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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 24, april 1-15, 2010
Is this the only way
to remember Tamil scholars?
(By a Special Correspondent)

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 laudable 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 has been complete chaos and confusion with some residents sticking to the old numbers while others have switched to the new. While political parties traded charges on the logic of why this was done, several letters went astray and couriers went crazy trying to deliver packages. Those who receive payments and dividends by post spent an enormous amount of time in informing the paying-on organisations about the changes. A cut-off date for switching to the new numbers was never announced and it was by general, unwritten consensus that the citizens themselves arrived at a method of dealing with it all. The new number was followed by the old number (or vice versa) 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 Lloyd’s Road for many. And Chamier’s Road has not seen widespread use of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar Road (incidentally, this is one road name where the caste name is still featured, something that we understand is not allowed as per local 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? J.W. 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 past 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 J.R. Coats, Engineer for the city, under whose supervision new areas were developed? What about Sir A.T. Arundale whose brainchild was Victoria Public Hall, now being restored? 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 right within the portals of Ripon Building?

This correspondent would like to suggest an alternative to deal with the exercise. 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? Alternatively, have a committee go in to the merits and demerits 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.

Be that as it may, once the renaming is done, how many will remember the honoured ones for their scholarship except other scholars?

P.S. The city still awaits the remembrance of its founders, Francis Day, Beri Thimmappa and Andrew Cogan. When’s that going to happen?


In this issue

This budget causes concern to some
Is this the only way to remember Tamil scholars?
All atwitter at Chennai Corporation
The majesty of Chepauk
Historic Residences of Chennai - 39
Other stories

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