In the 1942 science fiction “Donovon’s brain” by the late Curt Sidomak, one of the character towards the end of the book recites the rhyme “he thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees a ghost” to keep himself from falling into a spell. The Independent’s editor Amol Rajan’s boneheaded assertion of referring to Mumbai as Bombay as a stand against “closed minded view of Hindu Nationalists” falls in this category of thrusting your fists and shouting ghost in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Before I begin dissecting his motives, however, I must first take exception to this symbolic crusading that the left liberals seem to specialise in. For someone as powerful as the editor of a newspaper, reverting to the old name of a city to fight Hindu Nationalist is weak and vain. It reminds me of the Americans who started calling their French fries as Freedom fries back in 2001 to protest France’s lack of support in war on terror. Amol’s stance is a classic case of lazy liberalism where scolding someone and making symbolic gestures has replaced actually doing something. If there is indeed extremist nationalism in the country, saying Bombay instead of Mumbai does absolutely nothing to reduce/fight it.
Now let’s think about this whole close minded nationalism thingie. Mumbai/Bomaby is not a Hindu- non Hindu thing. If anything it is a native versus immigrant thing. Noted Marathi humourist the late Pu La Deshpande even made a joke about it saying according to true Mumbaikar, Mumbai belonged to those who called it Mumbai. He said this somewhere in the 70s, when the city was officially named Bombay. And I really hope, left lunatic and all, Amol Rajan will not call the beloved Pu La a close minded Hindu. Even Shiv Sena who agitated for the change in name did so to assert its Marathi roots, not its Hindu roots. The 90s, after all, were a decade when a whole lot of cities discarded their British era colonial names for more Indian ones. Madras to Chennai happened almost simultaneously. So why single out Mumbai?
One reason is of course taking a stand against Hindu Nationalism is a good move career wise if you are in media. Today I saw Rana Ayyub congratulate Amol for this. Because, you know it takes real courage to call a city by a wrong name when you are sitting in your plush newspaper office in London (Or Londonium, as it was called before it’s name was changed to London). Also it is a classic baiting tactic that liberals have run to ground in the past. The tactic goes something like this- say something stupid/offensive/false. Put it up in media or social media. Wait for the backlash. Then point at the backlash as a proof of your original stupid statement. (Remember Amir Khan claiming the backlash to his intolerance remarks prove intolerance?). So Amol will be really disappointed if there is no backlash from the “close minded Hindu Nationalists” like us.
The other and more sinister reason for this stand is sneaky imperialism. You see, for many liberals who studied in foreign universities, whose parents/grandparents did the civil services jobs in the 50s and 60s, or who themselves taught in the Nehruvian socialist golden era of our universities in the 70s, the British rule in many ways was better than independence. After all British society understood and valued hierarchy. You could be a Lord or a Duke or a Baron and the unwashed masses would not dare question you. You could pontificate about the future of those masses in the company of elites like you, and laugh in derision, should one of the masses show the impunity to question you.
Of course times changed and with the advent of social media broke down the last of the elitist bastion; media. No longer could journalists insulate themselves from the unwashed masses, if they said something stupid they got their rear kicked in the most public and humiliating manner. Naturally their frustration at free speech and the Indian independence increased. In Victorian England, you could kick those who disagreed with you and your peers would nod “there’s a chap” with you. It is understandable why someone like Amol would wish to use the name used by foreigners who ruled Mumbai rather than its own unwashed masses.
So if all of this is the frustration of a weak, petulant Knight, why take it seriously?
Because first of all, it is perpetrating injustice on us and hence must be taken seriously. When Amol says the change of name was done by a far right government in Maharashtra, what he is really saying is the stupid people in Maharashtra elected a far right government. It also smacks of liberal arrogance and imperialism where the gora sahib (or his brown tonto) gets to decide what name represents open mindedness and pluralism and the rest of us have to fall in line. And remember, today it is the name, next it will be our language. The liberals are notorious for taking a mile when given an inch.
You see, it is no surprise that leftist always thumb their noses at the notion of patriotism. For their highly networked and cartelistic way of operation, boundaries of nationhood are really an irritant. Which is also why you see the lefties in our country scream murder over any attempt by government to audit NGOs like Greenpeace. They do not like their sources of money questioned for something as inconsequential as law and order. This has also made the left liberals and media people, the favourite new tools of those ambitious individuals who wish to exert influence over other countries using their infinite wealth.
So when Amol is insisting Mumbai to be called Bombay, he could be sending a very visible signal of loyalty to some obscure power centre that understands the dangers of allowing Indians to rebuild their self-esteem by means of identifying and embracing their culture. He is saying” oh those filthy unwashed Indians. How dare they decide what to call their cities?”
Lastly, is it really rejection of pluralism if a city’s name reflects the cultural history of its majority? Of course not. A multi-cultural world is one where each community has a place of their own, not a cultural equivalent of Mc’Donalds with identical design and menus the world over.
There is a famous anecdote of retired Indian cricketer G R Vishwanath. One day, in Australia, Vishy pronounced Richie Benaud’s surname as Be-nod. Richie corrected him gently, to which Vishy promptly responded “great. Now please stop calling me Vijav Nath”.
Vishy is considered by many as the finest style batsman that ever donned an Indian cap. In these perilous times, his may not be such a bad example to emulate when it comes to getting in face of those who are angry with us for asserting our nationalism.