Sunday, April 10, 2011

Destroying symbolism

The Pearl Monument
Source: www.dreamstime.com

The monument destroyed
Ref
: www.kh2hb.wordpress.com


The iconic Pearl Monument in Bahrain was destroyed last month by the security forces, leaving two protesters dead and scores injured. The logic behind this - it was part of the bad memory which needed to be erased because pro-democracy protesters had been camping at the site demanding democracy for their country.

Bamyan Buddhas being destroyed
Ref: www.mesosyn.com
Destroying symbols isn't new, often tyrants indulge in these with the hope of destroying the hearts which associate with them. Sometimes these measures fail in their ends, however, often they do achieve the objective and the the symbolism along with the thoughts behind then die off. Most often symbols are destroyed to erase the past, a case in point being the destruction of the Bamayan Buddhas by the Taliban. The Buddhas had been witnesses to the Afghan landscape from the time when Buddhism was a dominant religion of the lands and was fast spreading along with the Silk Route. For centuries there had been no local Buddhists, yet the Taliban had a point to prove to the West (and part of the East) with this destruction, which they successfully did.

Mumbai's Victoria Terminus
Ref: www.de.academic.ru
In India we have not been far behind, not destroying the monuments/ cities we found a more democratic route of erasing their past by renaming them to our whims and fancies. Mumbai takes the cake in this, having renamed the Victoria terminus to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bombay itself to Mumbai, and scores of other buildings and roads in the city. Mumbai's love with renaming so many things with Shivaji's name often borders obsession. Delhi also followed suit with Connaught Place conveniently becoming Rajiv Chowk. Ahmedabad may soon be renamed Karnavati, of course Madras is already Chennai and Calcutta is Kolkata. India may not be far behind too, it still carries a name which was never its own, but given by all those living beyond the iconic Sindhu (modern day Indus) - the Afghanis, the Persians and so on. Logically India should be Bharath. Most of these have been successful destruction of symbols.

Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
Ref: www.vincentloy.wordpress.com
In the past, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul (which itself was known as Constantinople before the Turkish conquest in 1453) was renamed Ayasofia, had four minarets added to it and very successfully converted into a mosque. In India something similar was tried, though rather violently, to convert the Babri Masjid into a Ram Mandir. Historically scores of places of worship have been converted into the dominant places of worship, and much of it was pure symbolism, and a very successful one. Hindus did this to the places of worship and monasteries of the Buddhists, Muslims did it to Hindus and now Hindus want to do it again to the Muslims. In the West, Christians did to the Muslims and vice versa. Quite a vicious cycle, I must say!

Hitler's Lair
Ref: www.lyricsdog.eu
Not everything that happened in the past was perfect, and some of us often feel the need to correct the mistakes of the past and move forward. I am not completely against it, however those who take a judgment call on issues like these leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes it makes sense to keep the past intact to learn important lessons from it, like keeping the Auschwitz Concentration Camp or Hitler's bunkers still around, so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them again. Some legacy from the past is meant to be celebrated, and we must do that with respect even if we do not currently subscribe to what it stands for.

My tea is getting cold now and I am getting dangerous stares, so I guess its time to rest my point. Anyway its just an opinion, and something which should be actively discussed in Public Forums to develop opinions and thoughts. Most of us have contrasting views on this, and I would be very keen to know about those.

20 comments:

  1. Compared to all the Bahrain monument destruction would g down in history.... The Pearl was their post card symbol. May be when things calm down, they will build something again.

    I don't know why we are so frentic of renaming in India. Hope we dont do the same to Gos

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  2. @Jon: I hope they do rebuild the monument, would go a long way in rebuilding hopes...

    Even I am not so sure why we need to rename things, or if its something specific only to India. Not sure if the same thing happened in Russia after it became USSR, or in France after the French Revolution.

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  3. A superb write up Siddhartha.
    As you rightly said India is not far behind the race to convert the monuments, historical structures and worshipping places. And so are we.
    Here in Pakistan, my own Lyallpur has been renamed as Faisalabad. I never have been able to find rationale for renaming a city which was built under the guidance, of Mr. James Lyall, then governor of the undivided Punjab.
    So just as you guys did in India, we too converted our Lyallpur to Faisalabad and thought just by naming it after late King Faisal we’ve done a great service to Islam.
    Another district town which administratively is now a part of Lyallpur [am sorry Faisalabad] division, I mean Toba Tek Singh, I learn was going to be changed as Dar-us-Salam (house of Islam). It would have become Dar-us-salam [at least in name] had it not been the strong protestations by residents of Toba Tek Singh who did not want to betray their allegiance to that noble soul Tek Singh who constructed a pool side so that travelers, passengers on their way could stop over there, on his pool side to drink sweet, potable water, hence the name Toba of Tek Singh.
    Yet there are so many other places too which like Lyallpur have been renamed. The public, however, still prefers to call these by their original names e.g. Lawrence Road which has been renamed as Muhammad Shafi Road. If you asked somebody in Lahore, where that road was, there would be perhaps a bit of surprise and after a pause if you said Lawrence Road, then every body will be too happy to guide you.
    Similarly there is another road in Lahore [Davis Road] which is officially now Sir Agha Muhammad Khan Khamas Road. First its such a lengthy name, I have never been able to find any rationale for giving such an extraordinarily long name and that too to a road. Secondly if Davis was some VIP in those days and the road was named after him, it becomes a history. And to change history is like being cruel to history itself, but the people who get cruel to history, history likewise acts the same way.
    Then there is the Montgomery Road again in Lahore. There is some Muslim name assigned to it. I wonder if ever somebody would recognize this road by its official name.
    The Taliban destroyed the historical Bamyan Buddhas proving that they were butshikan. But by destroying only statues one does not become butsikan as
    Iqbal once
    said:
    Mohabbat ka junuñ baqi nahiñ hai
    Musalmanoñ meiñ khu baqi nahiñ hai

    Safaiñ kaj, dil pareshañ, sajda bezauq
    K jazba-e-andruñ baqi nahiñ hai

    Ragon meiñ bhi lahu baqi nahiñ hai
    Wo dil, wo saaz, wo awaz baqi nahiñ hai

    Namaz-o-roza-o-qurbani-o-haj
    Ye sab baqi hai tu baqi nahiñ hai.


    Nayyar Hashmey
    http://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com
    http://wondersofpakistan.blogspot.com

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  4. Thank you so much Mr. Hashmey, its so good to see your comment here :)

    I really had no idea about such rampant renaming in Pakistan as well, I guess the process in the sub-continent started when we became independent and Nationalism was synonymous was eulogising our leaders in every possible way...

    And thanks for Iqbal's words...so apt...

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  5. I remember reading in William Dalrymple's City Djinns - Indians hate looking back in the past and have scant regard for historical monuments. - Not sure whether I phrased that right :)

    But if you walk in the lanes of Chandni Chowk, your heart bleeds at the sight of the decrepit state of the majestic havelis. Even the the great Ghalib's Balli Maran is decaying and the clumsy attempts at restoration is laughable.

    So which is worse - deliberate destruction or general apathy towards our priceless heritage?

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  6. I wish more people would read this post, there needs to be more awareness this...they say change is the only constant, and we choose to give it our own meaning. To quote an example while Calcutta changed to Kolkata, except for developing the outskirts nothing changed in the city...no reforms, no development of any aspect whatsoever. It did not take us much time to accept these changes or maybe we did not really think of it too much and we still don't, everything "chalta hai" as long as there is bread at home and no direct harm done, where does the buck stop.

    The underlying hatred is well exploited by political agendas and we do not even realize what we are being robbed off. Can we make a difference and how?

    Maybe this is a first step, right about it and reach out, Cheers!

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  7. i'm not particularly sure of why there is resistance to re-naming a city/road. while the political agenda behind it can be criticized- it's typically to divert attention from the lack of actual public service by our 'public servants'- the changes ARE to the better- to local names that are closer to the original or that are more culturally, linguistically or historically reflective of the city/location. why should we persist in calling places by names that have no relevance/meaning for the local populace? That being said- renaming everything in india after the nehru-gandhi dynasty speaks a lot about the bankruptcy of imagination and sycophancy that makes up indian politics today. the only thing to look forward to that is someone 50 years from now will erase these names as well :D let it be, let it be- enjoy the chennais and kolkatas while they last- i personally find them cooler ;)

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  8. Sid, sorry I m bit off-track but i m pretty excited after reading Mr. Nayyar Hashmey's comments. My grandfather moved to India from Toba Tek Singh after partition and coincidently, day before I was telling him it has become a district on its own now, earlier being a part of Layallpur (or Faisalabad). It will be great if Mr. Hashmey can share any more interesting facts about that place or pictures (not in this space though!). I m really looking forward to it! Thanks in advance. :)

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  9. i agree with Huginn & Muninn to some extent. just as renaming is considered to be a frivolous issse, a deep introspection behind its 'why' may also be frivolous.
    but then , the point where i differ from Huginn & Muninn is when i think of 'whats there in a name? a rose would still be as beautiful if its called by a different name'
    in all, a thoughtful attempt! a dfferent post. nice read.
    PS: Loved the lines of IQbal penned down by Nayar hashmey.

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  10. @Purba: Its a tough call to take...and sadly we suffer from both, maybe there is more of general apathy and lack of regard for our historical heritage.

    Of course I am talking about much more than names, buildings here. Its the hope...to live, for the life to change that gets killed when we destroy certain symbols...

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  11. @Dagny: Thanks a lot :)

    I agree with you that what sets us back is the 'Chalta hai' attitude, but we still have people like Anna who can motivate people and get them all together.

    We are lucky in India that the process of consciously changing the past stops at renaming cities, roads, heritage buildings. In some cases we destroy mosques, churches as well...and the point is not them being our heritage, but the intent of doing so. Often its directed towards a certain community (social/ religious) and these symbolic destruction goes a long way in killing hope, fostering hatred for the system, even developing the feeling secessionism amongst some.

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  12. @Ankur: Very well said, its a process (renaming) which has being going on forever. I am also not so against it if it brings the people of the land closer to the place where they live. However, I think its more of a sham, or a scam.

    Delhi has had so many name changes, and we embrace them all even today. Or even India for that matter...

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  13. @Nidhi: Great to hear from you after a long time :)

    I will surely mail Dr. Hashmey and let him know your request, am sure he would be more than happy to share more about the place!

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  14. @4thosewhocare: Its an interesting thought...what's in a name? Sometimes the answer is 'everything'! I get attached to places and names easily...and for me lots would change if the name changes. However, we all are different with different connections to places, people, things etc...

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  15. well said and the Mumbai ones are really great examples!

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  16. Well put Siddhartha. Destroying symbols is something which all conquerors used to do. To destroy the people, to destroy their beliefs.
    In India as Purba quoted, we don't want to look at the past. Maybe that is why, we are still divided based on caste/creed/region/sect, despite knowing that it was due to this disunity that we were conquered and ruled by many.

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  17. Nice work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the blue Nav Bar located at the top of my blogger.com site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Hi Siddhartha,

    I came across your blog through exploring different blogs and contents. I have gone through some of your latest blogs and they were truly creative.

    About this post, in my opinion these heritage sites and places need to be protected. Politics and community modify them for their own mean purpose, but they hold different meaning.

    Mughals has robbed us initially and then later on they built the biggest wonder of the world in India - Taj Mahal. We keep on taking the pride of it as an Indian. English people also robbed us, but they are the one who started first train in India.

    You can remember the event or stories for bad thing (keeping in mind that we don't do it again) as well as good thing. They hold special meaning for everyone and should not be a destroyed based on someone's thought or strategy.

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  19. @joshidaniel: Thanks Daniel.

    @SnowLeopard: That's so true, we are always divided and ready to be ruled and conquered by many. We Indians are not the only victims though...world over people become victims of these symbolic destructions...

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  20. @Clouseau: Thanks a lot!

    @Dishant: Thanks a lot for your very generous comment :)

    I am glad that you picked the point about Mughals and British. This just goes to on say that nothing is black and white, its always our perception which makes it so for us.

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