When I moved to Delhi in 1998 after confirming that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was indeed going ahead with India's plans to conduct nuclear tests, I was suddenly terrified. Not because I was worried that squirrels in Rajasthan would get fried by the radioactive blast or afraid of the lasting after-effects of the 500,000-word essay by Arundhati Roy that was bound to follow, but because I was told that there was a possibility that my new neighbourhood could be a place called Patparganj.
Coming from an area in Calcutta called Beleghata (Beliaghata, if you wanted to sound posh) should have inured me against demotic, 'downmarket'-sounding place names. But 'Patparganj' was downright ridiculous, sounding like an onomatopoeic name for a place where people congregated after having eaten far too much rajma-chawal. Luckily, it was in wonderful sounding Mayur Vihar — a spittle away from Patparganj — where I settled down and remain to this day.
I share this information that you may or may not have craved for because plans are afoot for me to make a shift again. But this time my concern about the name of the area I will hopefully move into one day has been replaced by the name of the property that may be my future address. My sole worry is how the regular taxi driver, the pizza delivery boy, the bootlegger, the newspaper delivery chap and my relations will comprehend the name of the place: Kensington Boulevard. ('Kya ji? Kensington Bul kya?') This, from someone who finds it impossible to remember how to pronounce 'prosciutto'. (It's 'prosh-utto', Bhalla-ji.)
Frankly, I have no qualms about living in a bubble chamber township that bears little relation with what lies beyond its gates modelled after the sets in Manmohan Desai's Dharam Veer (that in turn were modelled after Cecil B DeMille's Cleopatra). In fact, my whole point is to be disconnected from the delightful 'genuine' quarters of Anand Vihar ISBT or Pitampura or Rajinder Nagar once I'm inside my future home in Kensington Bulnagar, sorry, Boulevard.
Let's face it. When I saw the pictures in the brochure, I recognised one of the photos of 'Kensington Boulevard' as New York's Central Park. In the tiniest lettering crawling down the side of the photo, it did say, 'The layout, pictures and design are indicative and subject to modifications...' But like no one mistakes Arun Govil in Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan as the Real McRam, no one really thinks that they'll be ambling about NYC's foliage even as they magically switch continents and walk about paths inside the compound named (I kid you not!) 'Rue Koriolis', 'Saint-Germain', 'Rue Lagrange' and 'Avenue Montaigne'. It's like a BCom graduate from Kirori Mal wearing one of those UCLA sweatshirts.
But what I fear for is this new nomenclature coming in the way of smooth interactions with fellow Indians who operate beyond the Desai-DeMille gates of these apartment blocks. Will there be one way of pronouncing LondoNoida Hyde Park (Noida), Fairfield (Thane), Roland Garros (Bangalore), Belvedere (Gurgaon) and Alden Española (Pune)?
I have no problem dealing with the likes of Orange County, California Country, Capetown (Mera Desh, Mera Capetown). We've wrapped our tongues in our own ways long enough with the likes of Connaught Place, Churchgate, Dalhousie Square...
What will be fun, though, is to see how these new aspirational names finally settle down. I'm hoping that autowallas will insist you pronounce the third word of Bangalore's 'super premium villa' going under the name of Nitesh Roland Garros the way they would like it pronounced. They'll take you there with a happy snigger.