For some years now, Indian cities and towns (and maybe even villages) have been engaged in a frenzy of name-changing - of roads, neighborhoods, and city names themselves. Bombay has become Mumbai, Calcutta is now Kolkata and my beloved Madras has morphed into Chennai. This post can run to several pages just listing the changes, but do not be alarmed, I will spare you that. The reasons are as varied as the politicians who are behind the changes: claiming pride in our heritage, demonstrating excessive enthusiasm to "Indianize" India to the greatest extent possible, erasing all traces of our colonial oppressors, obliterating references to caste, propitiating numerology, reviving the names and memories of Indian heroes of yore, however obscure, synchophantic flattering of those who wield power - my imagination has run dry at this point, but I am sure there are many more, some as unfathomable and mysterious as some of the names themselves.
Some time back a friend remarked that I never referred to Madras by its official name, Chennai, that I continued to call it Madras. He wanted to know why, whether I had a reason beyond stubborn nostalgia. And just a couple of days back, I read an article by Victor Mallet in the Financial Times, Pride, Patriotism and the Baffling Politics of Indian Place Names, and I remembered my friend's question.
Here is my answer. To that dwindling band of loyal readers of this blog and those long-suffering relatives who, for reasons of familial ties are obliged to read my rambling and lengthy posts, here is something to brighten your day: this will be a short piece, possibly the shortest this blog has seen. Sprinkled through the narrative are photographs taken in and around George Town, one of Madras's oldest neighborhoods. There are some real treasures there, some sadly neglected, some lovingly maintained.