Something about the name brought out the schoolboy in all three of us and the holiday was rife with jokes. Was the name-change proposed by a local Bong? If not, why on earth would IT-rich, culturally proud, ’Digas [Kannadigas] want ‘Bengal’ included in the name of their capital city? The second half, ‘luru’, with a couple of letters added or changed, led to all sorts of dormitory-humour, wisecracks unreproducable in a family newspaper such as this, except it suffices to say that the tweaked ‘luru’ could play one way in the Hindi we all spoke, and another in the Bangla with which we were all familiar.
On the flight back, a slightly more serious vein of thought asserted itself. I remember clearly how angry I became when Bombay was officially renamed Mumbai a decade ago, and again, when the same thing happened soon after to Madras and then, finally, to Calcutta. Usually this anger remains contained to a note I add when writing for newspapers and magazines unfamiliar with my preferences, a note which requests everyone to kindly leave alone the city names I use, such as Calcutta, Bombay or Madras. But now, with the imminent adding of Bangalore to this list, the whole issue rekindles itself for me and it’s about far more than just names.
Hm, I think I know the word he's thinking of in Hindi, though not Bangla.
Along the way, Joshi makes some great points about how place-names function in India, across a wide spectrum of languages:
While I am all for changing ‘Road’, ‘Street’ and ‘Avenue’ to Sarani, Marg and Vithi, happy with the exchange of Lansdowne for Sarat Bose and chortlingly happy with the kicking out of Harrington in favour of Ho Chi Minh and the cancelling of Camac to install Shakespeare, (or even ‘Sex Pyaar’ as one signboard notably proclaimed), to my mind the same principle does not apply to city names.
This is because, a city, like a country, is a much larger, a much more complex construct than a lane or a plaza. There is a reason why most people reading this column probably did not pause to think twice about my use of 'India' and 'Indian' in the previous paragraph but one: 'India', much more than 'Hindustan', 'Bharat', or 'Bharatam', is the name that is now truly representative of the country we live in; it is the one agreed name that diverse people from all over the country use regularly and without quarrel, and, since the spread of cricket and television, it is a name that is now freely used across city, small town and even village; also, not unimportantly, now that we see ourselves as deeply connected to the world, it is the name by which the international community knows us and recognizes us.
Similarly, what a ‘Calcutta’ or a ‘Bombay’ signifies is a typically subtle Indian way of eating your cake and having it too. What the old names say, which Mumbai and Kolkata don’t, is: ‘yes, we come from a colonial history, but also, yes, we have overcome that colonial past and are confident enough to keep whatever is useful from that past, whether it be the English language, our railway network, or, indeed, the names of two of our most famous cities. Just as the name India provides a nomenclatural umbrella to awesome diversity, so do the names of these urban leviathans provide each a name-shelter under which all who have contributed to that living city can live and continue to work.’
(First thought: "Sex Pyaar"? Too good.)
Second thought: Yes, exactly, exactly. And there are other good points; go read the whole thing.
Incidentally, if you haven't already, you should check out Sepia Mutiny's parody of the name change here, though commenter Raghu offers a defense of "Bengaluru" that is also worth considering as a counter-point:
Those of us who are objecting probably also need to examine why we're so distressed about the change. After all, law does not change names, it just changes spelling. Theres a sentiment that stirs beneath our rational, political arguments about the adequacy of the status quo and the dangers of linguistic nationalism and tubthumping - its our anxiety at the fact that our precarious culture, not fully Western but certainly not fully Kannadiga, just got pushed onto its back foot. Taking the names entirely on their own accoustic merits, Bengaluru is so soft and mellifluous, but Bangalore shakes off those drooping vowels and is crisper, more anglicized - it sounds like the city we want it to become for our comfort - and that's our linguistic chauvinism.