The Town of Boiled Beans

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Bombay has changed to Mumbai. Madras to Chennai. Calcutta to the much less evocative Kolkata. Now, it looks like Bangalore is jumping on the renaming bandwagon. It intends to change its name to Bengaluru, which means “the town of boiled beans” in the local Kannada language.

Is this really necessary?

When a friend sent me the headlines for this story, I thought surely it was a joke concocted by the editors of The Onion. I have no problem with people wanting to get back to their roots, but this whole renaming trend in India comes at a big financial (changing street signs, maps, and tourist materials) – as well as an emotional – cost. Imagine changing New York’s name back to New Amsterdam…

I think Rohinton Mistry summed it up best in a dialogue featured in his novel Such a Long Journey. In this dialogue, two characters are discussing the renaming of Bombay streets and landmarks:

Gustad: Why worry about it? I say, if it keeps the Marathas happy, give them a few roads to rename. Keep them occupied. What?s in a name?

Dinshawji: ‘No, Gustad.’ Dinshawji was very serious. ‘You are wrong. Names are so important. I grew up on Lamington Road. But it has disappeared, in its place is Dadasaheb Bhadkhamkar Marg. My school was on Carnac Road. Now suddenly it?s on Lokmanya Tilak Marg. I live at Sleater Road. Soon that will also disappear. My whole life I have come to work at Flora Fountain. And one fine day the name changes. So what happens to the life I have lived? Was I living the wrong life, with all the wrong names? Will I get a second chance to live it all again, with these new names?…’

I arrived in Bombay some 10 years after the city was officially renamed Mumbai. The name Mumbai is now recognized by governments and mapmakers. But most of the people I know – and most of the weather forecasts I watch – rarely call the city by this new Marathi name. News reports will be based from here, always with the disclaimer “Mumbai, ‘originally known’ or ‘formerly known’ as Bombay.” What a waste of newsprint!

At any rate, from now on, I’m dedicated to calling this town Bombay – and Bombay only. The madness has got to stop somewhere.