Ire: What’s in a Rename?

Logo for Ire, the series on my blog for social commentaryA few months back, the city corporation again brought up the suggestion of renaming city roads presently named after Englishmen from the Raj’s time to names celebrating the heritage, culture and past luminaries of the state.Painted sign for Haddows Road in ChennaiNow, I am one to leave alone things that are not deal-breakers. Also, somewhere, I like the charm of the existing names: they ring of the same quaintness as the roads and also take you back to that time. Finally, if you change the name and can’t alter a thing about the structures on these roads (many of these have heritage buildings, which the authorities in fact need to keep the same way as originally), there ends up being a dissonance. (Case in point being Anna Salai, which was Mount Road earlier, but which has the same appearance as from the earlier name’s time, apart from of course the havoc caused by the metro’s work.)

But I started living with the renaming idea, and am beginning to see some merits to it. The first positive is, it will no longer have Messrs Wren and Marten and all those English gentlemen turning in their graves.

Front cover of old copy of the Wren and Martin grammar bookWren and Martin first. Halls, Peters and Whites, among others, were not like the Joneses – they didn’t have their names ending with ‘s’. There needed to be an apostrophe between their name and the ‘s’, indicating that it was a road built/named in their honour and so their road – not as a possessive pronoun (the road didn’t belong to them; they had passed away by then, after all), but more as a commemorative pronoun, if you will. Now, the authorities at that time either didn’t know about the apostrophe (since it doesn’t exist in any of the Indian languages) or were the forerunners to today’s smartphone-wielding, micro-messaging millennials, who abhor the apostrophe (as well as giving a response longer than 10 characters and looking up from their devices). So, Hall’s became Halls, Peter’s became Peters, and White became red with disdain.

But the Raj gentlemen had it worse twice over. (Guess this was our way of getting back at them for two centuries of rule.) Since it seems only the tight-lipped Englishmen could pronounce their names and not the open-lipped “natives”, Graeme’s Road became Greams Road, Yeldham’s Road became Eldams Road, and I’m praying Cooks Road came from Cook’s Road itself and not some mispronunciation.

Annie Besant in her later yearsAnother reason for welcoming the name change is if it could address any possible misogyny of the past and any possible misunderstanding in the future. Misogyny: I can’t think of any places named after women except Besant Nagar (after Annie Besant; but because she was British, will that now change?). There is JJ Nagar, but that’s a recent renaming anyway. I thought the new name for Lloyds Road was a step in this direction, but history is obviously not my strong point, for I confused Avvai TK Shanmugam (the renowned theatre artist) with Madurai Shanmughavadivu Subbulakshmi (the legendary singer). And misunderstanding? Butt Road. Need I say more?

And then, I had a thought. A city’s roads and other infrastructure as well as residential and commercial areas often get their names from the people and their practices therein: Saidapet from Sayyid Shah, the Arcot general who received this land as a gift from the Nawab, Sowcarpet from the sowcars or sahukars (merchants) who came there from other parts of India, and Chromepet from the Chrome Leathers factory there. These names were also representative of their times. So, what if we do the same? Rename these places and structures based on people and their practices at present. If so, things will look something like this…

Since we no longer have potholes amidst roads but roads amidst potholes, and Ridley Scott could have actually filmed The Martian here: Ravaged Road/Ruinous Road

Because we are now so many people who generate so much bio-waste that it doesn’t just flow underground but above ground too: Sewage Street

As Indian men believe that a man’s got to go when a man’s got to go and don’t believe in waiting to cross the street to get home or to work: Chiruneer (Urination) Cross Street

Since Indian men (and ok, some women too, not to be biased) have other liquids they like showering on the roads: Spitting Salai

Continuing the, um, trashing, since garbage now overflows from and into every nook and corner: Kuppai Corner

Because water bodies now have almost every other entity apart from lotuses, fish and ducks: Dumpsters’ Tank/Eri/River

Since we have groups of smokers standing and chatting for hours on the footpath, or loner guys lying dead-drunk there for days, and when neither, then two-wheeler riders ascending to get one second ahead: Anti-Pedestrians’ Pavement

Some Chennai youth crossing a road in the middle by jumping over a barricaded dividerWe should even rename the zebra crossing, or remove it altogether, since no one seems to cross there, or rather only there. Suggestions: Zebra Crossing Anywhere/Idiot Crossing

Because this is essentially what parks and beaches become after some time: Kadhalar (Lovers’) Park, Romeo and Juliet’s Beach

As secluded stretches seem to be a hotspot for miscreant activities: Thiruda Theru (Thief’s Street), Aval/Eve-teasing Avenue

Close-up of two loudspeakers on an electric pole in a Chennai streetEarlier, it was just the festivals and the release of a big star’s movie, but now, thanks to IPL, ISL and any other ’ell I can’t recall right now, there are many reasons to celebrate – read, make noise – throughout the year. So, many of these areas can be called: Sathampet

And just in case you thought this list is benevolent to the rich and classy… For arranging for the home dog’s/dogs’ (note the uses of the apostrophe) walks but not the clean-ups after: Pet-Poop Boulevard

Info-pic, of man bargaining with Chennai autorickshaw driver with complaint information given aboveAnd finally, the people who rule the city and reign over its residents more than any politico or hero – the fleecing, overcharging, harassing, abusing, threatening autokaarans… They should have the entire city renamed after them: Cheatnai

You know, it’s a good thing we’re going with the historical and heritage names, after all.

Find out what ‘Ire’ is here – Ire: Here’s Presenting

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