Mindless clerical errors are increasingly distorting names of prominent roads in the city

On the surface, it is just a stretch of tar laid by a handful of workers and a roller, but give it a name and the road assumes a life of its own; it becomes an address on which your life hinges — right from birth to death. And yet, how many of us know about the people after whom our roads and streets are named? Even though their names are appended to our identities as long as we live in a city?

Let’s assume you are a long-time resident of, say, Nungambakkam. But do you know who Mr. Anderson of Anderson Road was? Or know anything about Mr. Sterling of Sterling Road? Or why College Road is known as College Road? For that matter, how many in the younger generation will know about Anna of Anna Salai or Rajaji or R.K. of R.K. Salai? That may be an interesting idea for reporters desperate for a story: interview five students each from five schools in the city, and you could be in for surprises.

I’ve always been fascinated by names behind roads, and have already written a couple of pieces (in this paper), unravelling the identities of people who’ve lent their surnames to some of the city’s most important roads. Not only that: I’ve also found out about Mr. Murugesan, the man who gave his name to the street (in T. Nagar) that has been my home for 12 years now. The question — who was Murugesan — had pricked me from time to time and now I am at peace.

But there is something else that pricks me these days: how mindless clerical errors are increasingly distorting names of prominent roads and thereby destroying the few existing links of the city with its past. Graeme’s Road, for example, has already transformed — irreversibly, it seems — into Greams Road. The road was named after Henry Sullivan Graeme, a civil servant from the early 19th century. What on earth is ‘Greams’?

Similarly, what is Shevalia? Well, Shevalia is a gross distortion of Chevalier, the French honour which actor Sivaji Ganesan was accorded with. But the road named after the legendary actor — near Pondy Bazar — identifies itself as Shevalia Road. A century down the line, residents (and passersby alike) will wonder who Mr. Shevalia was. Likewise for Bradies Kassel Road, which was originally Brodies Castle Road.

The list of such mindless errors is getting long. The latest victim of such insensitive carelessness on part of the Chennai Corporation is Murray’s Gate Road. Mr. Murray was the collector of Madras from 1822 to 1831. But the repainted signboard identifying this prominent road now reads: Muresh Gate Road. How long can we allow this?

I have a question for the Mayor. We journalists gracefully admit to an error whenever a reader points out one in a copy: we not only issue a clarification but also rectify the mistake in the online version. Then why does the Corporation choose to remain blind when columns such as this point out errors in signboards? All it will take you is to send a painter over with cans of blue and white paint to restore the rightful names. Unless you want future generations to grow up with names that never existed in history — such as Mr. Greams, Mr. Shevalia and Mr. Muresh.

More In: Chennai