As of Nov. 1, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru, the latest in a series of Indian name changes that delight semioticians and frustrate mapmakers the world over. Bombay begat Mumbai, Madras begat Chennai, Calcutta begat Kolkata, and so it goes.
Seen through the lens of a counter-revolution against colonialism, it feels unseemly to quibble about such spelling issues, even if the matter is far more linguistically and historically complex than a simple reversion to pre-Empire mellifluosity. Best to let Indians do that themselves. Suffice to say, the cultural imperatives of Hindu nationalism are not universally popular in India. See "In Karnataka, the sword of Tipu Sultan still cuts" for other revisionist adventures in the region.
But for those of us who live near Silicon Valley, there's an extra flavor to the implications of this name change. Because Bangalore, after all, is "the Silicon Valley of India." Certainly, it is not the first region to be declared (or declare itself) "the Silicon Valley of X," but on globalization's map, Bangalore lays claim to the most significance. It is one thing to metaphorically rebut colonial legacies by changing street names. It's another thing entirely to physically transform global economic power relationships.
And Bangalore, the fountainhead of India's outsourcing/offshoring explosion, has achieved precisely that. The name connotes the rise of India as a world player in technology, at least as much as it rings with the imperialist echoes of the East India Company. It signifies a world where the wages of software professionals in California are tied to high-tech investments in Southern India, and where a Silicon Valley start-up is considered incomplete without a Bangalorean or Chennaian or Hyderabadian business plan.
The abolishment of Bangalore aims to erase the British stain from India's tapestry. But the irony is that the software prowess of the residents of Bengaluru has stitched us all more tightly together.