Place Names on the Subcontinent — The Colonial Legacy

by Ajai Banerjee

In the years since independence, our governments have tried to erase signs of the colonial legacy. One standard device has been renaming 'foreign' place names, which has had mixed success. For instance, Bombay's Flora Fountain has been renamed (to Hutatma Chowk?), but if you ask any cabbie to go to Hutatma Chowk he may not know the place. He will be glad to take you to Flora Fountain.

This article primarily deals with the railways of the subcontinent. Out of deference to our Pakistani brothers, I will take up their country first.

Many cities in Pakistan with Western names have been renamed. The large city of Lyallpur has vanished but cricket fans know it better as Faisalabad. Other cities/railway stations which have been renamed include:

Campbellpur Attock City
Montgomery ?
Fort Sandeman Zhob

Possibly the only important city in Pakistan which still has a Western name is Jacobabad.

There used to be a station called Hindubagh near Fort Sandeman. It has been renamed to -- you guessed it -- Muslimbagh.

In Bangladesh, the only city with a Western name appears to be Cox's Bazar.

Coming back to India, there are not many sizable places which still have Western names (Leave aside stations like Victoria Terminus). Possibly the biggest city with a Western name is Daltonganj in Bihar.

There are many small stations which still have Western names. For instance, if you travel by the Amritsar-Tatanagar express, you will pass through Robertsganj, Wyndhamganj, Daltonganj and Mc Cluskieganj.

Many of these places are named after people who are forgotten completely. A few exceptions are Sleemanabad Road near Katni which is named after Major Sleeman who wiped out the Thugs. Clutterbuckganj near Bareilly is named after General Clutterbuck (who did something in the 1857 war) There are, however, some interesting stories behind these names.

There is a station called Margherita near Tinsukia, Assam. The name comes from the days of this line's construction which was supervised by Italian engineers in the 1880s. They named this place after the then queen of Italy.

Mc Cluskieganj, in a remote part of Bihar, was started by an Anglo-Indian of that name around the time of independence. His idea was to start a separate colony for Anglo-Indians who could live off the land (since it would no longer be easy for them to get jobs in independent India). However, this colony never prospered.

Some of these erstwhile Western names have been changed to make them more easily pronounceable:

Wolseleyganj Waris Aliganj
Mc Donald's Choultry Magudan Chavadi
Palmer Palmar

Some years ago, the list of stations on the Nilgiri railway read: Mettupalayam, Kallar, Adderley, Hillgrove, Runneymede, Kateri Road, Coonoor, Wellington,Aravankadu,Ketti, Lovedale, Ootacamund. Now Ootacamund has become Udhagamandalam. Kallar, Adderley, Runneymede and Kateri road are closed. For some odd reason Hillgrove has become Hillgroove.