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Delhi’s Bengali enclave naming was toss-up between ‘Purbanchal’, ‘C R Park’, says new book

Indian Express journalist Adrija Roychowdhury in her book Delhi, in Thy Name, explores the stories behind the naming of this 'Bangali colony' as it is informally also referred to by many, and of several other post-Independence conurbations which bear the names of prominent nationalist leaders, freedom fighters, such as Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar and Netaji Nagar.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
Updated: November 29, 2021 5:21:36 pm
Delhi in thy name, delhi in thy name adrija roychowdhuryNotwithstanding the contemporary popularity of the neighbourhood's name, a new book has claimed that 'Purbanchal' and not 'C R Park' was the choice of the majority of people, when the two options were "put to vote" by the East Pakistan Displaced Persons' Association or EPDP.

It could have been called ‘Purbanchal’ if not ‘C R Park’ — the post-Independence Bengali enclave in south Delhi, the story of whose naming is as fascinating as its inception, according to a new book.

Nicknamed ‘Little Calcutta’, the upscale neighbourhood in the capital city, known for its fish markets, old shops selling delectable sweets like ‘sondesh’ and ‘chomchom’, and for its affluent residents, many of whom trace their roots to undivided India on the eastern front.

A slice of Bengal in Delhi, known officially, today as ‘Chittranjan Park’, and popularly called ‘C R Park’, was conceived nearly 70 years ago, after the 1947 Partition, to cater to people who had migrated or been displaced from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which was born out of the East Bengal region.

Notwithstanding the contemporary popularity of the neighbourhood’s name, a new book has claimed that ‘Purbanchal’ and not ‘C R Park’ was the choice of the majority of people, when the two options were “put to vote” by the East Pakistan Displaced Persons’ Association or EPDP.

Indian Express journalist Adrija Roychowdhury in her debut book Delhi, in Thy Name, explores the stories behind the naming of this ‘Bangali colony’ as it is informally also referred to by many, and of several other post-Independence conurbations which bear the names of prominent nationalist leaders, freedom fighters, such as Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar and Netaji Nagar.

The nearly 200-page volume also looks into naming of Connaught Place and Connaught Circus, Lutyens’ Delhi commercial showpiece, and its renaming after mother-son duo of former prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, which was “not accepted by people and the business community” operating establishments at the iconic market complex designed by British architect Robert Torr Russell.

Beginning with the story of Chandni Chowk of Mughal-era Shahjehanabad, where “two pasts are competing to make space for themselves”, the author navigates through the British-era ‘New Delhi’ built after shifting of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, and onward to post-Independence resettlement colonies, and eventually to modern enclaves of Saket and Shaheen Bagh, set up in the last few decades.

But, the story of naming of the post-Independence Bengali colony in the national capital throws an element of surprise to the readers.

Delhi in thy name, delhi in thy name adrija roychowdhury Exhaustively researched and passionately told, the Roychowdhury’s work is an attempt to decode what the act of naming and renaming means both to those in power and to those being governed.

Contrary to popular perception, for the eventual naming of the Bengali enclave, land for which was allotted by the central government in Kalkaji area, adjoining Chirag Delhi, ‘C R Park’ was “not a unanimous choice”, says the author.

According to the book, when in 1950s, the Centre was busy rehabilitating thousands of refugees from West Pakistan, a few Bengali government employees in Delhi had come to a conclusion that it was necessary for some form of compensation to be given to those who had lost out on their property in East Pakistan.

“The ‘Association of Central Government Employees Dislodged from East Pakistan’ was established in 1954 with this purpose,” the book says.
Their demands were initially turned down with an argument that the number of such persons was “too less” and also that they “did not have refugee certificates,” Adrija says in the book, published by Rupa.

After sustained efforts from the community, it was decided that by authorities that any person ‘gainfully employed residing in the Union Territory of Delhi and displaced from East Pakistan’ was eligible for membership of the association, and consequently the name of the association was changed to ‘East Pakistan Displaced Persons’ Association’ or EPDP, she says.

“When it came to naming the enclave, two names were initial favourites — Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. But, Delhi already had places named after them. Then there was another choice — ‘Purbanchal’ which translated as ‘mountain rangrs of the east’. The name was to serve as a reminder of where the residents of EPDP colony came from,” the author says.

There is still an EPDP Road in the colony, and the official magazine of the EPDP Association is actually called ‘Purbanchal’, she adds.
Roychowdhury, who relied also on a lot of oral accounts to put together her stories, said, she interviewed people, who were among the early ones to settle in EPDP colony, as it was then described, since the name ‘C R Park’ in a tribute to noted barrister and freedom fighter

‘Deshbandhu’ Chittaranjan Das, was registered in late 1960s after houses started getting built in the area.

“Finally, EPDP Association called for a referendum and put ‘Purbanchal’ and ‘Chittaranjan Park’ to vote. And, majority of the members voted for the former,” the book claims.

She says, the neighbourhood was not named ‘Purbanchal’ because those who were not happy about this nomenclature, approached ministers in the then Indira Gandhi-led government, and eventually, official seal was put on the name ‘Chittaranjan Park’, and “fliers were distributed”.

“Those who had voted for ‘Purbanchal’ were not against the other name, but they had just liked ‘Purbanchal’ more, but as time passed, C R Park’ became the identity of the new ‘Bangali Colony’ in Delhi. Members of the Bengali community have been settling in old Delhi areas, like Kashmere Gate for over a century,” the author says.

Purvanchal, without the Bengali intonation in its spelling, now refers to people hailing from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Exhaustively researched and passionately told, the Roychowdhury’s work is an attempt to decode what the act of naming and renaming means both to those in power and to those being governed.

“For the book, I had interviewed, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who told me that he had suggested to rename Connnaught Place and subsequently Connaught Circus on its periphery (named after the Duke of Connaught) to Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk respectively after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, as the concentric circles would figuratively mean a ‘mother embracing her son’,” she says.

The book also delves into how a neighbourhood of Kashmiri migrants in Delhi adopted an abstract name of Pamposh Enclave, to remind them of the significance of ‘pamposh’ or lotus in their culture, an attempt to stay connected to their roots; or how a Muslim-dominated colony of Shaheen Bagh, the epicenter of anti-CAA protests in recent times, was named after ‘shaheen’ (falcon), inspired from the bird’s metaphorical reference in many Allam Iqbal’s poems.

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