Bombay to Mumbai- What’s in a name?
Shruti Parmar answers Juliet in Bambai.
“Our name is our virtue”… goes a line in a popular song. And maybe it’s true. There’s a lot in a city’s name.
Forget the nostalgia of the phonetics, (although a lot of people would vote for what sounds better to them); ‘Bombay’ today signifies a period. It’s one that starts when this collection of seven islands passed from the Mauryas through many empires to the Muslim rulers of Gujrat to the Portuguese traders who called the city ‘Bom Baihm’ or the good bay. It was a place where trade and commerce flourished, where people of diverse faiths mingled and developed an identity of accepting cultures to make money. That’s what made it a cosmopolitan city, this practical way of life.
After the city was transferred to the British as dowry at the wedding of Charles II, then the king of England, in his marriage with Infanta Catherine Braganza , the Princess of Po’rtugal, the area was called Bombay while ‘Bambai’ remained the popular parlance through its booming film industry. Sore from the mutiny of 1857, the British had turned to this region as their centre from Delhi and developed infrastructure for their ease. This was when the Bombay Presidency emerged; a stronger port, the first railway lines, the iconic red double-decker buses and the neo-gothic structures that we pride even today.
The same region however, also became the hotspot for the Independence struggle, leading in every political movement. Through 1947, the influx of refugees to the city rose like never before and high rises and slums became the template of this part of the Bombay State.
Local politics grew post-independence for the prosperity of this commercial city. Beginning with the incorporation in 1960 as the capital of Maharashtra; the city changed again.
Being the financial capital of the country attracted vested interests. It was politicized like never before. Not only were the textile mills shut down, the 1992-93 riots tore the city’s fibre apart. Terrorism struck at its worst and anti-outsider campaigns have been fuelled.
The 1996 name change to ‘Mumbai’ is a new level of polity. Yes, the Kolis were the original inhabitants of this city, but the city would not be what it is had it not been for all the different people who have come here and worked hard in the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. A name change should be significant to the ethos of the city rather than seek to destroy it.
But much as politics and events occur and have occurred here, the city’s people always move forward in a rebellious focus. They stand helpful, rational, hard working, philosophical and most importantly – practical. They look into the calming sea at the end of a hard day of labour- the fisherman, the dabbawala, the housewife, the student, the bank CEO, the beggar and the child – with a zidd for survival in the city of dreams.
This is a city that transcends the Bombay/Mumbai debate. Whatever you call it, it will always remain Bambai- Meri Jaan.