Columns » Words

Alias Kolkata



Whose hole is the blackest?

"KOLKATA, India — A fire broke out at an illegal six-story plastics market in the Indian city of Kolkata early Wednesday, killing at least 19 people, police said. ... Kolkata is formerly known as Calcutta."

Formerly? I was aware that Bombay had become Mumbai in the news media, or some of the news media, but I didn't realize that Calcutta was now Kolkata. I wonder if historians refer to the Black Hole of Kolkata. Seems like rewriting history.

In recent years, India has officially changed some names that were left over from British rule, but even inside India, some people cling to the old names by choice, and outside India, many people don't know any better. I once read an article by the author Salman Rushdie in which he said that Bombay was his favorite city, and he refused to call it Mumbai.

It happens that the Arkansas Times has an in-house expert on Indian affairs, Darielle D'Mello. Darielle has first-hand recollections of the renaming craze.

"I would have to agree with Mr. Rushdie. ... I think the names were changed when I was 8, and I too refuse to call Bombay, Mumbai. It was part of a radical nationalist movement that emerged in the late '80's and they tried to rename the cities based on the indigenous tribes/cultures in that area before colonial rule. They even renamed the airports and train terminals, which were clearly British architectural structures. Instead of embracing the fact that colonialism was part of our history (India was a bunch of feuding states before then), they are trying to erase any evidence of it."

So yes, the transformation of Calcutta into Kolkata sneaked up on me. But as a result I'm keeping an eye out for these conversions. I'm almost certain that now it's Istanbul not Constantinople.

"Memberg struck out solo and moved back to Arkansas. Dude is hella prolific, having recorded several EPs and albums of bedroom lo-fi pop since 2011 ... " Robert Bell, the Times' entertainment editor, says that hella has come into use as an intensifier. It appears to be derived from "a hell of a" but not used exactly the same way.

Add a comment