Looking out of the car window the other day I began to think about how we in Delhi name our roads. It was the oddly named 'Jesus and Mary Marg' that set me off. I realise it's the convent that's prompted the name but it made me wonder whether the authorities would next think of 'Allah Plaza', 'Moses Avenue' or 'Ram Road'. Who knows?
Until not so long ago the road next to my office was called 'Africa Avenue Marg'. It took the municipal corporation several years to realise the redundancy but during that time I never heard a single comment on this oddity. And whenever I pointed it out, the reply I usually got was "What else do you expect of the MCD?" Quite.
However, it's not the thoughtless errors our authorities so often make that concern me today so much as their careful and well-deliberated decisions. For instance, one of the things that irritates me is the proliferation of roads named after eminently forgettable politicians. I wonder how many people remember Madhu Limaye or Aruna Asaf Ali? Or, for that matter, how many want to be reminded of Krishna Menon? And can anyone tell me who Shaheed Sudhir Sabharwal was? Yet they all have roads named after them.
Sometimes the exercise can be quite misleading. "Where's Kalam's house?" I was once asked. "On Rajaji Marg." "Oh," came the instant reply, "Rajaji of where?" Few Indians know that Rajaji was Chakravarti Rajagopalachari's nickname. Indeed, only a few can tell you who he was.
Naming roads, plazas, squares, buildings or airports after politicians only rarely works. JFK in New York is a brilliant example of success. Rajiv Gandhi or Indira Gandhi Chowk in Delhi are an undoubted case of failure. And proof of both lies in the single fact that everyone in New York calls the airport JFK while everyone in Delhi still calls the colonnaded shopping complex Connaught Place or just CP.
Worse, Delhi has a number of roads named after former foreign heads of government now, in all probability, forgotten in their own countries. There's one after Josip Broz Tito, another after Jose San Martin and a third after Benito Juarez. While Sweden and Egypt have forgotten Olof Palme and Gamal Abdel Nasser, they live on in different stretches of Delhi's outer ring road.
And do you know how Archbishop Makarios Marg came to be so named? I'm told it happened because of Indira Gandhi's gratitude to a former Cypriot high commissioner. The gentleman assiduously courted her during her dark days out of power and she was generous with her thanks on returning to office. EOKA B's assassination attempt on the archbishop gave her the excuse she needed to name the tree-lined avenue in Golf Links after him.
This 'royal' prerogative to name or re-name roads as our top politicians desire is assumed by all of them. It's a right they've conferred on themselves. They don't care whether we approve, leave aside whether we like the old names they blithely discard. They do as they please and we must accept.
Indeed, I sometimes wonder how the present generation of luminaries who rule our destinies will be commemorated on the streets of our ever-suffering capital. Might North and South Block become Sonia Sachivalaya? Could the old Boat Club lawns along Rajpath become Vajpayee Maidan? And perhaps one day, in the fullness of time, could Rajpath itself be re-christened Rahul Path?
I wouldn't be surprised if the answer is yes.
Views expressed by the author are personal