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Today, yet another piece of Colombo’s urban history is being erased by the philistines running this old town. ”Ketawalamulla Lane” is being re-christened “Sarath Fonseka Lane (?)”. Although I have no idea as to what ‘ketawala’ flourished in this ‘mulla’, I am saddened at this erasure of an old name harking back, perhaps, to our city’s botanic history – in an attempt to curry favor with VIPs of fleeting fame. Not far from here was “Paranawadiya Road” where, in olden times, bullock carts and their carters used as their caravanserai when bringing their loads to the harbor. It is now “Ananda Mawata’ named after a school that is big enough not to need this dubious ‘honor’.

I have written earlier of the replacement of the name “Thimbirigasyaya Road” which recalled the huge ‘thimbiri’ trees that stood on the tank bund overlooking an ancient ‘yaya’ of paddy fields. It is now called after a trade unionist/cleric who, obviously, sees no harm in ‘his’ road hosting four liquor shops and a butchery (meat shop). Round the corner was “Kirula Road” [probably named after the ‘kirala’ bird that haunted the marshy shallows here). It is now renamed “Bernard Soysa Mawata” – after a deceased politician who, in his lifetime, disdained such accolades. Down this road is the Survey Department which never raised a whimper of protest when “Baseline Road”, commemorating the base of Ceylon’s first trignometrical survey was chopped up, semantically, into three sections with forgettable names.

The Dutch occupation left us with Wolfendahl [vale of jackals], Bloemendahl [flower valley] romantic reminders of the wilderness that surrounded Colombo of centuries ago. Former “Reclamation Road” was named after an early harbor development project. “Shoe” and “Silversmith” Streets were named after the artisan ‘colonies’ that once flourished there. Not a trace remains of their origins. I sniff the danger that “Jawatta”, where Malays settled long ago and buried their dead, may lose its name unless that endangered minority fights to retain its contribution to Colombo’s urban history.

If the powers-that-be desire to ‘honor’ their favorite sons, I suggest they rename the streets that yet flaunt the names of old Brits – Horton, Barnes, Maitland, Torrington, Stanmore, etc. Their contribution, if any, to Colombo’s history is dubious.
Tissa Devendra