, Mapping Place Names of India asserts that a place is neither just a site, nor people, politics or culture, but a chemistry between all this and much more, which creates the soul of a place. What is right in theory is not necessarily true in practice though. Else, names would not have been subjected to change for a variety of inexplicable reasons. While Mughalsarai, a place of resting on a long journey during the Mughal period, had to forego its popular identity, and has been renamed Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction, Ghaziabad, so called after its founder Ghazi-ud-din, has continued to skip attention. Is it political traction that determines the urge for a name change?

In a first of its kind book that charts the terrain of place as a phenomenon, Anu Kapur investigates how places are named and renamed, and explains why it will continue to remain a never-ending process as the quest for carving a new sub-national identity erupts from time to time. From Sanskritisation of place names to its Persianisation, and from its subsequent Englishisation to Anglicisation in recent times, names of places in each era have revolved around cultural identity and political influence.

Geography and history

Mapping Place Names of India is a comprehensive account of the geography and history of place names. It is an interesting read and loaded with rich information, like the evolution of sub-national identities in the country.

It is an intriguing subject, as not one size fits all when it comes to demand for changing names. While there is no denying that cultural reclamation under political influence is a primary reason for name change, the failure of promised development triggers the search for a new identity to enforce attention from the powers-that-be as well.

Kapur unleashes interest in topophilia  the love of, and love for, a place  in her book. She laments that this multi-disciplinary branch of knowledge has yet to emerge as a subject for the lack of scholars committed to research on place names. How new names evolve may remain a matter of conjecture, but left to people they still prefer cultural vibrancy and economic progress as new markers for sub-national identities.

Mapping Place Names of India; Anu Kapur, Routledge India, 695.

The reviewer is an independent writer, researcher and academic.

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