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Essence more important than name game

Fact is Bombay would have been Mumbai had the original name not been corrupted by the British

mumbai Updated: Feb 12, 2016 00:58 IST
Ayaz Memon
Fact is Bombay would have been Mumbai had the original name not been corrupted by the British.
Fact is Bombay would have been Mumbai had the original name not been corrupted by the British.(File photo)

Amol Rajan, editor of The Independent (London), has created some stir by deciding that his newspaper would revert to calling this city Bombay instead of Mumbai, which is the official name since 1995.

Rajan’s explanation is that, “The whole point of Bombay is of being an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world.”

That’s grandstanding in my opinion. My counter to him is that that is still the whole point of Mumbai too, name change notwithstanding. Would he now also call Beijing, Peking, as some on social media highlighted? Doubtful.

Perhaps Rajan’s motive was to stir things up, for his decision seems quite pointless otherwise: for his readership certainly, which really wouldn’t care one way or the other.

I doubt too that anybody in Mumbai (and India) — apart from the Shiv Sena which chose to respond acrimoniously — would bother a whit about raking up an issue that is now thoroughly inconsequential.

The fact is, Bombay would have been Mumbai had the original name not been corrupted by the British. And those who believe in the ethos of Bombay are keeping that secure, whatever the name today.

So, while Bombay may not be the identity tag of the city, it is still a coveted state of mind, which really is of the essence.

On a more personal note, the name-game for this city reminds me of my first boss when I joined the profession as a rookie in the late 1970s who in his many columns and despatches would invariably refer to Bombay as ‘Slumbay’.

His pet peeve was the large and dense slum area around the Santa Cruz airport, not forgetting the drive into town, passing Mahim/Dharavi (there was no Sea Link then), Worli and to the office at Tardeo.

There were enough slums and ghettos along the way, and what got his goat was not just the terrible picture this presented of India’s foremost city (as Bombay was then) and financial capital, but also why people had to live in squalor for years on end. “Why would anybody come here, for business or pleasure?” was his constant refrain.

I was reminded of him while travelling into town from Bandra in the past couple of days. So much has changed in the past 40 years. And yet how much has changed where living standards for people are concerned (in the real sense) from the 1970s, is open to question.

Exiting from the Sea Link at Worli, one could see the city gearing up for the Make In India conclave starting this week-end, one of the biggest initiatives the country has embarked on in recent years.

This is merited and necessary. Mumbai is trying to showcase India to itself and the world. My concern, however, is where should this start and why should it end where it usually does.

Painting the curbs around Marine Drive, whitewashing walls of building compounds at Worli Seaface or making fresh zebra crossings along the route from the airport to Girgaum Chowpatty cannot hide a larger neglect visible all over Mumbai.

Visitors to the Make In India conclave may whizz past impressed, but those who live in the city know of the seediness: they see it everyday and in a myriad places to be bowled over by a temporary makeover.

Behind the facade the signs of neglect — in some instances even decay — stare you in the face. This can vary at different times: the potholes in the monsoon, the recent Deonar dump fire, the winter smog etc.

And yet, flip the coin and you are amazed at how easy it is to clean up the city for a few VIP visitors who will come for a few hours or a few days!

The need to spruce up the city for a big event and make a good impression is uncontestable. My question to the city’s fathers and minders, however, is aren’t the denizens of this city the real VIPs and their lifeline?

Cosmetic changes cannot cover the degradation no matter whether you call the city Mumbai or Bombay. Why can’t this same concern and diligence be shown every day?