December 3, 2008

"Those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay."

Wrote Salman Rushdie wrote, in The Moor's Last Sigh, Christopher Hitchens tells us:
[H]e was alluding to the Hindu chauvinists who had tried to exert their own monopoly in the city and who had forcibly renamed it—after a Hindu goddess—Mumbai. We all now collude with this, in the same way that most newspapers and TV stations do the Burmese junta's work for it by using the fake name Myanmar. (Bombay's hospital and stock exchange, both targets of terrorists, are still called by their right name by most people, just as Bollywood retains its "B.")
Andrew Sullivan resolves to write "Bombay" from now on.

I'll change my "Mumbai" tag to "Bombay." (My "Burma" tag was always "Burma.")

ADDED: From Hitchens's book "God Is Not Great":
Bombay... used to be considered a pearl of the Orient, with its necklace of lights along the corniche and its magnificent British Raj architecture. It was one of India's most diverse and plural cities, and its many layers of texture have been cleverly explored by Salman Rushdie... and in the films of Mira Nair. It is true that there had been intercommunal fighting there, during the time in 1947-1948 when the grand historic movement for an Indian self-government was being ruined by Muslim demands for a separate state and by the fact that the Congress Party was led by a pious Hindu. But probably as many people took refuge in Bombay during that moment of religious bloodlust as were driven or fled from it. A form of cultural coexistence resumed, as often happens when cities are exposed to the sea and to influences from outside. Parsis -- former Zoroastrians who had been persecuted in Persia -- were a prominent minority, and the city was also host to a historically significant community of Jews. But that was not enough to content Mr. Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena Hindu nationalist movement, who in the 1990s decided that Bombay should be run by and for his coreligionists, and who loosed a tide of goons and thugs onto the streets. Just to show he could do it, he ordered the city renamed as "Mumbai"....

45 comments:

Robert Burnham said...

Good on you for holding the line on Bombay and Burma.

anne said...

Actually, Mumbai was always the Marathi name for the city, Marathi being the language spoken by the majority of Mumbai's population. The name "Bombay" originated from Portuguese colonists. I'm not sure why the name given by colonial outsiders is considered more authentic than the name used by native residents.

Bissage said...

I have always said "Bombay" the same as I have always said "Burma."

But I deserve no medal.

For me it is purely a matter of stubbornness.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm glad you posted this because my husband just asked the other day, "When did people start calling Bombay, Mumbai?" I had no idea and hadn't bothered to look it up yet.

Ann Althouse said...

Anne, I think the answer is that the imposition of the new/old name was a preference of one religious group in a pluralistic, cosmopolitan place.

For example, let's assume that Wilmington, Delaware was called Christiana by its original Christian settlers, and today the city government renamed the city Christiana specifically because they were Christian and they wanted to assert their superiority over the minority religious groups and the secularists in the city. Wouldn't you have a problem with that?

Freeman Hunt said...

Also, Bombay has been the name since the 16th century.

AllenS said...

How about we drop the Beijing and go back to Peking China.

Balfegor said...

Yes, what next? Will we be calling Madras Chennai? Calcutta Kolkata? Simla Shimla? Pondicherry Puducherry? Oudh Awadh? Next think you know, people will be dropping the "the" off of "the Punjab," and calling the Mutiny a War of Independence.

The name "Bombay" originated from Portuguese colonists. I'm not sure why the name given by colonial outsiders is considered more authentic than the name used by native residents.

Probably because the city was founded as a fortress by the Portuguese (Bom Bai or somesuch -- don't speak Portuguese so I don't know), and only grew into a city under the British, who transformed it from a swampy island into the seat of the Bombay Presidency. It's the same way with Madras, now called Chennai -- the city was founded by the English Company as a trading fort (Fort St. George). Given that we're speaking English, and it's had a perfectly good English name for some three hundred years, the English name is the more authentic name for us to use. The residents can call it whatever they like, just as the residents of New Orleans apparently now refer to their city as "Nollins."

In the same way, speaking English, we refer to Korea as "Korea," not as Hanguk, and Japan as "Japan," not as Nihon, and China as "China," not as Zhongguo. If we were speaking Korean or Japanese or Chinese, it would be different. In Japanese, for example, it would be Kankoku (Korea), Nihon (Japan), and Chuukoku (China), just as America, in many Japanese contexts is not Amerika but Beikoku. Interestingly, when referring to Chinese cities, my understanding is that even the pinyin we key off of is based on Mandarin dialect, not the local dialect in use in the city and its environs. Ironically, in the case of China, many of the old European pronunciations are closer to the local pronunciation than the modern Mandarin standard -- Xiamen, for example, versus European "Amoy."

Henry said...

My brother-in-law is Indian and spends several months each year in Mumbai.

I use what he uses.

anne said...

I think Bombay, with its etymology originating from Portuguese and British colonists, has just as much a loaded connotation as Mumbai, a Marathi word signifying a Hindu goddess. It's switching from a name with an Indian origin to a name with a European origin that I find somewhat problematic. Pre-dating colonial rule, the city was known as Mumbai to Marathi and Gujarati speakers (which comprise most of the population), regardless of religion. I suppose I see the re-naming of Mumbai more as a reflection of local roots, than as an imposition of religious authority.

anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

I think it is because none of us can correctly pronounce the names of countries or anything else in another person's language.

Mumbai/Bombay Same thing just different pronunciations.

Tomato/TomAto Potato/PotAto
Let's call the whole thing off.

I have vintage jewelery that was made in Siam. :-)

Michael McNeil said...

I'm not sure why the name given by colonial outsiders is considered more authentic than the name used by native residents.

Perhaps because we speak our own language, with its own chain of descent for words? I suppose we English-speakers should pronounce Paris as “Paree”? Or spell Florence “Firenze”?

Reminds me of when that gang of mass-murdering thugs, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot declared that Cambodia was henceforth everywhere to be known as “Democratic Kampuchia,” and all the PC folks, in lock-step (as if they were screaming “Sieg heil!” in unison), joined in acclaiming the new designation, even in our own language of English, for an old country. Now internationally it's “Cambodia” once again.

It's really “Ugly Americanism” in reverse for other peoples and nations to seek to impel others to call their country or city within it something other than what they already traditionally do in their own language.

Thus Beijing is still “Peking” for me (as indeed it's also still designated in Taiwan's system of Chinese Romanization).

Freeman Hunt said...

It wasn't much of a city prior to the involvement of the British East India Company, prior to its being Bombay. It is what it is today because it became Bombay. Doesn't that make the name Bombay more authentic?

Balfegor said...

Pre-dating colonial rule, the city was known as Mumbai to Marathi and Gujarati speakers (which comprise most of the population)

Was it? I don't think it was unless you mean in the period when it was the site of one of the Company's trading factories (alongside neighbouring Surat, which was a pre-existing Indian city) and did not exercise governing authority over a large swath of territory -- at that time, the Company called it Bombay, and their neighbours outside the city may have called it Mumbai. I'm pretty sure the English got the name from the Portuguese, and the Portuguese named it from scratch, as it were. Contra Freeman Hunt, I don't think there even was a city, let alone a city called Mumbai before the Portuguese settlement.

Same story as with Singapore, where there were inhabitants in the area -- a few fishing villages which were eventually absorbed by the city -- but the English founded the settlement that became the city.

Rohan said...

The name was changed by the lawful, democratically-elected government. Isn't that worth respecting?

Seems a little excessive for a bunch of foreigners to tell the Indians what they can and cannot name their own cities.

Shanna said...

Thanks Ann, I didn't realize they changed the name.

I think Mumbai is a prettier name then Bombay.

Trooper York said...

I still call it Lew Alcindor

Skyler said...

Oh, so that's why I didn't know where Mumbai was!

Balfegor said...

Seems a little excessive for a bunch of foreigners to tell the Indians what they can and cannot name their own cities.

They can call it what they like -- it's their city. But their laws don't mandate what we call their cities, any more than the English calling London "London" should make the French stop saying Londres.

Pre-dating colonial rule, the city was known as Mumbai to Marathi and Gujarati speakers (which comprise most of the population), regardless of religion.

On a historical note, I'm pretty sure there was not a significant Maratha presence in the Bombay area at the time Bombay was founded. I wasn't sure, so I checked wikipedia (don't have any of my India history books handy), and wikipedia bears me out. In the early 17th century, about a hundred years after the city was founded by the Portuguese, the Marathas were still over to the Southeast, in the Deccan (apparently, an area known as the "Desh"). They spread out throughout the area (and indeed, throughout much of India) between the mid 17th century and the early 19th, when they carved out a kind of empire-within-an-empire, inside the Mughal Empire, much as the British themselves did. There were probably Gujaratis in the area, but Anne says "Mumbai" is Marathi.

Ann Althouse said...

It seems to me that if you've built up an international image with one brand name, you shouldn't switch to something that has no meaning to the people of the world. I don't like when famous people change their names either -- unless their point is to retreat from public life -- in which case it still makes sense to use the old name to refer to their earlier career. So, to me Cat Stevens is Cat Stevens. I love his music. That other character means nothing to me.

onparkstreet said...

I agree with Rohan. Democratically elected officials change the name of Bombay to Mumbai and Americans follow suit in calling it Mumbai? Oh, the horror! Reverse cultural imperialism! Maybe Arundhati Roy is correct, coca-cola is imperialism, how dare Indians use the term Coke!

I mean, it's 2008, do we have to call it Bombay forever because we used to call it Bombay? The text of Pride and Predjudice I'm reading now spells choose as 'chuse'. I think it's awful that we no longer use that old-timey British spelling, especially as we were once British colonial subjects ourselves and should be glad to continue as many colonialisms as we can!

Haha, no wonder we conservatives are getting our asses handed to us, politically. This is what is important the Jonah Goldbergs and Mark Steyns (both of whom I like. (As for that Christopher Hitchens, well, he's at full spittle most of the time, so I rarely pay attention).

MD

Shanna said...

It seems to me that if you've built up an international image with one brand name, you shouldn't switch to something that has no meaning to the people of the world.

When a person or place changes their name, it is going to be confusing for a while. I had no idea this terrorist stuff was happening in Bombay. That would have meant something different to me than Mumbai, which is a name I have heard before but never associated with bombay.

I do think Mumbai is prettier, but in general I am against changing longstanding names unless there is a very good reason.

onparkstreet said...

Also, the Bombay versus Mumbai thing as a 'brand name change sense of discomfort' only works if you are over a certain age. The younger folks, even here in America, learn Mumbai. The discomfort will pass with time......

MD

Jimmy said...

Bombay has been historically known as Mumbai to most people who actually live in the city. The people who speak Gujarati and Marathi make up 70% of the city and they have always called it Mumbai.

"Mumbai" is not a Hindu goddess. Academics have traced the origins of the word "Mumbai" to the name of a Hindu goddess. My parents and grandparents who say "Mumbai" are not aware of the link to any goddess.

Maguro said...

How familiar it all must seem for the Indians - a gin-soaked Englishman condescending to instruct them in tolerance and love for civilization!

Palladian said...

Maybe Bombay is a better name, what with the bombs and all...

Balfegor said...

I mean, it's 2008, do we have to call it Bombay forever because we used to call it Bombay?

If our pronunciation changes, so it's no longer Bombay, but "Bumby" or "Bommay" or something -- that's fine. It's just natural language drift, of the same sort that changed Bombay into "Mumbai" in Indian languages centuries ago (or changed Portguese "Bom Bai" to English "Bombay"). No problem with that -- languages change. It's the deliberate and conscious decision that you're not going to use your own language's word for a place, but ape someone else speaking a quite different language that's irritating. Will we oblige ourselves to render Scottish placenames with a Scottish accent, and pronounce "Paris" as "Paree?" To call Cairo Al-Qahira?

The sensible thing to do -- as is done in most multilingual contexts -- is to call a place by its name in that language. Occasionally this gets you into political trouble, such as when Kim Dae Jung called the Liancourt islands "Takeshima" (rather than Korean Dokdo) when he was speaking Japanese. So politicians have to look out. But for the rest of us, it shouldn't make much difference what some government has decided the "official" name of a city should be, and following their whims wheresoever they flit just encourages them.

Shanna said...

Language is about effectively communicating. We should, as Americans, use whatever word most effectively communicates to the most people what city we are talking about. If we are talking about the recent terrorist activity, Mumbai will call it to mind more quickly than Bombay. If we are talking about the history of the city, Bombay might be more effective.

wyatt gwyon said...

Yeah, and let's go back to calling New York City New Amsterdam!

jdeeripper said...

Bombay sounds better if you want to blow it up.

I also like Cathay, Siam, Ceylon, jungle, swamp, Cassius Clay, and dog pee over China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, rain forest, wetlands, Muhammad Ali and Red Bull.

Bissage said...

[W]yatt’s right.

Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam.

But that's nobody’s business but the Turks.

ballyfager said...

@ Rohan

The answer to your comment is - No. Maybe that will teach you not to ask leading questions. Or, maybe not. As with Bissage, I won't try to justify it, just consider it stubborness.

Hell, I still think of the airport in New York as Idlewild - for the sake of euphony as they used to say.

bearbee said...

wyatt gwyon said...
Yeah, and let's go back to calling New York City New Amsterdam!

Chicago - How about striped skunk...

cardeblu said...

Speculation: The pronunciation of Mumbai probably was close enough to Bombay that the Portuguese thought it was the latter and stuck with it.

Mumbai = Bombay, m'kay...

Shanna said...

Hell, I still think of the airport in New York as Idlewild

I referred to the DC airport as “National” after they changed it to Reagan and some lady on the plane with me went into this long speech about how she was so glad that I didn’t call it Reagan because she didn’t like Reagan, etc..etc… As a republican who liked Reagan, I found this hilarious. I was just used to calling it National, but she took it as a political statement.

Alex said...

This entire thread just proves how infected everyone is with stupid ideologies.

chickenlittle said...

a gin-soaked Englishman condescending to instruct them in tolerance and love for civilization!

I'll bet he drinks Bombay Sapphire.

LoafingOaf said...

I remember being confused by this when they 2006 terror attack happened there, too.

I had a professor from India some years back, and he said he was from Bombay, but I guess the name had changed after he came to the USA.

I dunno. If I visit Bombay/Mumbai would I find half the people referring to their city by one name and the other half referring to it by the other name? If the overwhelming majority prefer Mumbai, I accept that. Just don't change Bollywood to Mollywood.

LoafingOaf said...

Remember this song:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul (Istanbul)
Istanbul (Istanbul)


They Might Be Giants version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo0X77OBJUg>

Or, this Tony Toons version

Pogo said...

I think Bombay can be called Mumbai if he wants but that doesn't mean he can use the girl's bathroom.

Verso said...

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers responds.

Synova said...

On general principles I agree that complying with political name changes willy-nilly is something to be resisted.

I agree that this isn't probably a situation that applies.

Freeman Hunt said...

Re: Sullivan's reader dissent

A rejection of the "colonial legacy," eh? I suppose they'll be tearing down all those civil engineering projects any time now and leaving the city in droves to bring the population back down to 10,000. No? I thought not.

rcocean said...

Since Sullivan will be switching back to "Mumbai" in a year and calling those who disagree anti-Indian bigots - I'll just keep calling it "Mumbai".