April 09, 2017

Of Nameplates and Neighbourhoods

Name Plate

Dr. M. A. Misquita’s Family’

The nameplate bearing the name of the doctor is set in the wall, held firm by four iron clamps that betray their age, that of the nameplate, and of the house.

The neighbourhood is even older, among the oldest in the city.

The use of ‘family’ leaves no doubt that Dr. Misquita intended for succeeding generations to share the same roof, through thick and thin, in turn contributing to the neighbourhood retaining its cultural identity.  

Two more nameplates hang from the wall.

Dr. Apolinario Fernandes

Dr. Lawrence Fernandes

They’re both new relative to the one bearing Dr. Misquita’s name and hang from nails and can be easily lifted off the wall unlike the older nameplate that’s held fast by metal clamps.

While all three are doctors, the latter two include their professional qualifications (M.B.B.S) while the former doesn’t, likely indicating a medical degree of an earlier provenance, maybe from before independence.

Since medical profession seems to run in the family, I wonder if succeeding generations from the Misquita family will in turn affix newer nameplates, designed after practices of their time, each occupying a pride of place amidst those from before.

The difference in the design of the name plates, their wall fixings, the noting (and the lack) of medical qualifications attest to changes in practices over the years just as the renovations to old houses in old neighbourhoods sit uncomfortably with the older layers and constructs.

Like layers of earth exposed during archaeological digs, each succeeding layer revealing an earlier era, so do neighbourhoods in transition, where continuous habitation of homes by succeeding generations ensures that time trails off slowly, the passing of each moment frozen in elements surviving from an earlier time, of an earlier people, of an earlier way of life.

When Bombay loses its old neighbourhoods as it certainly will, replaced by high rises with entrances turned away from the street, walking through neighbourhoods will be no different from walking among nameless, indistinguishable boxes with little of no indication of the lives within, for, in the tell tale signs visible from the street, neighbourhoods talk to passers-by, welcoming them with signs of habitation that attest to identities by way of nameplates among others.

Without nameplates and doors facing streets, neighbourhoods are poorer on their identity.