Remember Chiraunji Lal Khosla (Cherry) in Khosla Ka Ghonsla? In one of the epic lines from the movie, Chiraunji Lal confronts his father, saying something like “Aap sar se paanv taq Kamal Kishore lagte hain, par kya main aapko Chiraunji Lal lagta hoon?” [Father, you look like Kamal Kishore or a young lotus from head to toe, but do I look something akin to the translation of Chiraunji Lal to you?]. Chiraunji Lal was no old, bespectacled, paunchy, bald man, in case you haven’t seen the movie (Actually his father Kamal Kishore was all of these). He is very much the good looking computer engineer hero. Then why the name Chiraunji Lal?
I found myself asking the same question as I waded through the streets, lanes, and bylanes of Kolkata. First, I observe that the streets of south Kolkata have far more happening names than north Kolkata. I am told that north Kolkata is the original Kolkata while south Kolkata developed much later. So while touring the city, you can see a marked difference in the streets, the houses, and the designing of these two segments of Kolkata. While north Kolkata has more dingy streets, unmaintained, narrow, with tram lines criss-crossing and old buildings, south Kolkata is more posh with broader streets and taller buildings that look much new. If you have been to Shyam Bazar (north), and been to Ballygunge (south), you will know what I mean.
In any case, comparing the two wasn’t the idea here. My post is rather about the deceptive names of the roads here. Forgive me, I am not getting personal or disrespectful here, but when you hear a depressing street name like Raja Khogendro Nath lane, you expect a depressing street alleying into narrow houses that look dark from inside even in broad daylight and have shabby looking petticoats drying off their street facing verandas. In fact there is a category of names- Umesh Chondro street, Raja Monindro street, Bhupen Bose avenue, and other streets named after great men [I wonder why most streets are named after men and not women, but that is a different perspective altogether]. And then there are names that evoke distinct memories. Park Street always reminds me of the most happening area of the city, replete with fine dining, the best Chinese food, and coffee and cake shops, and of course St. Xavier’s College. Similarly, College Street evokes memories of book shops, nearby schools and colleges, the Calcutta University grounds, Coffee House, Presidency College, shops selling medical paraphernalia, and so on.
Anyway, I find some names very fancy and thus deceptive. The other day, we were invited to someone’s place in Diamond Park. As the name suggested, I imagined a happening area, clean and spic and span, the streets shining like diamonds. Neither did I find diamonds, nor did I find a park. I was rather disappointed to see a very typical Kolkata neighborhood with sprawling flats and just a little bit of greenery. The other day the car was stuck in a traffic snarl. There was still quite a bit of water logging after the rains, and the place looked anything but happening. Not familiar with south Kolkata, I craned my neck to read the neon sign on one of the shops that said “Lake Gardens”. We drove quite a bit in the area, but I neither found a lake nor a garden. Residents of the place can enlighten me, and who knows, there might actually be a lake I missed. However, the traffic snarl and the congested roads with people spitting here and there no way lived up to the image of the fancy name “Lake Gardens”.
I wonder what is the history behind naming a street, an area, even a city or a country the way it is named. Can someone tell me the history behind naming places like Amherst Street (that reminds me of Amherst, Massachusetts), Ultadanga (which means an upturned boat), Phulbagan (a flower garden), and thakurpukur (which has no meaning because it means God and a pond. I wonder what God and a pond are doing together)?