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Reading Edward Said in Gulistan-i-Gandhi

What has American leftist Noam Chomsky to do with the burger eating, Levi-wearing, Gucci-buying, mall going, America-dreaming generation? Can Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat be a pop icon?

entertainment Updated: May 24, 2010 00:38 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

What has American leftist Noam Chomsky to do with the burger eating, Levi-wearing, Gucci-buying, mall going, America-dreaming generation? Can Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat be a pop icon? Take a walk in Jamia Millia Islamia University. It is the Capital’s only campus where these much-ignored idols seem to be in. Institutions, centres, halls, gardens, gates and even lanes are named after personalities as eclectic and diverse as author Qurratulain Hyder, playwright Habib Tanvir and Gandhian Mridula Sarabhai.

There is Noam Chomsky Complex, the big Edward Said Hall, the smaller Yasser Arafat Hall and the smallest K M Ashraf Hall named after the Marxist historian. Not to forget the coolest spot to hang out — the Castro Café, with its award-winning white and black design, named after Cuba’s Fidel, of course.

There are the slew of buildings named after freedom fighters: Gulistan-i-Gandhi, Jauhar Bagh, Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Enclave, S R Kidwai Hostel, Zakir Husain Library, the Ansari Auditorium and a residential complex named after Hakim Ajmal Khan.

Literary-types can jog down the Saadat Hasan Manto Lane. If you like cricket, there’s Virendra Sehwag Viewer’s Gallery in the cricket grounds, named after its famous alumni. The most interesting incident of naming, by far, is the Hall of Girls’ Residence named after Halide Edibe, a Turkish novelist, historian and feminist political leader who stayed at Jamia in 1935.

What’s in a name, you might say. Plenty... as far as the Jamia authorities are concerned. A name may reflect an entire worldview. For students, names of institutions, buildings, parks and gates can have lasting memories. When all else has dimmed, the memory of sitting in Bagh-e-Nanak — with a book, or a lover, or both — will outlive all else.

Tanumoy Misra, an M Sc. student, derives simple pleasure from looking up at the immense Ghalib statue daily. He says, “When I pass by the Dabistan-i-Ghalib, I am reminded of the golden age of poetry.”

For some individuals, these names resonate with deeper meanings. The former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia, Professor Mushirul Hasan, says, “These names portray Jamia’s cosmopolitan and secular character, reflecting a continuity in its history and a link with future.”