The Curious Case Of Bombay Or Mumbai And The Deferred Colonial Hangover

By Aastha Anupriya

On Wednesday, 10 February, the editor of British newspaper The Independent, Amol Rajan declared that the paper would refer to the financial capital of India as Bombay instead of Mumbai. Nothing wrong with that; Bombay and Mumbai feature interchangeably in common man language.


What is bugging is the context of colonialism vs. nationalism. For the uninitiated, the aforementioned Indian-origin editor cited their stand against a “nastier strain of Hindu nationalism”. “The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world. If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them,” Amol Rajan told BBC.

Now, Bombay is India’s gateway to the world and its point is that of an open, cosmopolitan city and all that – true. But, Bombay is still a part of India, it lies within India and it affects India. I do not see a solid logic backing Mr Rajan’s statement.

So what if Hindu nationalists wanted us to call Mumbai, “Mumbai”? The British wanted us to call it Bombay, and why should we “do their work for them”?

Marine Drive at night from in front of Pizzeria.

Agreed, the Shiv Sena had caused and catalysed the change from Bombay to Mumbai in 1995, and the organisation is essentially associated with Hindu nationalism. But it should not be ignored that Bombay, in most records, dates back to the times of British rule and is deep-rooted with the plain convenience of the colonial government.

What comes next? Kanpur goes back to being Cawnpore (what does Cawnpore mean anyway)? Or Jabalpur becomes Jubbulpore again?

The concern of The Independent is fully valid; religion, politics and governance in India have never intermingled in a nastier way, and the rise of intolerance is indeed alarming. Nevertheless, I’m not sure if it actually is wise to revert to a different name for a city, because:

  1. Shiv Sena isn’t the only torchbearer of this brigade.
  2. “Bombay” is by far not the first or only city at the centre of the happenings.
  3. The concern is relevant and serious, but the way it’s been put, it just sounds like a very lame excuse following in the footsteps of Marc Andreessen of Facebook.
  4. Moving from Mumbai to Bombay shall only generate more irate and redundant activism, and that helps none. (Not that one gives in to bad politics.)

First, the comment on economic policies and now this – what is it, “Colonialism-was-good-for-India” Week for the West?

Tell us how you feel about it.

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