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Name change

By Nickunj Malik - Dec 05,2018 - Last updated at Dec 05,2018

Foreigners travelling to my home country India often ask me for suggestions about which cities or towns they should visit during their vacation. I give them a fairly unbiased recommendation and usually direct them to places I would myself like to go to. I mean, I belong to a large nation and despite being an avid traveller; there are still many regions that I have not explored as yet. Sending other people to these venues makes me feel that I have made a contribution of some sort-towards making a trudge to those locations at some point in the future, perhaps.

After promoting my motherland as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for more than two decades, my confidence has recently taken a beating. And that is because many townships are no longer called what they used to be, and are undergoing a drastic name change. Just when I had got used to the first batch of the new nomenclature like Bombay Mumbai, Calcutta Kolkata, Cochin Kochi and Bangalore Bengaluru, which were mostly a phonetic switch, there came another rush of unfamiliar naming. And this time there was whiff of a political motive behind it, as history was raked up to rediscover long lost connections, simply to satisfy a section of the electorate just before elections. 

Allahabad, the judicial capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is now christened Prayagraj. The ancient name of the city is Prayag (Sanskrit for “place of sacrifice”), as it is believed to be the spot where Lord Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world. It is also known as Triveni Sangam because of the confluence of three rivers, the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. The popular belief is that when Mughal emperor Akbar visited the region in 1574 to quell a rebellion, he changed the city’s name from the erstwhile Prayag to Illahabad (the abode of the Gods), which then got anglicised by the British to Allahabad.

The Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, says of the site (the exact spot where the three rivers meet): “People who bathe there go to heaven. People who die there are liberated from the cycle of birth. People who live there are guarded by the gods.” It also hosts the world’s largest pilgrimage, the Kumbh Mela, every 12 years, where many families get separated from their loved ones, if Indian Bollywood movies are to be believed.

There are countless films where the script has two brothers getting lost in the melee of the Kumbh Mela during their childhood, who end up being raised by surrogate families — one turning out to be a judicious cop while the other becomes a robber. They grow up not knowing their bloodline and become sworn enemies, only to discover a common tattoo, piece of a broken pendent or a faded baby picture, that brings about the reconciliation, generally towards the finale of the show.

Personally, I never got a chance to visit Prayagraj, even in its old avatar of Allahabad. But like I mentioned earlier, I sent a lot of visitors there on my behalf, every few years or so.

“I’m going to India in February,” a posh lady told me in Mauritius recently.

“Visit Allahabad, sorry, Prayagraj,” I recommended.

“The place where Kumbh Mela is held?” she questioned.

“I want my three sons to see authentic Indian culture,” she gushed.

“O dear!” I exclaimed.

“Any precautions I should take?” she asked.

“Get their names tattooed on their wrists,” I advocated.

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