In many parts of the world airports are named in honour of political figures. New York has the John F. Kennedy International Airport, Paris has Charles de Gaulle, Istanbul has Ataturk and Ulan Bator’s airport has been named after Genghis Khan! In India, we have airports named after Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Many believe it’s important to remember political leaders, revolutionaries and war heroes, but many times in these areas, one person’s hero is another person’s villain. Try arguing with a conservative Briton about the legacy of Winston Churchill and see how far you can go! Of course, no airport in the UK has been renamed after the man who many in the country believe was their greatest statesman of all time, despite his well-known role in starving millions in Bengal.
When regimes change in countries, airports are also victims of ideologies. The airport servicing Pretoria and Johannesburg was originally named after Jan Smuts (the same person who dealt with Mahatma Gandhi a century ago), but a post-apartheid government renamed it after Oliver Tambo, a former president of the African National Congress.
A great way to promote the culture of a place is to name an airport in honour of a cultural figure. In Russia, airports were originally named after the place they were located in. Moscow’s main airports, Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo are all named after the towns they were located in. All three are quite far from the city centre. But in May 2019, 44 airports in the country were given the names of writers, poets, singers, engineers and some historical political figures.
The names were mainly chosen on the basis by a public poll that was conducted by government-connected bodies. Moscow’s largest airport now has the name of its greatest poet. It’s called the Sheremetyevo Airport Named for Alexander Pushkin. Domodedovo airport has the name of Mikhail Lomonosov, the 18th century polymath who founded the Moscow State University.
The airport in Kazan, the capital of the Russian internal republic of Tatarstan, was named after classic local writer Gabdulla Tuqai. In far off Sakhalin Island, which is eight time zones away from Moscow, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk airport now bears the name of Anton Chekhov. The playwright and short-story writer visited the island in the late 19th century and wrote his most well-known non-fiction work ‘Sakhalin Island’ after that visit. Although pollsters voted for Fyodor Dostoyevskiy when it came to the St. Petersburg airport, the Russian government chose to not add any name to the airport in the country’s cultural capital. This is obviously disappointing for many of the writer’s fans in Kerala and abroad. Other airports in Russia have been named after singers and engineers. The airport in Samara gets the name of Sergey Korolev, the spacecraft designer who helped launch the first man into space.
Given the fact that historical political figures have their fair share of baggage, Kerala should name its airports in honour of the state’s cultural and literary figures. This would be one of the best ways to highlight the culture and traditions of the state to visitors. While Pushkin may be a household name in many parts of the world, M T Vasudevan Nair, O V Vijayan and Vaikkom Mohammed aren’t as well known to non-Malayalis as they should be. The same goes for cultural figures such as musicians from the state. The Warsaw Airport is named after classical music composer Frederic Chopin, while the Liverpool Airport has the name of John Lennon.
A non-politicized poll should be taken in the state and online, so that those people connected with Kerala could vote. The list could also include people who created a great social and economic impact on India such as Dr Verghese Kurien or E Sreedharan. Kerala loves to celebrate its heroes, so such a poll is unlikely to create the kind of hostility that elections are infamous for. Polls can also be conducted for naming airports that are coming up in Kerala. This way, the state’s airports won’t be tied to any figure from any political party.
The Cochin International Airport does promote Kerala well. Its very design showcases Kerala architecture and there is a beautiful set of Kathakali figures that visitors access after they check in for their flight. Renaming the airports or at least adding the name of a literary, cultural or other non-political prominent figure from Kerala would create a much greater national and global awareness of the state’s heroes.