Mumbai or Bombay – Whats The Bong Connection??

Raj Thackeray is wrong and Karan Johar is right. Bombay is Bombay and not Mumbai. At least, it is definitely so for Aisha Banerjee, the female protagonist of Wake Up Sid, the film which Raj Thackeray is responding to. Raj says that Bombay must be referred to as Mumbai because Bombay was a mispronounced version of the original Marathi name, Mumbai, and also now that Bombay is officially Mumbai. But it is not as simple as that because Shobhaa De had written a rather longish article in which she mentioned categorically that Mumbai and Bombay are two very different levels of culture, one the site of the new upstart vernacular middle class produced out of a deepening of democracy, and the former, i.e. Bombay, of cultured aesthetes who were cosmopolitan and also rich. For most Bengalis, Mumbai is still Bombay and hence when a Bengali girl writes back to her parents in Kolkata, she refers to the city as Bombay and not Mumbai, because it is Bombay with which she is familiar.
Bengalis have a long association with Bombay. The Bengalis came into Delhi roughly around 1911 when the capital shifted to New Delhi from Calcutta. In case of Bombay, the Bengalis moved in here in the 1930’s with the film industry and with the growing Indian corporate business houses that required highly skilled managers and corporate leaders. Bengalis had moved elsewhere as well, mostly as doctors, teachers, bureaucrats and lawyers. Such cities were Lucknow and Allahabad in UP, Dehradun in Uttaranchal, Lahore in West Punjab, Surat and Baroda in Gujarat and Pune, Satara and Kolhapur in Maharashtra and Nagpur, then in the Central Provinces. The Bengali bhadralok diaspora in all the above cities were work related transfers when families settled in them because they continued to live there even after retirement from employment. The Partition also meant that many such bhadraloks lost their homes forever to Pakistan and having nowhere else to go made their homes in the “pravas”.
Bombay was an exception to all the above cities for Bengalis came here in search of their dreams. This is why, the Bengalis of Bombay are different because the Bengalis who dared to come to Bombay were different from their rather middle class brethrens who were contend to commute between office and work between 9 am and 5 pm and spend their lives in just doing this. The Bengalis of Bombay were adventurous. As film industry persons they were chasing their own dreams and manufacturing and peddling the same for the millions of the rest of us. As the top echelons of the corporate world, they were highly paid white collars, straddling board rooms and the top clubs of the city. Such Bengalis were in the league of the early generations who found favour with the British and occupied India’s creamiest layers. Hence, when a Bengali moves to Bombay, we generally look upon such an individual as belonging to a higher echelon of the society.
But as Bombay became Mumbai, it dawned upon the Bengalis that Bombay was being reclaimed by its “natives” and pulled into a kind of a culture that would be local, vernacular and monochromic. Such a Mumbai would no longer be conducive for their dreams, nor would Mumbai be able to support the scale of civilization that hosted the Bengalis in the city. Thus when Bengalis want to make space for themselves in the city they say Bombay, the plural, the large scale, the cosmopolitan and the ever expanding city that can host them and fulfill their dreams. When Raj Thackeray says Mumbai he wants the conservative, the protectionist, the mean, the miserly city that draws limits to keep time and space out. Mumbai is all about the losing, closeted, cloistered local, Bombay is about the successful, expansive, victorious and prosperous individual. For the Bengali it is Bombay, and Bombay every time. The Bong kamineys of Kaminey also said so, Aisha Banerjee or Mumbai Beats said it and we Bengalis would also say the same, Bombay. Mumbai of Raj Thackeray is another city, not really worth visiting or exploring. As Bengalis, we will let it pass and give it the miss

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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2 Responses to Mumbai or Bombay – Whats The Bong Connection??

  1. That was a nice Write-up.. Though i cant totally agree with it.
    তো আপনি কি – “ক্যালকাটা” বলেন না “কোলকাতা” ?
    There’s no doubt that A Land or City Belongs to its Natives, I personally dont feel good wen people here mock “KOLKATA”!
    “Kolkata or Calcutta” the same is with “Mumbai or Bombay”

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