As part of its budget for the year 2010/11, the Chennai Corporation has resolved to rename fifty roads presently commemorating Europeans after Tamil scholars. This has been done keeping in mind the soon-to-be held World Classical Tamil Conference. The plan to commemorate Tamil scholars is indeed a good one but before it is implemented in haste, it would do the Corporation good to debate on whether this is the only way. The civic body would also do well to ponder over the possible problems this can cause to citizens.
The city has barely lived down the hastily and rather ill-advisedly done renumbering exercise. There was complete chaos and confusion with some residents sticking to the old numbers while others switched to the new. While political parties traded charges on the logic of why this was done, several letters went astray and couriers had a very difficult time delivering packages. Those who receive payments and dividends by post spent an enormous amount of time in intimating the concerned organizations. A cut-off date for switching over to the new numbers was never announced and it was by a general unwritten consensus that citizens themselves arrived at a method of dealing with it all. The new number was followed by the old number with a slash separating the two. This too, is not universally practised.
Now comes the latest proposal to rename roads with probably the same consequences listed above. In the past we have seen several exercises of a similar nature and very few have achieved the results that were envisaged. Avvai Shanmugam Road still remains Lloyds Road for many. And Chamiers Road has not seen a widespread use of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar Road (incidentally this is one road name where the caste name is still featured, something that we understood was not allowed as per law).
Should we change the names just because they are European? Ought we not look at what was the contribution to the city by the person after whom the road was initially named and whether it is still worth commemorating? JW Madeley was Special Engineer for Waterworks and Drainage and it was under his supervision that most of the drains in Madras were laid. He is remembered in Madeley Road in T Nagar. It was said of him by J Chartres Molony, a President of the Madras Corporation that “he never promised what he did not perform and he made the interests of his employers his own”. His employers incidentally were the same civic body that now plans to erase his memory. Molony is also remembered by way of a road that bears his name in T Nagar. He penned his memories of Madras and the Presidency in a book titled A Book Of South India and his love for the city comes through in it. Does he deserve being forgotten? What about JR Coats, Engineer for the city and under whose supervision new areas were developed? What about Sir AT Arundale whose brainchild was Victoria Public Hall, now being splendidly restored? And can we forget Charles Trevelyan who not only gave us People’s Park but also built a basin for augmenting the city’s water supply with the road leading to it even now called Trevelyan Basin Road? And should Conran Smith be erased even though his statue remains well-tended for right within the portals of Ripons Building? Will Annie Besant be a part of this list? What about Dr GS Arundale (Arundale Beach Road), Col Olcott (Olcott Kuppam) and Ripon himself?
This correspondent would like to suggest two better ways to deal with the exercise. Have a committee go in to the merits and de-merits of remembering a particular foreigner by way of a road name. In case the name does not warrant commemoration let us by all means rename the road. Alternatively, with Chennai now an ever-expanding metropolis can we not have Tamil scholars commemorated with street names in the new areas that are coming up? Why create confusion by renaming roads in existing areas?