Social commentators and historians give their opinions on the change in the names of Elphinstone and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus stations.
What’s in a name? Well, apparently a lot, if the name changes to two of Mumbai’s iconic railway stations is anything to go by. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus will henceforth be known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Majaraj Terminus while Elphinstone Station will be known as Prabhadevi. The Central Government gave its nod to the proposal that was passed by the Maharashtra Assembly in December. This marks the fourth time that Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has had its name changed. Having been inaugerated as Bori Bunder in the 1850s, it was named Victoria Terminus to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign, and then given its present name in 1996.
These are not the only changes that the government would like to bring about. Says MP Arvind Savant, “Beyond Dadar, all the stations are named after the areas they belong to, so I suggested that the same be done to the stations that are located Dadar onwards. No change was suggested to Lower Parel, since that is where the station is located and Mahalakshmi is located close to Mahalaskhmi station, so it only makes sense to keep that name intact. But the rest are all named after British officials, which does not make sense.”
There is, however, one exception in Savant’s suggestions. “I suggested that Mumbai Central be renamed to Nana Shunkerseth, since he was a man who contributed so much to Mumbai’s heritage, both in terms of infrastructure and heritage, but has not been given the kind of honour that he deserves,” says the MP, adding that both sentiment and practicality have driven these decisions.
The argument as to whether such changes are required have been around since governments started suggesting them. Honorary director and managing trustee of the iconic Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, says that name changes are simply a way for governments to lay their claim over the monument. “Governments have been doing this since time immemorial. In the time of the Mughals or the British, the government would build some extravagant architectural structure and to signify their importance. Now, since we don’t have that kind of infrastructure, changing the name is a way for governments to claim roads, railways and other infrastructure,” says the historian.
Stand-up comic Sorabh Pant, however, sees a basic problem in changing names. “It simply becomes very confusing for people. I mean, Prabhadevi is not right next to Elphinstone station, so it makes no sense. This is just a way of trying to get rid of Mumbai’s heritage and ultimately, such cosmetic changes help no one. Even the GPS is going to get confused now,” he says.
According to Sorabh, there are other ways in which one could show respect, instead of simply naming places differently. “Maharashtra has so many heroes. Instead of trying to name places after them all, why not take the essence of their work and try to implement it in our daily lives? The road in front of my house in Bandra has been dug up for the past two and a half months and nothing has been done about it even though I have tweeted multiple times, and I know concerned people have seen it. Instead of concentrating on superficial changes, why can’t the government take up these projects?” he asks indignantly.
Tasneem, on the other hand, does not see much harm in such changes. If anything, she finds them simply par for the course for all governments. “So long as no one is suggesting a name change to the Taj Mahal or some other iconic structure of similar import, I don’t really see any harm in changing the names of roads or railway stations. A more dangerous development is the rewriting of History texts, which are also being done. You need to have a body of experts when making those changes. But changes in names are quite inconsequential. I grew up in Bombay, but I say Mumbai, when referring to the city,” she explains.