Wednesday, February 10, 2016

‘To be Londinium and not to be London’

Dear Mr Rajan,

I read about your decision to address my city with its colonial name in your newspaper, though our government reverted back to its earlier one some years back. As a Mumbaikar, I thought I could express my view, which you, an Indian-born British person, at least owe me, to read.

So firstly, the name of Bombay was changed back to Mumbai, not because of any Hindu nationalism, though the political party which did it is mostly known for this. It was done because Bombay was a colonial name. As is Calcutta, as is Madras and Trivandrum. All these names as you know, were changed back to Indian ones. I didn’t listen to the BBC interview, only read about your views in agency reports, which don’t mention your ‘cosmopolitan’ views about these other cities. If you want to side with ‘the tradition of India that’s been open to the world…’ are these cities an exception to that tradition? Or is it that only Mumbai bothers you?

Also, if the name ‘Bombay’ so epitomises this tradition or the ‘open, secular, pluralist and tolerant’ tradition, let me just reiterate the fact that it comes from the anglicised version of the Portuguese name Bom Bahia. Why not go for that? Why not go to an even older name? Heptanesia? Why insist on a name given by the British? Doesn’t this reek of a colonial attitude? Of the closed mind of someone who could be termed Macaulay’s child?

Obviously, Bombay bothered many of us, and so the name was changed, as were the names of the other cities mentioned. But why are you bothered about the name of a city that many of us, Marathi and others, agree with? After all, it’s only the city you land in a few times, probably when you arrive to meet your cousins from this developing country. Too bad Pune escaped an anglicised name. Oh! May be you could revert to its British spelling: Poona.  

Better, why don’t you refer to London as Londinium? Apparently it was also a major commercial centre then. It must also have been cosmopolitan then. Isn’t your mind open enough to accept Roman names? But that’s a colonial name for your city. Think about it. 

These are my personal views, not of the newspaper that I work for.