Friday, 6 February 2009

Names Clash in Madras

Madras was renamed as Chennai in 1996. But, even now there are many who still prefer to call it Madras. For many, it's still 'Madras, Nalla Madras'.

Even many prominent educational institutions decided to keep their old name – the name by which they were recognized worldwide. Renaming them would have caused a lot of confusion. These included the University of Madras, IIT Madras, Madras Medical College and Madras Institute of Technology. The Madras High Court also didn't change its name. A number of other organizations also chose to do the same. So, we still have the Madras Medical Mission, the Madras Race Club, Madras Boat Club and so on. In fact, even Chennai's auto-drivers are better known notoriously as the 'Madras auto-kaaran'.

Keeping in sync with the tendency to clear the city of its colonial remnants, the names of many roads were also renamed. However, it's often found that after the renaming is done, only one of the names catches the public's fancy while the other is usually forgotten. One notable exception is in the case of Mount Road where both Anna Salai and Mount Road are recognized equally well.

In most other cases, while some of the new names have caught on; other roads are still referred to by their old name. One prominent new road name that has caught on is T.T.K. Road. How many of us know that T.T.K. Road, now named after former Union Minister T.T. Krishnamachari was once named after an Englishman called Mowbray? In fact, even now, there's a tiffin center on the road with the name 'Mowbray's Tiffin Center'!

Similarly, how many of us know that Sardar Patel Road was once Elliot's Beach Road and Radhakrishnan Salai was once Edward Elliot Road? Or, for that matter that Rajaji Salai was once First Line Beach Road?

In other cases, the old name is more popular. One prominent example here is L.B. Road (Lattice Bridge Road) which was renamed after dividing into two parts as Dr. Muthulakshmi Salai (Adyar side) and Kalki Krishnamurthy Salai (Thiruvanmiyur side). This road is almost always referred to as L.B. Road. Once, to test an auto-driver, I asked him to take me to Kalki Krishnamurthy Salai from a spot hardly a kilometer away. He demanded two hundred rupees because he mistook it for some other road in another corner of the city. I have always noticed that auto-drivers have a fascination for English names. But, I hadn't expected him to be so ignorant.

Some roads named after places also don't seem to fade away from public memory in spite of their being renamed after some notable people. Probably because it's easier to associate the road with the place it leads to. For instance, one can see the name Mahatma Gandhi Road only on signboards. Almost everyone still calls it Nungambakkam High Road. Same is the case with Poonamallee High Road which has been renamed as EVR Periyar Salai. Likewise, Inner Ring Road is preferred over Jawaharlal Nehru Salai and Old Mahabalipuram Road over Rajiv Gandhi Salai.

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