Sunday, November 30, 2008

Post Colonial Hypocrisy

I don't know if the locals prefer to call their town Bombay or Mumbai. I'm willing to assume they prefer the latter. For a few centuries, however, the English name was Bombay, until sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, when someone (who?) decided this was a Colonial name, and disrespectful of the natives, so we all traipsed over to Mumbai. Or Beijing, or what have you.

But notice, this consideration is offered only to some natives, not to others. It would never occur to anyone that we must say Warszawa rather than Warsaw, Praha rather than Prague, and interestingly, not al-Halil rather than Hebron. Not to mention Jerusalem, which was called Yerushalayim while the distant forbears of the English speakers were still camping in forest clearings, nor el-Quds, the name given to the same town about the time the English language was still half a millenium away.


Lydia McGrew said...

I had exactly the same question--who said we have to call this "Mumbai"? So we looked it up. Seems the Indian govt. officially changed the name of the city in the 1990's. Sigh. Looks like a sort of post-colonial passive-aggressive power-play to me, but once it's been made official all the maps have to change.

fpetran said...

The renaming of cities in India in the 90s was part of the policy of the Hindu-nationalist BJP government. Other examples for renamed cities include Calcutta-Kolkata, Trivandrum-Trivanathapuram, Pondicherry-Puducherry, Madras-Chennai (Chennapattanam). The funny thing is that most of these cities were actually founded in the time of the British raj, before they were villages or settlements at best. So the names given to them in the 90ies are actually new concoctions that, for a large part, don't reflect how the settlements were referenced in the past.

As for the locals, I was told that they still prefer the English names, because they're more used to it. At least that's what people from Bombay and Calcutta used to tell me, it probably also depends on each individual's stance towards the BJP policy.

Yaacov said...

Hi Lydia, welcome back! I feared that I had become too Lefty for you, and you'd given up.

Und Sie, fpetran, sind mir vom Himmel gefallen, da ich gerade derzeit mich sehr intensiv mit amerikanischen online Biblioteken befasse; nun haben Sie es mir leichter gemacht mit den Deutschsprachigen.