Benighted Indian families like to rename new brides unfortunate enough to marry into them, erasing their prior lives in order to own them better. West Bengal is seeing something similar as the chief minister takes the unprecedented step of renaming six whole cities. The twin cities of Asansol and Durgapur have been renamed Agnibina, after a poetry anthology by Kazi Nazrul Islam. And Siliguri has been renamed Teesta for reasons unknown, since it is on the Mahananda. Perhaps the renomenclature commemorates the embarrassment that Banerjee caused Manmohan Singh over the Teesta issue.
Renaming has been popular in West Bengal, usually to regain political and cultural ownership of colonial geographies. The communists painted the top of Kolkata’s Ochterlony Monument red, for instance. Sometimes, there’s a wicked sense of fun, as when Harrington Street was renamed Ho Chi Min Sarani, in protest against Vietnam. The US consulate is located there, and it had to change all its stationery. But Mamata Banerjee has fatigued all with oppressive literary and artistic references. When she was railways minister, she named Metro stations after the cinema icon Uttam Kumar and the poet Islam. Now, she has renamed the city near Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan from Bolpur to Gitabitan, his anthology of verse. And since Kalyani has been renamed Samriddhi, will its most famous produce now be sold as Samriddhi Black Label beer?
But there is hope yet. Long, long ago, when Mamata Banerjee was still a streetfighter who wore a black bandage like a battle standard, the Left had got uptight and resolved to rename the whole state of West Bengal to Bongo. That mythical state is still in the womb of time but one day a hero may be born there, one who can rename the chief minister and protect the rest of reality from being politically overwritten.