What’s in a name?

February 25, 2012

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Right around the time that Islamabad started coming into existence, the story is that the development process was class biased. The sectors that were meant for those more favoured by lady luck-- the F-6 and the F-7-- were developed quickly, while the rest became a lower priority.

Thus, sector F-8 was one of the later developments of Islamabad and as Abrar Rizvi, a well seasoned Islooite relates, in those early years, when he and a friend decided to go out for a ride on a quiet moonlit night and reached the wild, untouched area of F-8, he found himself staring into the eyes of hundreds of jackals. The friend and Rizvi turned around right there and ran for their lives.

And on the basis of this abundance of jackals that the area meant to become the current F-8 hosted, it was given the quirky name of Giddar Ghota. Over time the sector was built up and the wild nature inhabiting it cleared off. Infrastructure developed, buildings emerged and the Markaz (center) came into being.

For some time, the Markaz was given the name of Ayub Market in respect of Ayub Khan but that name never picked up. Finally in the 80s, the courts and police offices were moved there and it became kutchery. However with kutchery already taken for the Rawalpindi courts, the F-8 Markaz remained just that and still goes by its uncreative name of ‘F-8 Markaz’.

Behind all the names that have become an unthinking part of our lives ranging from the Blue Area to Jinnah Super is a history as complex as the histories of the people who adopted these names. The stories of how these names evolved capture how Islamabad grew and took the shape it has today.

Take the F-6 Markaz commonly known as Super Market. This was a name given and popularized by the local traders, “but then the F-7Markaz came into existence, and its traders said we are better than the F-6 Markaz and chose the name Jinnah Super,” narrated Rizvi sahib.

F-6, F-7, and later F-8 emerged as the more posh areas of Islamabad. They took the clean names of Super and Jinnah Super with Jinnah Avenue passing through and Blue area providing the commercial area.

But as one moves away from these neat sectors, the much more interesting messiness of the sectors treated as lesser emerges. In the G-sectors for example, Khadda market (for the current auto market which was previously a wholesale bazaar located in a lower area, or a khadda), the Shoppers colony (now the Allama Iqbal colony) and the Laal Quarters (quarters for lower level government employees named after their red color) have taken root in common usage.

Here, name chemistries are more complex than one might expect. Take the Karachi Company in G-9. One would wonder why an area in Islamabad had been given the displaced name of Karachi Company but common knowledge narrates that this name goes back to the time when the area was under construction.

The company working on the construction was from Karachi so the laborers working at the area asked wagon walas to drop them at the ‘Karachi Company’ and from then on this became its identifier.

Common knowledge also relates a legend behind the name ‘Aabpara’ that used to be Bagh Bhattan previously. Aabpara, one of the earliest markets and central features of Islamabad-- now demoted to the market for those who cannot afford Jinnah Super-- derives its name from the name of a girl. Some say she was the first girl born in the area while some narrate that she was a Bengali girl who lived there. But it was her name that was given to the place and continues to this day.

‘Peshawar Mor’, used to be at the helm of a road leading to Peshawar since not much existed after it during the early times of Islamabad’s existence. Once again, in common man and public transport people’s common usage, the name PeshawarMor emerged and stuck.

For these less posh areas, names of local influential places or nearby landmarks are adopted. ‘France colony’ used to have the French Embassy close to it so got named accordingly while ‘Hansa Colony’ was named after a Christian Chaudhry.

‘Faisal colony’ got the legacy of a young boy named Faisal who died there and some credit J. Salik, a former federal minister and convener of the World Minorities Alliance, for giving the colony the name ‘Faisal colony’ after this boy.

While many of the people assigned names have interesting stories behind them, many are straight out government assigned. Names of roads and prominent areas were assigned in the Master plan of the city that was made by Doxiadis Associates.

Iqbal Shaheen, a retired, ex-CDA employee who saw the city grow and develop in his career relates that initially a committee for the naming of roads and streets and sectors of Islamabad was established and many of the names were assigned on the suggestions of the people within the committee.

This is where the names of Ramna, Shalimar and Mehran were given. Ramna, referring to the areas that fall under the G series refers to a sub-district in Bangladesh. This name was given at the time East Pakistan was still a part of Pakistan and meant to acknowledge its importance to West Pakistan.

Similarly, Shalimar, which refers to the F-series gives due respect to Lahore by invoking the Shalimar gardens and similar importance has been ascribed to Mehran invoking Sindh and Indus river.

Some of the names are no-brainers. Constitution Avenue or Shahrah-e-Dastoor hosts many of the most important state institutions and is therefore named accordingly. But others are more interesting. Take Blue Area and Muave area. People who saw the master plan development of Islamabad unfold relate that at in a large sized version of Islamabads Master Plan that was made by its architects, different areas were colour coded by different colors.

“For the area assigned for public offices, courts and other such buildings, the colour was mauve and for the area that was going to be a centre and host the commercial buildings around Jinnah Avenue, the colour was blue. Thus emerged the names Mauve Area and Blue Area,” explained Iqbal sahib.

In fact, there was even a green area in the initial plan. Iqbal sahib added, “the area around Shakarparian which could be recognized by the greenery around it, was accordingly coloured green and got the name Green area.” However, it seems that this is another name that has disappeared over time along with the greenery in the area.

“Names come into existence, there isn’t really a logic behind them,” asserted Iqbal sahib at the end of the conversation with him. “Look at what they have done to the Master Plan, it does not have any resemblance to the way it was meant to be anymore,” was his bitter conclusion.

But naming things is one way that people adopt and own an unfamiliar area, and Islamabads complex name history shows that it has been plenty owned.