A Rose in Any Name

In 1982, when Rajiv Gandhi visited Hyderabad, the then Congress chief minister T Anjaiah went to the airport with a group of supporters to receive him. Rajiv, who clearly didn’t expect the slogan-shouting crowd, was so upset that he chastised Anjaiah for bringing a crowd and making a scene. This he did it in full public view, with all the media present, that the insult was felt collectively by the entire state. The media portrayed it as the insult to the Telugu Pride. Immediately afterwards, NT Rama Rao, a superstar actor with no political history launched a party, contested the election on the single point agenda of ‘restoring the Telugu Pride’ and rode to power with a landslide victory.

Today, the Hyderabad International Airport is named after Rajiv Gandhi, the man who had insulted the Telugu Pride and, consequently, weakened the Congress in the state. This naming was, obviously, done during the UPA regime when everything, from a government scheme to a rural bus stand was being named after Rajiv Gandhi. This was then opposed, in vain, by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), who wanted it named after their founder NTR.

Now, with the new government in place in the centre and state, the TDP wants to correct this error. They want to rename the airport after NTR, which is being opposed even by the Telengana parties.

Of course, the central government is right in its thinking that there’s too much exposure of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. During the UPA regime, roughly more than 450 central government schemes were named after Nehru or Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, most of them after Rajiv. Every year, the central government took out newspaper advertisements to commemorate Rajiv’s birthday, spending nearly 600 crore in their 10 full years’ stint. So it’s time that we moved Gandhis (and perhaps even Nehru) out of these schemes and buildings.

But then, my key question is, why NTR? It’s true that if there were a poll for the most popular Telugu, he would win it by a mile; however, there are enough buildings and government schemes named after him, and therefore he is as saturated as the Delhi Dynasty.

Having said that, let’s consider this: what about naming the airport after Thyagayya, the genius composer who wrote some of the most beautiful songs ever written in Telugu, without whose contribution, the Carnatic music would not be complete? Why not Annamacharya whose songs are sung in every Telugu household even today? Or Tanguturi Prakasam, better known as the Andhra Kesari? Why not Kandukuri Veereshalingam, the great writer and reformer who is said to have kick-started the Telugu renaissance? He was sort of like a Telugu version of Rajaram Mohunroy.

There are so many illustrious Telugus that we would need to build 10 more airports in and around Hyderabad. So many great people who have enhanced and enriched the lives of Telugu people, that we’d run out of schemes and buildings to name them.

This practice is not just prevalent in Andhra and Telengana, but elsewhere too. Why name the library after Annadurai in Tamil Nadu? Why couldn’t it be named after U.Ve.Sa. Iyer, fondly referred to as the Grandfather of Tamil, who painstakingly searched for and gathered many of the ancient Tamil literary works and published them? What would classical Tamil literature be without this grandfather’s lifetime contribution? Or, how about Bharati, who put Tamil literature in the fifth gear and set fire to the imagination of all Tamils? What is Anna’s contribution to Tamil literature? In what way has he encouraged the Tamils to read? Well, if encouraging Tamils to read books was the criteria, what other name is more suitable for a library than Sujatha Rangarajan, who single-handedly made an entire generation to take up to reading books. If anything, Anna’s contribution to Tamil literature was things like writing a ridiculously insulting commentary on Kamba Ramayanam, which is arguably the most accomplished and complex work in ancient Tamil literature.

Similalry, the low-cost canteens should have been named after Kamaraj who was the first in the world to recognise the power of free cooked meals in schools. He had the genius to know that free meals would dramatically reduce the drop-out numbers.

This is what happens when small men have the power to decide big things. This makes us people small as well. We end up thinking that our society was built by Annadurai, Bharathidasan, Kalaignar, MGR, and, of course, Amma. We don’t recognise the true builders of our society. Today the biggest library in Chennai is named after Annadurai, who neither had the aesthetic sense to understand the beauty of Kambar’s poetry nor the historic clarity to recognise its context and setting. No wonder we don’t recognise the greats in our society because our leaders themselves didn’t.

Anyway, how does it matter what these schemes and buildings are named after? Why not have generic names, such as ‘State Government Library’ or ‘Shamshabad Airport’? That would be a good idea, but it would sap any emotional value out of that set up. Many of us landing at the Thyagayya International Airport in Hyderabad would immediately Google his name to find out what this gentleman has done to deserve an airport in his name. So would someone visiting U.Ve.Sa. Central Library for their research. We would be keeping alive our proud heritage and remembering those who made real contribution to the society. Not false or inflated heroes whose only contribution was to insult or stagnate their heritage. So what’s in a name? Would rose in any name smell as sweet? Try after naming that flower ‘drainage’.