In a desperate bid to elude the sort of naming controversy which afflicted Chandigarh airport last autumn, the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation is considering a new naming convention which restricts itself to place names. Lucknow Airport should be just that, for instance, and not Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport. There is an earthy honesty in place names, while names that ring with history agitate natives and confuse visitors. The former can be fractious about which local heroes should be memorialised on airport plaques. The latter just want to know if they’re flying into the right city, without having to mug up the local political history.
Perhaps the principle could be extended to city streets and neighbourhoods, to end the menace of political renaming. After Independence, it was natural for all the avenues memorialising Cornwallis, Bentinck and Wellesley to be renamed in favour of the Mahatma and the Congress’s chosen few. When geographies change ownership, their physical markers must render the fact visible. But change cannot degenerate into an assault on history, which has been in progress in India, where illustrious names from suddenly suspect dynasties are being wiped out in favour of allegedly more wholesome nomenclature. Perhaps there is value in switching to the American system, which is to name every street in a city using the cardinal points of the compass and the natural numbers alone, with no recourse to history. Of course, America has an advantage in the grid layout favoured by urban planners. Somehow, Crescent 173 doesn’t have the same resonance as 5th Avenue.
However, at least it would end the scourge of renaming streets, avenues, alleys — and airports. Or perhaps not. To rename the airport of a city, you could just rename the city. It is not unprecedented, and there is absolutely no protection against such extreme