My Bombay and Your Mumbai

London, for me, will always be close to heart. Not the name; the place. I lived for a short while there, and that city swept me off my feet, because of what it is. Not because what it is called.

I have the same emotion for New York, though I have never stayed there long enough, unfortunately.

Needless to say, my home and my heart is in Mumbai. Though, I could easily have my home and my heart in London or in New York.

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I must have been in school, I think, when Peking became Beijing. I still have to make a conscious effort to refer to my neighbouring country as Myanmar, rather than Burma. But I do. In the same way that I have eradicated the word “hate” from my vocabulary. I do use dislike. Once in a while, the habit wins.

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I am not originally from Mumbai. My formative years however, were spent in Bombay. This became home a little before, and soon after I finished college (in Pune). For me, Bombay is natural. Mumbai is equally natural. I come from a family that is native to this state. Given that the significant years of my education were in a school where Hindi was given its due importance, Bambai, is equally natural. You see, I use all these three names for the city, given the context. So while, we can chest-beat till we are out of breath about the bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai, it means zilch.

8061: Visarjan Dance - 2

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My design guru (you know who are, Sam) once told me of design, as before-the-fact and after-the-fact. I see opportunistic mediocre photographers create expensive coffee table books for placard-bearers, of titles like “Bombay vs. Mumbai” and variants. Most folks I know cannot or will not (there is a difference) afford these books. Yet, they’ll spit-finger-turn-pages of these books in dying bookshops, walk-out without a purchase, and then have concerned conversations over expensive export-quality flavoured Vodkas in exclusive boutique bars wearing international fashion labels (or rip-offs) about how the changing of the name has depreciated the sense and the glory of the city. If and when I ever take a photos of such people, I’ll have a coffee table book of mine, titled, “The Irony of the Bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai That Actually Never Happened.”

The city, by itself, never changes. The people in the city do. And the rest of the people look at these people and think that the city has changed. That’s where, I think, you need to get a feel, a sense, a belonging to a city. Just liking it, on someone’s say so, is not passion. That’s borrowed euphoria; it’s transient. It is not a sense of belonging. And you either belong or you don’t belong. And that’s fine.

I’ve lived in this city when it was officially Bombay and I’ve lived in this city when it is (now) officially Mumbai. Nothing has gone wrong in this city. In fact, there’s more of Bombay in Mumbai than there was Bombay in Bombay, if we have to assign the assumed culturally distinct identities to names. (Notice, no one is talking about the city itself.) Assign the Bombayfication to general progress. Fair. But, there has been no regression.

Haji Ali - 2

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I owe it to you my dear reader, to give you a context of this post. The Independent, a newspaper in the UK, made an editorial decision. Henceforth, in all their publications, they will use Bombay instead of Mumbai. I must say this, I did check the date after I heard the podcast to see if it was the 1st of April. They do have good reasons though.500″ years of history, the editor said! Because, of course, that’s the extent of the history of this land. The city should choose one name, perhaps it would be easier on the readers of The Independent. They’d know where they are going. I mean, if they were boarding a flight to Bombay, and the air-hostess welcomed all of them to a flight to Mumbai, we would have a stampede, right? And of course if we choose Mumbai, we will just end up being a closed, ignorant, retarded, nationalist, rightist, fundamentalist, this-winger, that-winger, useless lot. That the Gateway of India is the Gateway of India, not of Bombay or Mumbai, is lost upon the editor. [Link] (Interestingly, the BBC interviewed the editor of The Independent. +1 @ BBC. Smart move!)

Suburban Sunrise - 1

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Why and how do cities change names? Why do we, in the Indian sub-continent, have places like Dalhousie, McLeod Ganj, Abbotabad, Jacobabad? Or, have, for example, New Amsterdam? One of my favourite three cities that I mentioned above, where my home and heart could be?

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Needless to say, there is vested political interest that The Independent has. And while I address you directly, my dear reader, when you see a mention of Hippokoura, in The Independent, let me assure you, (take my word, I’ve done research) they are talking of Kolhapur. That’s the name, 1890 years ago, for Kolhapur, given by the Ptolemy, in 126CE. History, right?

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But I care less about that. I feel sad about the lack of the sense of belonging that they are missing, as they set up this extravagant PR-oriented drama. They care less about the vibrancy, the energy, the enterprise, the chaos, the madness, and the order that this city is all about. In the same way that your city, my dear reader, has its own characteristics and a personality. And you sense it, feel it, live it. Would it be any different if it was called by any other name? Call my city whatever, it will never change its character. Unless the people in the city change theirs.

And those, who don’t go to boutique bars, don’t care about what you call our city. We are happy living our life, in our city, and we have three names for it.

All of them mean the same.

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7 thoughts on “My Bombay and Your Mumbai

  1. Nope, Atul, Bombay is it! Mumbai as it is now has lost its soul, its charm, its hold on me. I’m a Bombay boy, born & brought up here. Every visit out of town (forget abroad) and I realise we’re killing the golden goose, bit by bit. We’ve nothing left and we live on in apathy. Sad!

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      • Nope, but the name change signified a mind shift of those who rule it – the shallow, narrow claimants to its legacy. Urbs prima Indis? No way any longer! Sad, sad, sad… so much potential wasted away

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        • When you say “those who rule” it, I am assuming you are covering all of them 🙂 Because if I agree with you that the potential has been wasted away, everybody who ruled since 1995 has had a hand in it. However, I still maintain that the name-change itself has had nothing *actually* to do with it. Cities prosper and decay all the time. And place names have changed enough times. We have enough examples of that. Urbs prima Indis was never and will never be a permanent state. This is dynamic, for every country.

          In my mind, the sense of despair after the city’s name change is ‘kind of’ psychosomatic. As I mentioned in the post, our perspectives change, when we start to believe something. We then tend to see things differently; a confirmation bias creeps in.

          I don’t mean to dismiss your despair as wrong; you feel what you feel. I, however, do not participate in your views. For me, the *sense* of this city is the same. I love it as much, if not more. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I love it too, Atul, and thus the despair. Moreso when I compare it with a place like Delhi – which simply by its merit of being our capital – has it all compared with our beloved. I also can’t believe the way it’s being treated as a milch cow who doesn’t need to be nurtured. I mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out our problems and get down to solving them. But enough of the angst – nothing to do with your post, it belongs elsewhere! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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