Against Shakespeare: There is Something in a Name

By October 31, 2010 00:35

By Amar Yumnam

Shakespeare asked and asserted: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well this could be right for Romeo and Juliet, but definitely not in the case of naming markets and market-places. In fact, the naming of the soon-to-be-inaugurated three market complexes has only led to “the winter of our discontent”. The recent naming of these complexes by the government only betrays bankruptcy of mind and displays in full bloom the non-committal nature of governance.

Naming and Description: We do not name our daughter “Our Daughter”, and our son “Our Son”. If we name our son Son or our daughter Daughter, it only reflects that one is a boy and another is a girl. In other words, in this process, we are only describing the physical characteristics of our children, and we are not taking any trouble of actually naming our children. Well, if we are not so committal to our children, and think of our children as only unwanted by-products of our indulgent moments of pleasure, we can get away with such confusion of description with naming. But no parent in the real sense of the term would ever be willing to be satisfied with this; all the parents would invariably want to give the best of names – unique and appealing to anyone else – to all their children. This is the reason why every parent and the close ones apply their collective exercise of mind and wisdom while naming children.

When such is the process and care with which we go about naming our children, the engagement has naturally to be much deeper and meaningful when it comes to naming a societal property, institution and historically significant geographic space.
Here it may be of relevance to briefly recall how the civilised world – east or west – go about naming lanes, streets, and buildings. Whatever the tangible presence, road or buildings or what not, the names would definitely take after a mythological figure, historical personality or a place of immense historical significance. This is because any name adopted for the building or road has two significant implications, one for the domestic population and another for the visitors.
First, let us talk about the domestic implications. Any society without history is a society without roots. Further any society which does not endeavour to remember her history and historical roots is a bastard society. So while naming places of importance for the society, the civilised world generally applies mind to remind the contemporary population of the culture and the past of the society on the strength of which the presence has founded. This continually links the present with the past, and to that extent it serves as the moralising instrument as well as the force for instilling patriotism among the contemporary population, especially the youths. It serves as the arena within which the present population should strive to better their world.

The same principle is followed even while naming names of buildings and lanes within a university campus as well. Every building and every lane in any university in Europe or America would usually carry names of historical personalities of the region or the city where the institute is located. This immediately instils a feeling of pride, a sense of belonging and aura of rootedness among the large number of youths entering the world of higher learning.

Now let us look at the implications for visitors. If we name a road or building as per the norms adopted in the civilised world, a sense of curiosity is immediately generated in any visitor. This curiosity serves as the medium for the host society to propagate her culture and history to the rest of the world. This shows that the host society is a society with roots and history founded on a culture of her own. This curiosity also serves as the compulsion for the domestic population to be always alive to her history and roots so that whenever the occasion arises to explain to a visitor, she is not failing in their responsibility.

The Case of Market Complexes: While contemplating naming of the soon-to-be-inaugurated three market complexes, the authorities that be should have kept all these in their mind for reasons that should be apparent to any person on the street. First, such occasions do not come often and to that extent very historical occasions. Secondly, places and names which remind the people of the land of the cultural roots and historical past, and also display them to the visitors in vivid colours are rare in this land.

But quite unfortunately for all of us, the quality and character or rather the absence of these in governance of the land has come out in sharp focus when the state confuses description with naming. It is very very unfortunate for it is not that we lack mythological and historical figures to take after for these complexes. A few examples would suffice. First, we have Haoreima Sampubi, a very powerful Tangkhul Goddess. In fact, in terms of spread and power of influence, she is a truly Manipuri Goddess. Secondly, we have Emoinu, the Goddess of wealth. Thirdly, we have Panthoibi, the symbol of sheer power and strength. Any of these names would definitely enhance the historical rootedness and cultural vibrancy of the land and people.

We should remember that from the mythological stories of marketing to the geographic shock of the early nineteenth century to the modern strong social institution, the women’s market in Imphal has come a long way. Any naming of a reconstructed geographic space of such an institution should do justice to it, but never be mocked about. The time is still with us to have a rethink and prove the material with which our governance is made of. \

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By October 31, 2010 00:35