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India's Bangalore: City of the Boiled Bean?

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

India is turning into a letter carrier's nightmare. Three of its four major cities have changed their names in the last decade, and now another one wants to do the same. It's confusing people both at home and abroad. NPR's Philip Reeves lives there, and he sent us this commentary.

PHILIP REEVES:

The word is `Bangalored,' and for some American workers, it's a nasty little verb. That's the word used these days to describe losing a job because it's been outsourced to India, contracted out, in other words, to a lower-paid worker on the other side of the world. Or at least that was the word. We may all have to drop it soon in favor of a new one.

The verb comes from Bangalore, the south Indian city now known around the globe as a hub for the information technology business. That's where your call may well end up if you ring customer service to complain about a mistake in your credit card bill or to ask advice on how to operate your laptop. A few decades ago no one had really heard of the place. It was a bit of a backwater, and certainly not a city worthy of an unpleasant verb all of its own. But Bangalore's star rose with the information technology boom. These days you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the international business world who doesn't know Bangalore or who wouldn't say that the city's lucky to have a good brand name, which makes recent developments even more intriguing. There's a move afoot to change the city's name.

Not long ago the chief minister of the state of Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, announced the new name should be Bengaluru. India has dozens of languages, and in Karnataka, people speak Kannada. A group of writers who are proponents of that language say Bengaluru is a more suitable name, as it's closer to the city's original name before the days when the British colonialists ruled the place. The issue has, as is often the case in India, produced an energetic debate. It so happens that the city's original name was Benda Kaluru. This means `city of the boiled bean,' not a name you'd think is particularly suitable for a high-tech metropolis at the cutting edge of the 21st century. That's one of the reasons for the debate.

This is not the first time an Indian city's undergone a controversial name change. In fact, three of India's four most prominent cities, all of which are among the most populous cities on the planet, have been around the same block. Bombay, India's industrial and moviemaking capital, is now officially called Mumbai. The Tamils of the southern city of Madras changed its name to Chennai. And Calcutta, once the capital of British-administered India, is supposed these days to call itself Kolkata, the city's Bengali name.

Indians seem to have mixed feelings about this trend. Many of them still refer to Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. One colleague told me she chooses which name to use according to whom she's talking to. If it's someone in Delhi, Bombay's rival, she says Bombay. In Bombay itself, well, she's the tactful type; she calls it Mumbai.

Bangalore's not yet reached that point. Its name change has to be agreed by the central government. But there's a fair chance that the word for losing your job to an Indian outsourcer will soon no longer be `Bangalored,' but `boiled,' `boiled-beaned.' Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.