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There’s a better way to fix cultural arrogance than to keep ‘correcting’ British mistakes about Indian names.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2009 22:40 IST

For reasons unknown, the British were lousy at pronouncing non-English names. So here we go again fixing another mispronunciation propagated by the Brits by changing the name of Orissa ‘back’ to Odisha — despite a new error being introduced as the phonetic spelling of the state should really be ‘Odissa’. But why don’t we just let sleeping incorrect names lie? Because those folks didn’t let sleeping correct names lie when they were playing bossmen, did they?

So how can we explain Kolkata being turned into Calcutta, Kanpur into Cawnpore and, most strangely of all, Varanasi into Benares — to the point of a famous Hindi film song sounding ridiculous even to our desi ears if sung as ‘Khai ke paan Varanasi-wala’? (The jury is out regarding Mumbai, as its name may have come from the Portuguese term, ‘Bom Bahia’ or ‘good bay’.) Choosing the language you speak in is a political act. As is how you decide to pronounce foreign words. It turns out that the Brits — and their North American cousins across the pond — with their stiff upper palates pronounce things their way. This Frank Sinatra-ish approach may boost their cultural self-esteem, but it’s puzzling for the ‘host’ culture.

If Gloucestershire can be pronounced as ‘Glosstershr’ by us, why can’t the Anglo-Saxons try and get Gandhi, that they insist on pronouncing as Gaandhi, right? Here’s our world-beating suggestion: let’s not blink an eyelid when we ask for a bottle of Worcestershire (no more ‘Wooster’) sauce, plan our holiday to Canayda, or ask for Angelina Jolly’s autograph. Trust us, that’s how the world will pronounce names soon — even in Kataka (Cuttack).