Bombay/Mumbai: The Postmodern City
Author(s): Mira Kamdar
Source: World Policy Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 75-88 Published by: and the
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40209533 .
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Mira Kamdar is a seniorfellow at the World Policy Institute.
The Postmodern ity
Bombay is no longer Bombay. The official
name of the city is now Mumbai, after a local
female deity whose distinguishing characteristic is the lack of a mouth. In the wake of decolonization and the retreatof the
West, many cities in Asia that formerly
sported Anglicized names have reindigenized
them. We are now used to Beijing instead
of Peking. We are getting used to Yangon
for Rangoon. Across India, the recoveryof
city names from Anglicized versions has
been going on for some years:Barodais now
Vadodara,Poona is now Pune, Banaresis
now Varanasi.But in Bombay'scase, there
is much more at stake in changing the name
to Mumbai than the simple recoveryof a
name repressedunder colonial rule.
In I960, Bombay was made capital of
the newly createdstate of Maharashtra. n
1966, the radicallypro-Maharashtrian arty,
the Shiv Sena, w;asfounded by a former
newspapercartoonist, Bal Thackeray.The
party's name, which literally means "Shivaji's army,"refersto the Hindu king, Shivaji, who defended the kingdom of the Marathas
in the seventeenth century. One of the Shiv
Sena'sstated goals was to drive all non-Mao
harashtrians ut of Bombay. Exploiting the
frustrationsof Maharashtrians, ho made
up roughly 40 percent of the city's population but who remainedexcluded from the top of the economic heap, Thackeraysteadily expanded his political base over the next two decades. In 1985, the Shiv Sena took
control of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, and its influence continued to grow. It was not until 1995, however, when a
coalition of the Shiv Sena and the rightBombay /Mumbai
wing Hindu nationalist BharatiyaJanata
Party was elected to run the government of
the state of Maharashtrahat the name of
the city was officially changed to Mumbai.
Many residents do not like the new name at
all and defiantly continue to referto their
city as Bombay. Even the national government of India has announced that, to avoid unnecessaryconfusion, it will continue to refer to Mumbai as Bombay (and to Chennai as Madras,but that is a different story).
The name "Bombay" lmost certainly dea
rives etymologically from the word "Mumbai," which got altered as it passed through the mouths of first the Portuguese and then
the British colonizers. Indian speakersof
Marathi, Gujarati,and Hindi have always
called the city Mumbai when referringto it
in the vernacular.Still, for anglophones, foreign and Indian alike, who know and love Bombay, it is hard to swallow the name
change. Even to nonspeakersof English in
India, the name "Bombay"has an allure, a
magical quality (which derives in no small
part from the city's film industry), that
"Mumbai"does not. "Bombay" s as evocai
tive in its own specifically resonantway as
are "Paris,""Berlin,"or "Rio."Nor does
Mumbai referto quite the same city as Bombay. More important, the city of Mumbai does not belong to the same people as Bombay...
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