Bangalore’s dying. All we can change is its name?

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: What’s in a name? A lot apparently if the spate of Indian city renamings in recent years is any indication: Trivandrum, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore have been renamed and many more proposed: Delhi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Patna to name a few. Not just happy with the cities, many anglicised names of localities, sub-localities and streets have fallen prey to this senseless and futile exercise.

I have been holding back my pen for a while now for fear of being branded querulous. But a chance visit to the home I grew up in rekindled my disgust for ill-intended renamings. I’m hoping against hope that the Union Home Ministry will not do the expected and bless Bangalore’s pending name change to Bengaluru, but show some spine and say “No”.

Two months ago I went to visit the house I grew up in Malleshwaram. With few changes, the locality was still the quintessential middle-class extension of Malleshwaram that nourished the dreams and aspirations of many like me, albeit now with a new name.

The new name, ‘Sudhindra Nagar’ from a few years ago, is Indian all right, but for many residents–past and present, it couldn’t be more alien. It’s anglicised predecessor ‘Swimming Pool Extension’ is still dear to many—me included.

Why was this called ‘Swimming Pool Extension’? Not many have a clue and I am no exception. The closest water body to the extension, a ‘Dodda Mori‘ (big sewer) near the Dattatreya temple road is no pool. The nearest public swimming pool being miles away in Sadashivanagar and a different variety of a pool, for donkeys if you will–a dhobhi ghat, in Vyalikaval could not be the sources of inspiration either.

Whatever the reasoning, it was called ‘Swimming Pool Extension’ and few had issues with it.

As I look back to the days I spent in the locality learning the ropes of life, I cannot but question the renaming to ‘Sudhindra Nagar(a)’. In Malleshwaram, be it ‘Raman‘s Corner’ or ‘Chowpatti’ or ‘Veena Stores’, you went there as it had a niche specialty in cuisine; ‘Venus Dresses’ on 8th cross was right opposite another cloth shop invoking divinity in its name—‘Bhagwan Stores’.

‘The Coconut Avenue road’ and ‘Mill Corner’ did not thumb their noses at the Kannada named ‘Kodandaramapura’ and the ‘Guttahalli’ they bordered. The anglicized names have never been a problem for most people as they do realize that it is a part of the City’s history and growing up. But realization comes with thought, and thought needs grey matter. You would be hardpressed to find much of grey matter beneath those neta topis!

Brown is more what you would find. And we let these dimwits insult us by letting them tell us why this needs changed ?

In many cases of City renamings, the ‘new’ names are simply the names by which these cities have always been known in the native language: Bangalore was always Bengaluru in Kannada. So why the change in recent years?

In many other instances of renaming, people just ignore the new name while gleefully continuing to use the old names— some, like me, on purpose as a mark of protest. This attempt to re-write history just tantamounts to insulting the local history in the bargain. But it seems foolish to expect the netas to understand and respect local history.

Let’s play devil’s advocate and argue for the renaming. I will stick with Bangalore as its name change is still pending. Per the most popular anecdotal origins of Bangalore’s naming, a poor old woman served a starved Veera Ballala (the Hoysala king) boiled beans. The grateful king named the city “benda kaal-ooru“—city of boiled beans. Since then, need for brevity combined with colonialism have morphed the name to Bangalore.

Let’s set aside the name for a minute and dwell on the story. A King and a stranger felt welcome in the meagre environs of the old woman’s hut; he was so touched by the hospitality that he named the city thus. When I think of that story, I am compelled to think how often would such a thing happen today? No, I’m not asking you to imagine Wodeyar eating ‘ragi mudde‘ in a tenement, but how often does someone look around them, see an opportunity to make someone feel better, and follow thru’? More importantly, the netas, having sworn themselves to public servitude should grab the opportunities.

The government can apply itself and make the Bangaloreans feel better and proud of their City like no renaming can. But, they are content forgetting the essence of the story and latching onto a name that has changed since.

We are losing Bangalore to a systemic decay and all that we can do is latch onto to is a name?

Sure, ‘Bangalore’ is different than what was originally christened, but is trying to push the hands of time a sensible feat? Not to mention the cost (manpower and financial) of the renaming which would have been of better service to save many a problems that plague the city. Then there’s the hidden agenda—votes and 15 minutes of fame.

In this era of one-upmanship, thanks to U.R. Anantha Murthy‘s suggestion, Bangalore and 10 other cities in Karnataka, and a horde of localities, sub-localities and roads are being renamed while little else changes. That’s a stupid attempt at rural vote bank appeasement.

The perpetrators of that stupidity: politicians trying to extract mileage, and a Jnanpith laureate who is inventing ways to be in the limelight are hardly opposed. The Union ministry that is to ratify the same can stop it; but may not. Given that, one might argue it’s a day late and a dime short for opposing. It isn’t. The future will usher a new wave of renaming as well and a strong opposition may help.

I had to send a few cards for the new years recently. I did, with ‘Bangalore’ and ‘Swimming Pool Extn’ emblazoned and they reached just fine. I’m in no mood to refer either by their Anantha Murthy and ilk coerced name. It may seem futile and useless, but I’m not gunning for much sans being able to look myself in the mirror.

It’s a start, and my way of saying (respectfully) ‘Mr Anantha Murthy & gang, go to hell…’

Also read: Namma Bengaluru: A city of two tales

MuKa sethu in Stalinapakkam: Can DMK say ‘ille‘?