Saturday, October 4, 2008

To please the powers

Naming streets is probably the best way to keep memories of public figures - or events - fresh in the minds of a city's residents. All too often, however, the street name is all that remains in the public eye and the history behind the naming is forgotten (see Eric's comment here!). On top of that, the government at some time in the '70s decided that in the name of secularism, all caste references on street names should be done away with. And so we had some queer situations - Dr.Nair Road officially became Doctor Road, clubbing the co-founder of the Justice Party (from which both the DMK and the AIADMK are descended) with several others; Rangachari Road, Ranga Pillai Road and Ranga Chetty Road all became Ranga Road. Of course, many of those name changes were unable to take hold and several quietly went back to the names they were originally known by.

The politics - and sycophancy - of naming streets is not new to Chennai, though. It has been around ever since the city was born. If you don't believe me, check out the name of streets inside Fort St George; while names like York Street or Charles & James Street honoured the history of the throne of England, special care was taken to ensure a nod to the then reigning house. The House of Hanover already had the fashionable Hanover Square (and Hanover Street) in London named after it; the expatriates in the new city of Madrasapatnam went a step further - they combined both to name this street, ensuring subservience and fashion rolled into one, perhaps!

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