Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bombay Ducks

I'm happy that Sujata Anandan in yesterday's Hindustan Times wrote a spirited attack on the two-faced people who think they are de-colonising our city by making it impossible to use the name "Bombay".

I don't know the long-term plans of Bombay Dyeing, but at present their shop on Colaba Causeway, which I pass every day, has the "Bombay" covered up and I find it really painful to see that. If industrialists are being cowardly about freedom of speech, they deserve to be labelled "Bombay Ducks".

And while Bombay ducks, I plan to stand up for my freedom of speech. 13 years ago I took the conscious decision to use the name "Mumbai" as often as possible. I believed that the Marathi speaking population of this city sincerely felt hurt and left out, and I wanted to display some sensitivity towards them. This was in sharp contrast to many of my friends and relatives who seemed to find the name "Mumbai" - and everything else Marathi - somewhat ridiculous. I didn't agree with them, and I still don't.

But as of today, my original decision stands undone. I'm not saying I will consciously use "Bombay" to upset anyone (that would be childish), but I'll use it whenever I feel like, as an exercise of my freedom of speech.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Chennai provides an interesting contrast: though it sounds nothing whatever like Madras, the English-speaking classes seem to have taken to it very readily. Meanwhile, I often continue to hear "Madras" from Tamil-speakers.

I suppose one historical difference is that this place was anti-Hindi but never anti-English (indeed, the leaders of the 1950s embraced English as an alternative to Hindi); and one present-day difference is that the speakers of the native language don't feel marginalised, as they do in Mumbai and (these days) in Bengaluru.

An interesting story I heard: back when the Karunanidhi government changed "Madras" to "Chennai" in the late 1990s, a prominent educational institution here changed its name from "Madras - -" to "Chennai - -". This met with protests from all quarters -- the institution has a history and heritage, how can you summarily change its name, etc. So the institution heads took a representation to Karunanidhi asking him for permission to change the name back. He responded, "Why are you asking my permission? I never asked you to change your name in the first place..."

Anant said...

I have heard, and correct me if I am wrong, but Chennapatna was originally the Telugu name. I think it has less to do with being an English speaker, but more to do with nostalgia. I lived in Madras 1980-85, and it is hard for an old fogie like me to change now?!

More seriously, I think tolerance is very important. First of all, we cannot obliterate our history. The names of towns and cities may have come down from British times. But are we so unsure of ourselves that we need to purge everything of that history? Is it not better to have statues of Queen Victoria, Empress of India, and have pigeons doing their business on their heads? How does changing names really help? Do I respect Marathi less because I say `Bombay'? I don't think so.

It is different if someone explicitly says that (s)he finds something offensive and if I stay stubborn and continue to offend (her)him.

There is a fine line between tolerance and hegemony of political correctness or bullying by `majority' community, as the case may be. Enough said.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anant - Chennapatnam was supposedly the original Tamil name (maybe from Telugu earlier), but more to the point, Chennai has always (since I can remember) been the official name in Tamil. Much like India/Bharat. I think that was an excellent system -- nobody forces us to say Wien, Muenchen, Venezia, Firenze etc in English, so why not stick to the well-known names in English for our cities too? But it is probably too late to undo now.

But changing the name of the city is one thing, forcing every use of the old name to change is another. Targetting Bombay Dyeing is absurd and obnoxious.

I can't really see people targetting things called Madras over here, nor do I expect University of Madras, Madras Club, Madras Medical Mission etc to change their names (or be asked to). I think the renaming was more some politically motivated pseudo-Tamil-pride thing than any anti-outsider sentiment, and there are plenty of colonial names still around in the city with no demands to change them. But perhaps I speak too soon. If Tamil starts becoming a minority language here, such sentiments will probably crop up.

Sunil Mukhi said...

I can now report that the "Bombay" part of the Bombay Dyeing sign on Colaba Causeway has emerged from its "purdah".

It's amusing how the (Congress) state government has responded to the current "attack Bombay" campaign. At first I seem to remember the Deputy CM making approving noises. But later he became more courageous and attacked Uddhav Thackeray thus: "did he not notice the word "Bombay" on his son's school leaving certificate?". (evidently UT's son went to Bombay Scottish, one of the Shiv Sena's current targets).

Not content with that, the Deputy CM also made fun of the Shiv Sena's recent plans to introduce "Shivaji" brand vada-paav. "Will they serve Sambhaji Bhaji with that?" he asked caustically, adding that his party would not allow this kind of insult to the names of Shivaji and his family!

Goes to show that two can play at a game...

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I didn't know of the Shivaji brand vada-pav (though I did read of their plan to compete with McDonalds). If anyone else had done that the Shiv Sena would have been the first to burn the place down.

I always wondered, why must absolutely everything in Mumbai/Maharashtra be named after Chhatrapati Shivaji? Do they think the state has produced no other great people?

Sunil Mukhi said...

Evidently for Maharashtrians the name of Shivaji symbolises bravery, militance, aggression. There are of course many other eminent Maharashtrians but then they are usually social reformers, writers, thinkers, musicians. That makes them way too "soft" to have the desired symbolism.

I particularly feel that Bombay's airport should have been named after the man who started the first airline in India and also physically flew the first passenger plane to India, namely J.R.D. Tata.

Rahul Basu said...

To take a slightly contrary view, I think this post is in danger of mildly turning into a Ghati-bashing post. I say mildly because I am sure Sunil has no intention for it to be so, and is genuinely irritated with the Shiv Sena goons as we all are. But I doubt seriously the extent of their following except in certain pockets.

Also before we all Chennai-ites (or is it Chennaivashi) start patting ourselves on the back about our tolerance, it is good to remember that the influx of 'foreigners' in Chennai is the lowest amongst the major cities of India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, even Kolkata) and I would like to see how the local people here react if someday, as Rahul S points out, Tamil becomes a minority language. I suspect not very differently and from what I have seen of Tamil chauvinism here, much worse. Incidentally, even the great intellectuals of Kolkata are not immune to this - some time back Sunil Gangopadhyay one of Bengal's best writers launched a blistering attack on the Marwaris and how they were ruining Bengali 'Kalchar' and how 'foreigner' entry into Kolkata should be restricted (sounds familiar?).

One of the things I have noticed (and I have been somewhat sensitised to this given my background which you all know), is that there is frequently a tendency of the non Maharashtrians in Mumbai to speak slightingly of Marathi culture, language, entrepreneurship which naturally irritates the 'locals'.

That obviously does not justify virtually anything that the Shiv Sena does, but it does create a space for such extremism over time.
Additionally, in the way Europeans feels threatened by immigrants, (Turks in Germany, North Africans in France, though I wouldn't push this analogy too far) because people feel their jobs and hence their livelihood is threatened, I am sure the locals too feel that they are under attack. After all even the Tibetans feel threatened by the influx of Han Chinese as we have all discussed in our blogs. And, this is the point to remember, no other city in India I can think of, has this level of immigration inwards.

So, in summary while I am as disgusted as Sunil by the actions and words of the Shiv Sena and have always been, I would call for slightly more appreciation for the Maharashtrian point of view. And ask Sunil to not stop calling it Mumbai.

(Aside: About businesses caving in to such pressure tactics, this is well known. In a much worse scenario, some of our biggest business barons including I think the FICCI chairman went in a group to apologise to Narendra Modi because some of them had earlier been critical of the Government's role in the Gujarat riots in 2002).

Ravi said...

Madras is always Madras, no matter whoever changes it or calls it otherwise.

Changes are so much irritating and make life more difficult . I always say Madras as I'm used to from childhood but people around me frown as I've uttered some obscene word.

Well, If you don't like british names or anything done by british then, why do you still celebrate Jan 1st as New year? We have seperate Tamil New Year right? Why don't you destroy the high courts, railway tracks constructed by british & reconstruct from the start? Sounds stupid right... Same way, It sounds stupid to change from Madras to Chennai when both co-existed without any problem. Now , only Chennai exists . where's my magnificent Madras? My DOB Certificate lists it as Madras. A'm I born in a city which does not exist? These changes promote regionalism & not nationalism… which will ultimately result in a separate Country ThamizlNadu(Once known as the State of Madras).

Don't know where will it End?

Sukratu said...

A few months ago, I was strolling across the Fort in Bombay and came across "Gunbow street". That reminded me that there was a strong agitation to rename it. The history of that name actually turns out to be interesting in that context. During a boycott of British goods before '47, a person by the name Ganoo Bhaaoo while participating in the satyagraha (M.K.Gandhi's well known form of protest) was unfortunately run over
by a motor lorry. The street was named after him. The name "Gunbow" happens to be actually only an English corruption of "Ganoo Bhaaoo".

Who knows, even "Bombay" could actually have an educating history!