By: B Shantanu
December 21, 2006
expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer
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A few days ago, I got into a passionate debate about
the merits of the name change of Bangalore to Bengaluru with a few
They were arguing that this was a
populist measure, that there was no basis at all to go ahead with this
re-naming of the city and that money would be better spent on things such
as improvements in infrastructure.
I mentioned that while all these
points were valid, they were missing an important, in my view, critical
part of the debate – which is the question of identity.
I argued that it is very difficult
to put a price on identity and if the name change makes people feel more
aware of their identity and proud of their heritage, these are strong
enough grounds for considering changing place names.
Several points came up during the
debate on which I felt we needed more clarity. E.g. costs – how much
exactly would it cost? Was there a popular demand for name change? Was
there enough backing for the decision? Would it affect Bangalore’s (now
globally recognised) brand etc?
This essay is an attempt to delve
into some of these issues (and a large part of the credit must go to
whose points I have extensively used
in this essay (see also a related post from Libran:
Bangalore Vs Bengaluru).
Let me start by countering some of
the most common arguments in this debate.
Argument # 1:The name is a
made-up name and means nothing.
On the contrary, the historical
part of the city has always been traditionally known (to the locals) as
Bengaluru, and the Kannada language media has always written and
pronounced "Bangalore" as "Bengaluru."
Argument # 2: Instead of such
measures, the government should focus on real priorities
post on this issue)
argument assumes that there is mutual exclusivity between re-naming
Bangalore (or any other city) and measures to improve living conditions
for residents of a city. This is clearly not the case although a sub
–argument can be raised that the cost incurred could be better spent on
other things. I will deal with this in a moment.
Argument # 3: This is something
cooked up by politicians to divert attention from the real issues:
See the response to # 1 above. And
note that the idea did not come from a desperate politician but the
respected writer and Jnanpith award-winner, Dr U R Ananthamurthy. It
became popular amongst the general Kannadiga public, and was subsequently
taken up by the government and politicians.
Argument # 4: People in general do not care about this issue; In fact
many are opposed
Not true. At the grass-root and
“person on the street" level, this idea is very popular amongst Kannadigas.
See e.g. “Locals
welcome Bangalore's proposed name change”
Argument # 5: This will be a
waste of taxpayers money which can be more beneficially employed
elsewhere, such as to improve the infrastructure of Bangalore.
See answer to # 2. In addition,
bear in the mind that any costs involved (estimates have ranged from
Rs.12crore~60crores) are one time only and can be easily minimized by
doing this in phases and changing things (such as stationery) only at the
next replacement cycle. The costs involved in this are far less as
compared to the costs of maintaining/improving the infrastructure of a
Argument # 6: Bangalore is a
well-established brand and changing the name will dilute brand identity
Those who know or value the brand
“Bangalore” (e.g. for its IT skill-base and companies such as Infosys)
would not devalue the city or its skill-base just because the name is now
spelt slightly differently.
Bangalore’s brand value is in the
skills of its residents which will not change just because the spelling
became slightly different. And I cannot see any future business deals
being made or broken just because the city is called Bangalore vs.
What is the name change really
Bangalore is not simply a matter of overcoming your colonial past (this is
a red-herring) and it is more than just a matter of calling a place by its
challenged by one of my friends about how do I react when someone
pronounces my name incorrectly – Do I always rush to correct them? Clearly
not – so why should I so desperately seek to “correct” the name of a city?
But this comparison is a false one – I don’t challenge everyone who
pronounces my name incorrectly but I would certainly like my name
pronounced correctly and if changing the spelling helps, so be it.
the name of Bangalore to Bengaluru would not make everyone in the world
call it Bengaluru – there will still be people who call it Bangalore and
write it as such – but at least the proper name of the city will be
recognised for what it is.
stopped writing Bombay when they mean Mumbai? No.
matter? Not really, as long as everyone is aware that the correct and
formal name of the capital of Maharashtra is Mumbai not “Bombay”.
Bangalore. I think “Bangalored” as a term is unlikely to be changed to
“Bengalured” but that was never the point anyway.
In the end, Bangalore to
Bengaluru is more than just a spelling change to reflect the correct
It is matter of claiming back
your identity, being able to call your cities, places and other things by
their proper names rather than labels that were imposed by someone a few
The costs, inconvenience and
awkwardness is merely passing. The important thing is what the city will
be known as – and that will be Bengaluru – just as it always has been
except for the past few decades of mispronunciation.
As I was
writing this, I was reminded of the following excerpt
from Sir V S
Naipaul’s highly acclaimed work, “India:
A Wounded Civilisation”
that neatly captured my angst about fractured identities:
dinner that evening, high up in one of those towers, a journalist touched
the subject of identity. ‘Indian’ was a word that was now without meaning,
he said. He himself, he was in his thirties, of the post-Independence
generation, no longer knew who he was. He no longer knew the Hindu gods.
His grandmother, visiting Khajuraho or some other famous temple, would
immediately be in tune with what she saw; she wouldn’t need to be told
about the significance of the carvings. He was like a tourist; he saw only
an architectural monument. He had lost the key to a whole world of
belief and feeling, and was cut off from his past.”
If not for ourselves, at least for
the sake of our future generations, let’s not cut ourselves off from our
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