Lodd Govinddoss Nagar Road!

There is something very Madras about reducing all names to a set of initials. It happens just about anywhere – people are referred to by their initials. And the same thing is increasingly happening to street names – we have a set of initials as street names. At a time when the city seems to be finally waking up to the built heritage it has, going by the slew of restoration projects announced and being carried out by the Government, it seems we are forgetting large chunks of our street history by abbreviating them. How many of the current generation would know for instance as to who TTK was?  

Where Even Gods Have Initials

Even the Gods are not spared. Thus Mundagakanniamman Koil Street in Mylapore is now MK Amman Koil Street. Thulasinga (actually Thelliyasinga) Perumal Koil Street in Tiruvallikeni is TP Koil Street. And there are a host of others. Chengazhuneer Pillaiyar Koil Street is now CP Koil Street. All of these shrines are markers of a great past, leave alone their religious importance. How can we treat them in such a cavalier fashion?  

Set of Initials as Street Names

The problem with Tamil names is that they are long. And printing them on signboards is a pain. And then we have errors compounding them. For long Jani Jahan Khan Road in Tiruvallikeni went about as Johnny John Khan until a historically sensitive Corporation Commissioner had it changed. Similarly, Conran Smith Road now rejoices as Kandran Smith. While this is bad enough, making them into initials robs us of the very person’s memory, ironically when the street/road was named to honour them.

I have practically given up unravelling some of the initials – what for instance is TP Chatram Road in the Kilpauk area or VC Garden in Mylapore? And it took me years to know that MKN Road in Alandur was named after Muthukumaraswami Naicker. I would like to know more about him.  

The Story of JJ Road

Abbreviated street names also run the risk of arbitrary expansion in later years often giving rise to legends. Thus JJ Road in the Alwarpet area is now explained in two ways – Jaggampet Jamindar Road and also J Jayalalitha Road. Both are fictional. The Corporation, when it lays out a locality, names the principal thoroughfares as AA, BB, etc pending their being named later. This is a universally accepted town planning practice. JJ Road was thus left as it was when the whole of the Kasturi Estate/Alwarpet area was developed. It is ironic that a street which never had a name should now have two alternative expanded nomenclatures.  

When Digital Maps Reinterpret Initials

Modernity has brought its own problems. Thus some online sites convert our Chennai abbreviations into names. MKN Road is referred to as Makan Road and GNG Street (Ambattur) is Ging Street on the site onefivenine.com. What do you make of that? We are bad enough when it comes to record keeping but should we make it worse with these initials?

The State Government would do well to ponder over future naming if this is to be increasingly the trend. To what purpose the renaming of General Hospital after Rajiv Gandhi if it is to only be RGGH and to what purpose Central Station becoming Puratchi Thalaivar Dr MG Ramachandran Central when it is still referred to the old way by most people?  

Every street name in the city has a reason behind it, at the least it could even commemorate a whim of a developer. But there is every reason to remember it. Let us not erase our past by truncating street names. The Government could show the way by ensuring full names are inscribed on the blue signboards they are putting up. 

This article appeared in The Hindu dated August 9, 2023 in their e-paper https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/when-history-is-reduced-to-mere-initials/article67155395.ece