Recalled: A wayfarer’s wisdom

Recalled: A wayfarer’s wisdom

This trend of naming streets and localities after celebrities is not exclusive to us Indians

This trend of naming streets and localities after celebrities is not exclusive to us Indians, however.

I am presently pursuing the path of Aravinda Maarg. I step aside on the pavement and jot down these words in a palm-sized notepad I carry with me always, lest the fleeting topic should fade away from the mind.

Hobbling across the walkway, past the din and dust of the traffic on road, and jostling through crowds, I see the city civic authority’s signboard declaring that stretch of road is named Maharshi Aravinda Maarg. I am fascinated by the Maharshi’s process of Integral yoga for realising divine consciousness through things material and worldly.

Raised in England since his age of seven years, and wholly brought up and educated in the West’s culture and traditions, how Aurobindo evolved eventually into India’s freedom fighter, and then a fierce nationalist, poet, guru and yogi, is legendary. I am vainglorious enough to profess to myself that I’m a follower of the transcendental mysticism of the maharshi.

It’s just like traversing the road between Halasuru and NGEF gate on Old Madras Road, named Swami Vivekananda Road. Nearing Ramakrishna Mutt to the left of the road, the imposing icon of the swamiji sitting in his meditative mode comes into full view. Is there anyone in this country who isn’t thrilled at the very mention of Swami Vivekananda? None! The inspiring life and works of the brave ascetic are the stuff and substance of many legends and lore over these 100 years and more. The onlooker’s mind visualises swamiji’s immense patriotism, pervasive humanism, spell-binding athletic presence — strong, sturdy and brave. Blessed is the mind that catches such fleeting memories of those exalted souls.

So, it is well worth the act of naming roads and residential extensions after poets, philosophers, statesmen, scholars, saints and savants. There are many such celebrity stretches in towns and cities: Raja Ram Mohan Roy Marg, Dinshaw Vacha Road, Chittaranjan Das Avenue, Pherozeshah Mehta Road in Mumbai.

This trend of naming streets and localities after celebrities is not exclusive to us Indians, however. Travelling by road across swathes of rolling landscape during my visits to America, I’d witness highways named after Christopher Columbus and George Washington in many states. There are avenues commemorating the names of Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln. Part of a posh residential district in the city of Los Angeles bears the name of Luther Burbank, the famed horticulturist who evolved hundreds of improved strains of fruit, flowers and vegetables by cross-breeding.

Speeding across Lafayette in Louisiana State, I had espied roads taking the names of Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire and even Walden, a literary work of Henry David Thoreau! The town Lafayette is itself named after a French soldier, Marie Joseph Lafayette, who fought against the British in the American War of Independence. And the state of Louisiana seeks to cherish the name of Louis XIV, the 17th- 18th century king of France.

I am, however, disappointed at not seeing the name Ralph Waldo Emerson on road posts anywhere I go.

I would have certainly come across one if I had visited Boston, perhaps. But is it just to regard America’s guru who taught the young nation his mantra of self-reliance as merely one among the Boston Brahmins?

It is good, anyway, that wayfarers plodding their weary ways are made to remember, howsoever transiently it may be, great men and women in matters worldly and non-worldly. It is like:

Greatness sheds the light of its spark

On whoever goes nigh the Arc.

— as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet sang.

Professor A N Murthy Rao, the famous centenarian academic and writer, recounts in his autobiography an interesting incident he had heard about King Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the celebrated reformist and enlightened ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. He was once travelling by car in the company of his dewan. Driving across the city’s arterial main road named Krishnarajendra Road, the king could not help observing that the road was in a bad shape, needing urgent repair.

“Why do they call this stretch of road by my name, I wonder,” asked the monarch, in his mildly matter-of-fact tone, without for once losing his kingly composure of the mind, and soon after changed the subject of his conversation. His words had a telling effect. The wise dewan didn’t miss the message behind his king’s subtle hint. Work for the upkeep of the road was observed to have been promptly taken up the very next day. What would celebrities say if they were to see the state of affairs in certain suburban extensions, parks, play grounds, avenues and roads named after them?

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