Friday, December 6, 2013

Ghosts from the past

We have a tendency to be very emotional about our history. Their chest swells to twice its size with a feeling of superiority which germs from the glorious tales of their ancestors. Once this sentiment comes into being, the politicians begin to reinforce these beliefs. So, even if they ruin the future by their present actions, their speeches about the past are enough for people to blindly support them.
Once we, as a society, take more pride in our past than what we are right now; it should be inferred that we are moving backwards. And those who criticize this are labeled as being insensitive to the great deeds of historic figures. One is also made to face pointless questions like “Why did you bring this up about this particular persona?” “And why not during another?” “Is your criticism not stemming from your caste?” “Would you have dared to speak up if it were a figure that belonged to that religion instead of this one?” These arguments make you wonder whether our society, in general, is mentally stable.
And like any patient suffering from mental disorders, the society too must take therapy or consultation from a counselor. For the counseling of society, literary greats, journalists, social activists, teachers, professors and others should come forward and persistently show the way forward.

The reason behind writing this is the recent course of events that have transpired in the city. A proposal to change University of Pune’s name to ‘Dnyanjyoti Savitribai Phule Pune University’ has been passed in majority by the senate of the University and has been forwarded to the state government. It is a tradition all over the world to name buildings, roads, government schemes, universities after historical figures, and there is nothing wrong with it. It always is a great reminder of that person’s contribution to society. It can also be seen as a mark of respect shown by the people towards that person. Therefore there is no reason why new roads, buildings or schemes should not be named after these figures.
However, irrationality creeps in when names of existing bodies are changed. Firstly, why is there a need to replace an existing name by naming it after a person from history? Fundamentally, the need for a name is to create an identity. Once a name is given, the place or event or a building for that matter, can easily be identified. Why, then, is there a need to change names? By doing so, all we are doing is living in a past. For instance, the name of Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus was changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. If you look at that structure, it is one of the best examples of Victorian architecture.  When the British came to power, they never changed the name of Raigad to ‘Fort Edward’ and neither did Shaniwaarwada become ‘King George Wada’. Similarly, even after they left, it wouldn’t make any difference to its functionality had VT remained to be known as VT. Besides that, renaming a structure built by the British in honour of Shivaji Maharaj is not only illogical, but on some level, defeats the very purpose of honour.
By inflating the pride of the people by this and other such re-namings, the issues of the present often get neglected. By always playing a hand based on the cards of the past, some of our leaders keep abusing power in the pretext of being proud of their history, while doing nothing about the present.
History should prompt us to create new history. But that willingness is never generated, neither is one allowed to act   differently and at the same time, we are simply looking to hold back those who try to change things around us. In summary, our society is trapped in a disparity between singing songs of praise about history and being an escapist when it comes to act. Probably, we are simply trying to hide our present impotence by taking our past out on a procession. That, according to me, is a very serious social problem.
I dream of a society that takes inspiration from history to move forward towards newer horizons – where schools, universities, bridges, roads and buildings are named after historical figures, so as take motivation from them; where people strive to maintain standards of these places named after their great heroes; where people won’t try to erase existing names just in order to demonstrate their superiority for the sake of historical feuds. And most importantly, I dream of a society where civic studies gets more weight age than history; where it is considered more important to be a good citizen in today’s world, than to glorify something that has happened centuries ago.
Reminiscing old times and memories is something people do in the twilight of their life. That is not expected from us, a country known as the world’s youngest nation today. The sooner we rid ourselves from the ghosts of our past, the better chances we have of becoming an omnipotent society.

-Translated by Omkar Rege.