Every once in a while, our city’s Corporation Council passes resolutions renaming some road or the other. While some of these are fuelled by mere whims and no logical basis, there are some renaming exercises that are undertaken with a serious view to commemorate a prominent citizen who lived in the vicinity. These are much-deserved recognitions, but the city’s governing body is rapidly running out of roads to name. And this is where it needs to consider taking a leaf out of European capitals and begin the practice of placing commemorative plaques by the sites of historic locations. There is only so much renaming that can be done. Can we commemorate with plaques and not renaming of roads?
Renaming – a practice since 1973
In the beginning, it was all easy – the city was full of streets and roads commemorating colonial governors, army officers and civilians, apart from East India Company servants. Starting with 1972, the Government, via the Corporation, renamed many of these after freedom fighters, social reformers and intellectuals. That was widely welcomed though some did feel that retaining the original names would have been best and the Indian worthies could have been commemorated in roads and streets in the newer areas of the city. That plea fell on deaf ears given that it was a minority view anyway. The city itself got a new name in 1996 and the practice has since continued.
Renaming Renamed Roads
But now we are seeing a new trend – renaming roads that were already renamed. Thus Lloyd’s Road in Royapettah was renamed Avvai Shanmugam Salai in the 1980s after the theatre personality who resided there. Now, a part of the same road has been renamed after VP Raman, the brilliant lawyer who also lived on the same road. What was once a long stretch from the beach to Mount Road (oops Anna Salai) now has two names with not a very clear demarcation as to where each begins and ends. There however can be no debate on the deservedness of VP Raman to have a road named after him. But now for the sake of argument if a third illustrious personality emerges from the same road in future and there is a demand to rename a part of the road after that person, will there then be three names? And thereafter four, five, and so on?
The Corporation is sometimes left with no choice. Thus Gandhi Nagar IV Main Road became B Ramachandra Adithanar Salai and now Kumaran Colony is named after Mandolin wizard U Shrinivas. Once again, the recognitions are much deserved but what is being removed are Indian and not colonial names. There can be no end to this exercise and after a point it will lead to truncation of streets and cause much confusion.
Can we consider commemorative plaques instead?
The Corporation can resort to an out-of-the-box solution – it can offer to place commemorative blue plaques along each thoroughfare commemorating prominent people who lived there. These can be placed on the wall of the exact site/location if that is known, or it can be on the first wall of the street in case only broad locational details are available. This is being done increasingly in most European capitals and even within India, Pune and Kolkata have made a beginning. It is high time Chennai followed suit.
Why not rename the many roads named after same person?
If that is not an option, the Corporation can consider renaming roads that commemorate political personalities who already have plenty of roads in the city named after them. Without taking names, we can safely say that some State and Central leaders are over-represented in this city, and we could do with some variety. But that cannot even be considered, can it?
This article appeared in Madras Musings issue dated October 1, 2023 and can be read here
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