Illustration by Suneesh K.
Last week, Mahindra Group boss Anand Mahindra and his co-judge Infosys co-founder and chairman Nandan Nilekani converged on one competition entry that they thought was the most appropriate as the title that best describes Bengaluru. The winner of the spot poll: (to the sound of drumroll) TecHalli.
As new monikers for cities go, TecHalli is among the lamest. Sure the Silicon Valley of India tag that it succeeds may have been “too derivative”; an imitator, and a poor one at that. But TecHalli? Surely, we could have done better.
The yoking together of two completely disparate concepts, technology and the village, much like another such amalgam, Tech Haat, is forced but not funny.
Now Anand Mahindra and Nandan Nilekani are both honourable men, doyens of Indian business who mean well. But for once, the dinky Twitter contest that the former initiated clearly failed to get the creative juices of the twitterati flowing. The final descriptor, TecHalli, does little justice to the spirit of Bengaluru or even the amount of spirit the city consumes which once made it the kingdom of good times.
The city of a thousand potholes. The city with a traffic cop on a flyover. The city where the groundwater ran out. There were so many options which would perfectly sum up the experience of the intrepid visitor to the city, much like Sin City sets you up nicely for the temptations that await you in Las Vegas.
The business of nicknames for cities is old hat. Some names hold out the whiff of promise. For instance, Dublin which is called The Fair City from the city’s unofficial anthem, “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty...” sung by Molly Malone. In other instances, there is less promise, more menace. Thus, Beijing’s appellation of the 'Forbidden City' which is the English equivalent of the Chinese name Jin meaning forbidden, refers to the fact that no one could enter or leave the walled city without the emperor's permission. Substitute emperor for the CPC today and well, you know what you are getting into.
Other such sobriquets are just - so precise. Thus, Prague is called the City of a 100 Spires based on an actual count by a 19th century mathematician and philosopher Bernard Bolzano. While the spires have gone up substantially since then, no one’s bothered to count again, so 100 it is.
In other cases, the official explanations for the nicknames are just hogwash. The real reasons are different and only known to the locals. Whatever Frank Sinatra may have lulled us into believing when he crooned “I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps”, in reality New York earned that moniker only after skyhigh rents drove most people out of their homes onto the streets where gangs lay waiting to rid them of whatever little substance they had left, if they as much as went to sleep for a minute. Ergo, The City that Never Sleeps also known as The Big Apple for more biblical reasons.
Or take the City of Joy. As a one-time resident of Calcutta (now Kolkata), I have dug deep through the city’s crumbling infrastructure looking for the elusive cheer promised by Dominique Lapierre only to conclude that the reference must have been coined by him in recognition of the money he made from sales of his book and its film rights.
That’s how cities earn their reputations. Not through some intellectual claptrap about combining technology with tradition but through the rough and ready language of the streets.
In this pantheon of bynames, TecHalli is as literal and meh as Chicago being called The Windy City or Bordeaux, the City of Wine.
Indeed, even a simple portmanteau would have done just fine. If Liverpool is Liverpuddle and Alabama is dubbed Alabummer, how about Bengaluru as Bengabucks.