Naming names

—Salman Rashid

Shame on us that we cannot celebrate our Abdus Salam, Sirajuddin, Faiz, Hoodbhoy, Karrar, Kashfi, Cyprian, Cornelius, Boga, Phailbus or the hundreds of other luminaries who have brought the light of knowledge and justice to thousands upon thousands of Pakistanis

Several years ago some foreigners asked who so and so was after whom some old chowk was named in Lahore. I told them he was a nobody, a small-time property agent who named the chowk after himself. They were surprised and had to be told that any old body could up and name a road, a chowk, anything after themselves.

Civilised societies commemorate their worthy children by naming roads after them. We as a nation suffer from a paucity of accomplishment and have the distinction of celebrating the dregs of this land.

That was many years ago. Today the several crossings of College Road in Township (Lahore) are all named after local nobodies. Indeed, this is standard practice in all the new-fangled ‘societies’, especially in south Lahore (the poorer part of the city).

Meanwhile, the worthy mayor of this city is busy ‘renaming’ roads. The emphasis is always on renaming — never on naming any of the one million roads all across Lahore’s newer areas. His last masterpiece was calling Sunderdas Road after some judge or the other. Why couldn’t the judge’s name be assigned to a road in, say, Johar Town?

As one drives down College Road (Township) across the once, only twenty-five years ago, pristine but now sadly a sewer of Hadiara Nadi, the road crosses the fast up-coming Ring Road. The crossing has been named Malik Ameer Chowk. This man is a local nobody with a questionable reputation who put up the sign sometime in 2006.

Installing a sign with one’s name on a public road is one thing, but having LDA approve it by setting up its own road furniture pointing to Malik Ameer Chowk is another. The illegal act of honouring a dubious character thus receives official sanction.

About three months ago, I took my petition against this illegal practice to the Director General LDA, a Mr Arif Khan. He was shocked. How can this be? He asked. This was illegal and would not be permitted, he thundered. Full of bluster he rang the bell for the peon to call so and so. So and so came in, scratch pad and pencil in hand, and Khan spewed forth words, words, words at him while he dutifully scribbled away on his pad. ‘I want a report and the illegal signs removed latest by tomorrow,’ thundered Khan almost in a state of frenzy.

By this time, I knew this was nothing but a show put on for me. Either Mr Khan was a Martian who flew across inter-planetary space to attend office daily or he lived with his head buried in sand to not know what went on in the Lahore he was feigning to develop. Sure enough the tomorrow went by and nothing happened. Shame on LDA and us as a nation that this chowk as well as so many others continue to be called after persons who have earned no merit in life.

The onus of naming roads lies with the local and district government. Names are selected and approved by a committee. But in this sorry land, there are few bureaucrats who do an honest day’s work and scarcely a politician and so the procedure has never been followed. In the past forty years the city of Lahore has not seen its mayors, deputy commissioners and whoever else should have been worried about the thousands of nameless roads being taken over by the dregs of this society.

In fifty years, if something drastic does not befall us, the people of Lahore will think of the Akbars and the Aslams and the Butts and Gondals and Ameers (all of whom have named crossings after themselves), to name a few, as some great scions of this land.

Shame on us that we cannot celebrate our Abdus Salam, Sirajuddin, Faiz, Hoodbhoy, Karrar, Kashfi, Cyprian, Cornelius, Boga, Phailbus or the hundreds of other luminaries who have brought the light of knowledge and justice to thousands upon thousands of Pakistanis.

Salman Rashid is a travel writer and knows Pakistan like the back of his hand. He can be reached at odysseus@beaconet.net

Courtesy: Daily Times where this was first published

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One response to “Naming names

  1. Brilliant piece.

    Here are my suggestions for names of roads:

    Dr. Abdus Salam, Zafrullah Khan and Jogindranath Mandal (Pakistan’s first Law Minister). I also suggest we name roads after Bhagat Singh, Dadabhoy Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Tilak and Ranjit Singh.

    Bhagat not only because he is the joint heritage of Pakistan and India… but also because it was Jinnah who raised a voice for him in the Central Assembly…. Same goes for Naoroji, Gokhale and Tilak (whose case Jinnah fought – AIR 1916 Bombay 9) …

    Ranjit Singh was amongst the greatest kings to rule regions that constitute Pakistan today.

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