Tear up the maps: India's cities shed colonial names

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Mention the name Bangalore, and sprawling high-tech campuses of a saffron-scented Silicon Valley come to mind. In short, "New India." By year's end, however, Bangalore could go the way of Bombay, changing its name from an international totem to a Jeopardy question. What is the city formerly known as Bangalore: Bengaluru. Or perhaps Bengalooru.

The trend that began vexing cartographers a decade ago when Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, and Calcutta became Kolkata has only gained speed. Last month, the "French Riviera of the East" decided it wasn't so French after all, dropping its Francophile name, Pondicherry, for Puducherry.

In part, India is merely sweeping clean the last corners of colonialism - offending few beyond upper-class English-speaking Indians and outsiders who have wrapped India's identity in its anglicized names. In part, its politicians are using words as a tool - sometimes more to divide than to unite.

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