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  Of Bangalore, Bengaluru and Fractured Identities  
 

 

By: B Shantanu
December 21, 2006
V
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.

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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 friends. 

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 “Libran Lover” whose points I have extensively used[1] in this essay (see also a related post from Libran: Bangalore Vs Bengaluru[2]).

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 (see e.g. Amardeep Singh[3]’s post on this issue)

This 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[4]  

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 city.

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. Bengaluru.

What is the name change really about?

Re-naming 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 correct name.

I was 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.  

Changing 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. 

Have people stopped writing Bombay when they mean Mumbai? No.

Does it matter? Not really, as long as everyone is aware that the correct and formal name of the capital of Maharashtra is Mumbai not “Bombay”.

Same with 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 pronunciation.

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 decades ago.

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[5]” that neatly captured my angst about fractured identities:

At 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 past.

B Shantanu

 

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Previous articles by:
B Shantanu

In search of a “Hindu” identity

Nonsense about the “spirit of Mumbai”...

Blasts?...Arey Yaar, Yeh to hota hi rahta hai

China: India’s new “Blind Spot”?

MF Husain, “Freedom”, sense of déjà vu…

Anger, tears and despair…

All roads lead to Islamabad…

Drain of Wealth during British Raj

Tragedy To Continue To Claim Lives

Four Years, Two Attacks, One Story

Hindu contribution to Mathematics

Varna and Jatis: The Need for Clarity

Corruption – Are we the only ones?

All articles by:
B Shantanu


 

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