Why Do Cities in India Change Their Names?

It’s got to be a royal pain in the behind to change the name of an entire city. Signs must be replaced. Government departments must be renamed. Not to mention all the business cards, letterhead, newspaper mastheads, maps… It must cost a fortune. And it’s confusing for those of us who can’t seem to keep up.

This name change thing happens in India quite a bit. Bombay is now Mumbai. Calcutta is now Kolkata. Benares is also Varanasi. Madras is Chennai.

It must be awfully strange to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another. Even stranger than getting married and suddenly having a new last name, or having to write a new year on things for the first couple weeks of January.

There are several reasons why name changes happen in India. In a lot of cases (Mumbai, for example), they are simply improving the spelling of a city whose name never really changed for the native people. Bombay is just an anglicized version of what the Brits heard the locals say. There’s a lot of arrogance surrounding colonialization, but the “we know better than you do what this place is called” takes the cake, as far as I’m concerned. (But then, not nearly enough American place names reflect the wishes of the Native Americans, so who are we to criticize?)

Adding another layer of complexity to the situation, there are 22 official languages in India, and 1652 spoken languages. Needless to say, all these people have different ways of pronouncing things, and different senses of history for each area.

From a political and religious standpoint, there’s also some pressure to change Islamic and Christian city names to their Hindu counterparts, as Hinduism comprises almost 80 percent of the population of India.

The thing I find most interesting is that a city’s name may “officially” change, but that does not necessarily mean that the locals or the press or the international community will adhere to that change. In some cases, it’s business as usual. Apparently it’s only a big deal if you make it one. Which makes me think of that old saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Colonial India
The arrogant, and now largely inaccurate, colonial map of India.

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Two Years in Seattle

On August 24, 2014 I arrived in Seattle to start my new life. I had never been to the city before, and didn’t know a soul. I remember how I felt that day: excited, and scared silly. I felt like I was in a foreign country. Sometimes I still do.

In retrospect, I really think I was in shock. The terrain wasn’t flat like I expected. The weather was sunny and mild. I had been expecting rain, and after living in Florida for 40 years, “mild” was a sensation I had very rarely experienced.

I remember sitting in a park with my dogs, just staring at people. After driving for 3100 miles, I still had the sensation that I was moving. I still pass that park every day on the way to work.

I remember noticing that there was a completely different vibe in this city. It’s a much smaller city than Jacksonville, Florida, but it feels like a much larger one, probably because people are much more densely packed here. I don’t know how I was picking up on these signals just by sitting in the park, but I remember drawing conclusions that I later found to be true: this was a more educated, more sophisticated, more liberal, more diverse place.

More liberal! I wanted to jump for joy. After 40 years of feeling like a liberal turd in a conservative punch bowl, suddenly I felt like I fit in. It was like taking off a pair of shoes that was two sizes too small. I had no idea how much of a burden I had been carrying all that time. That feeling of being an outsider, that feeling of having to justify my conclusions, that feeling of never being taken seriously…I could lay those burdens down for the first time in my life. And it felt so good.

In the coming weeks and months I had a lot of adjusting to do. Finding my way around. Getting used to the insane level of traffic. Figuring out which of all the unknown grocery stores fit my budget and my tastes. Getting used to the fact that a lot of the products I was used to are sold here, but in entirely different packaging. Getting used to the fact that everything costs about 3 times as much. Learning my job. Finding doctors and dentists and libraries and post offices. Wrapping my brain around the Seattle Freeze.

After a few months of desperately trying to make friends, I wrote about the Seattle Freeze. I just didn’t know what it was called at the time. In that blog entry I called it, “Nice, but not.” After two years I’m still convinced that this is a thing, but since then I have made friends, and therefore don’t act quite as needy, and am not as hurt by the smiling, polite, unmovable wall of rejection.

I also came across a blog entry I wrote before leaving Florida, called A Florida Transplant to the Pacific Northwest. In it I had a lot of anxious, unanswered questions about how to make this massive transition. I can still feel the stress rolling off the page. Man, I was scared.

But you know what? Since then I’ve answered all those questions, and this place now feels like home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

So, happy anniversary to me!


Peace and Quiet

As I write this, a construction crew is tearing up the pavement on my bridge. It’s long overdue, and I’m really looking forward to not having potholes in my parking space anymore, but still, they are making an ungodly racket. I’ve actually had to resort to wearing earplugs, which is making it quite a challenge to hear boats when they request a bridge opening.

Peace is closely linked to quiet for a very good reason. I’m finding it really hard to concentrate due to this hullabaloo, and even harder to write. I’ve noticed I’m shaking my leg again, just like I did throughout my teen years. That’s evidence of an unsettled spirit.

If you don’t have quiet, you can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you make poor decisions. Poor decisions rarely lead to peaceful outcomes. At least that’s been my experience. If you ever want to see me contemplate violence, just let a neighborhood car alarm go off at 3 a.m., and let it continue to blare until the battery runs out. That’s pitchfork and torch time, as far as I’m concerned.

I always used to think that big cities were more crime-ridden than small towns because of the concentrated population. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in the country you can actually hear yourself think. Thinking people are less apt to break laws.

You’ll never see anyone meditating on a construction site. It’s not an ideal place to practice Tai Chi, either. Maybe if I calmly repeat, “Bye-bye, potholes,” as if it’s a mantra, while taking deep cleansing breaths, I’ll exit this experience with my sanity intact.


Food Forests

God, how I love living in Seattle! These people know how to think outside the box. They’ll do crazy things that, once done, make absolute perfect sense, and you’ll say to yourself, “Why isn’t anyone else doing this?”

Case in point: the Beacon Food Forest. On a 7 acre patch of Urban Seattle, they are in the process of developing a forest of fruit, nuts, and berries and will encourage the public to freely forage therefrom. Now, how cool is that?

This place will provide education about healthy eating, and provide the resources to do so for those who desperately need or want them. It will also provide community garden space for families at a cost of only 10 dollars a year in a city where land is at a premium. There is absolutely no downside to this idea.

I have often seen homeless people in public parks and thought that if the trees in those parks only bore fruit, it would help their situation considerably. And that’s something that wouldn’t be particularly hard to do. And now Seattle has gone and done it. Amazing.

Once this space is completely developed, according to NPR’s The Salt, this will be the largest urban food forest on public land in the United States. I couldn’t be more proud of this community.

Food Forest

How the Food Forest will look when complete.

[Image credit: beaconfoodforest.org]

Fun Facts About Seattle

When I started my job with the City of Seattle, I attended a day-long orientation. This event probably could have been reduced to about a half a day except they peppered it with “ice-breakers”. You know what I’m talking about. Those awkward little group participation  projects that you’re forced to do with the total strangers around you that most of us hate and view as a massive waste of time, but trainers feel are highly effective.

During one of these we had to split off into groups of four and work together on a quiz about Seattle. As much of a time-waster as it was, it did pique my interest about this city. Seattle is definitely in a class by itself. So here are things I learned about Seattle from that quiz, as well as from the websites Seattle Living and Nileguide.com.

  • The Seattle Department of Transportation owns and maintains 40,000 trees.
  • Seattle is the most literate city in the country, and its library system has the highest percentage of library card-holders per capita. It also has the highest percentage of residents with a college degree or higher, and the highest number of book stores per capita.
  • Seattle is the only city in the United States that owns its own watershed. (And the water tastes GREAT here!)
  • The only place in the world that has more glassblowing studios than Seattle is Murano, an island near Venice, Italy.
  • Bertha Knight Landes was the City’s first woman mayor back in 1926. That would be strong evidence of how enlightened this city is. Unfortunately, it hasn’t had a woman mayor since then.
  • When you think of Seattle, you think of rain. But it actually has less annual rainfall than Houston, Chicago or New York City. The difference here is it’s light and pretty much continual for much of the year, whereas the three other cities mentioned tend to get it out of the way in downpours and then let you go on about your sunny business.
  • Seattle was the first American city to play a Beatles song on the radio.
  • The city’s first official ordinance was for the prevention of drunkenness.
  • City Light achieved carbon neutral status, in other words, zero net greenhouse gas emissions, in 2005. Pretty impressive, considering that the world’s first gas station was opened here.
  • Seattle has 6,189 acres of parks and open areas. That’s 11.52% of the city.

Overall, this is a pretty fascinating place. I can’t wait to get out there and learn more about it!

seattle Space

Seattle from space.

[Image credit: Pinterest.com]

Big Jim—Jacksonville’s Longest Running Tradition

A friend of mine calls our city, Jacksonville, Florida, “a truck stop that got out of control”. Actually, he has a point. Jacksonville is a sprawling monstrosity of a city with, frankly, not much to recommend it for its size. Tourists generally drive right on through here on their way to Disney World. They don’t even stop to eat. We have the square acreage, but we don’t have the confidence or courage to be a “real” big city. Things are getting better in recent years, but we still have a long way to go.

Jacksonville was originally called Cowford because we’re located at a narrow place in the St. Johns River where cows could cross. We used to be known for our paper mills, but fortunately that stench has been replaced by the delightful smell of the Maxwell House Coffee plant. But basically, we’ve never really shaken our factory mentality.

Because of this, it doesn’t surprise me that our longest running tradition is Big Jim, a steam whistle that has been marking the hours for factory workers since the 1890’s. It blows every day except Sunday at 7 am, Noon, 1 pm and 5 pm. You can hear it from 10 miles away.

It also blows to mark new years, and except for a 15 month period here recently when it was struck by lightning, it’s been going strong without respite, for over 120 years. It also marked the ends of World Wars I and II, and was the only warning signal during the city’s Great Fire of 1901.

I happen to like the sound of Big Jim, but only because I don’t live anywhere near it. If that thing woke me up every day at 7 am whether I liked it or not, I’d probably lose my mind. But to me, Big Jim is the perfect symbol of our city. We are plodders. We have our routines. We are set in our ways. We’re kind of rusty. And to the outside observer it may seem as if we don’t really have aspirations.

Big Jim is the epitome of the status quo, and so is this city. But maybe there’s a certain amount of comfort and charm in that after all.

big jim

Big Jim

[Image credit examiner.com]