‘Bombay’ meri hai!



On a television programme last week that was debating the controversy over the use of the term ‘Bombay’ by Karan Johar in his film Wake up, Sid and his apology to Raj Thackeray, I said I steadfastly refuse to call the city that has been my karmabhoomi anything but ‘Bombay’.

I was interrrupted by a member of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – a North Indian – who threatened to thrust `Mumbai’ down my throat and in the heat of the moment I quite forgot what I was saying.

But I still have good reason to continue to call my city  ’Bombay’ and while I have written about this ample number of times in the Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times (and here I deliberately refer to the city as `Mumbai’), I would like to share my thoughts with a larger readership.

I have been arguing/fighting about this with Bal Thackeray for years. Of course, these days Balasaheb is no longer available for verbal duels. But if he were, I would have asked him again, “So, when are you changing your name to Bal ‘Thakre’?”

For I do not believe he or any member of his family has the right to force the Bombay Scottish school to call itself Mumbai Scottish or Bombay Dyeing to change its name to Mumbai Dyeing until they continue to anglicise the spelling of a name that is plain and simply ‘Thakre’.

But I believe the Thackerays will never de-anglicise themselves — for if they did, they would be just commonplace. So they continue to spell their name as William Makepeace Thackeray did his.

Balasaheb’s father, Prabodhankar Thackeray, was so impressed by the writer of Vanity Fair (who was born in Calcutta) in the 19th century that he decided to fashion his name after this British writer-philosopher. So now when Raj and his cohorts talk about getting rid of colonial hangovers, I think that is rich and insist upon calling Bombay, well, Bombay until the Thackerays themselves begin practising what they preach.

I have been cautioned against openly provoking and challenging the Thackerays on this one by many friends and well-wishers in the past. Perhaps I might have taken their advice seriously and gone over to Mumbai if I had not had a tape in my possession which gives Bal Thackeray away.

I do understand that he had nothing to do with the anglicisation of his unique surname but at least he could have been more honest about his `Mee, Marathi’ kind of policies that Raj is now following so faithfully.

So how do I know he was not very honest? Because during the course of one of my innumerable interviews with the Sena supremo in the Nineties, I was startled to discover that not only did he spell his name in a British-y fashion, he even pronounced the `Thack’ to rhyme with `hack’ – six times on that tape in my possession. And each time I play it, I am reminded about what a fraud parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS really are.

Nevertheless, there is at least one thing to be said about Balasaheb – in keeping with his `Mee, Marathi’ policy, he did send his children to Marathi medium schools. But not his grandchildren. They went to the best English medium schools (like Bombay Scottish) – though there is nothing wrong with that – and Raj Thackeray’s son has even opted for German over Marathi. What moral authority do the second generation Thackerays then have to impose all sorts of bans on people speaking English and wanting to send their children to convents?

In fact, all along the Nineties, at the beginning of every academic year Shiv Sainiks used to routinely beat up staff and damage property in these `convent schools’ because the nuns and priests would not admit their children when they did not meet the entrance standards for their schools. It was only the refusal of the Bombay Diocese to give in to that kind of pressure despite the damage to life and property that send them scurrying to the `non-convent’ but nevertheless English-medium schools of equally high-standard like the Bombay Scottish and the American International.

I have nothing against that per se – every citizen of this country has the right to aspire for the best for his or her children and the third generation Thackerays should be no different. But don’t the children of other Maharashtrians have equal rights? Or even those of `Mumbaikars’ who may not be Maharashtrians?

So until one or the other of the Thackerays exhibits the moral courage to put an end to this kind of duplicity and makes a start by changing his name to the more home-grown, commonplace `Thakre’, the city I love and which has given me much is Bombay to me in English, Bambai in Hindi and Mumbai when I speak Marathi. And no one can tell me any different.

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