Murray’s Gate Road could be renamed after its erstwhile occupant, KB Sundarambal

The new variety of name-boards on streets, pasted on walls as opposed to the older ones that were stand-alone metal plates, have some classic howlers. Murray’s Gate Road has become ‘Muresh Gate Road’, as the accompanying picture shows.

 It was a couple of years ago that the earlier administration at the Chennai Corporation announced that all roads named after Englishmen would be renamed after Tamil scholars. At that time, a few of us protested that not ALL such roads ought to be renamed, and the few Englishmen who did good work for this city – Coats, Molony, Hensman and Jones being some, ought to be retained while the rest could go. Besides, street names ought to commemorate local history. However, the entire scheme was given up for various reasons.

But what happens when an obscure landowner continues to be commemorated while a more worthy occupant is forgotten? Murray’s Gate is definitely one such example. The Hon. Leveson Granville Keith Murray, son of the 4 Earl of Dunmore lived at Dunmore House off Moubray’s (TTK) Road between 1822 and 1831, when he was Collector of Madras. The street leading to his gate became Murray’s Gate Road. Nothing more is known of him.

 The question is, why not rename the road after its erstwhile stellar occupant – KB Sundarambal? Born in 1908, financial necessities forced her into the theatre when she was barely seven. By the 1920s, thanks to her wonderful voice, she was famous all over south India and south-east Asia. In 1927, she set up home with the leading male actor and singer SG Kittappa. It was a tempestuous but enduring relationship that came to an abrupt end in 1931 when Kittappa died. KBS, taking to widow’s white, retired from public life.

 Kasturi Srinivasan, A Rangaswami Iyengar (both of The Hindu), G.A. Natesan and S. Satyamurti, who were her ardent admirers, convinced her to return. KBS found a home in Gramaniyar Thottam in Teynampet and later relocated to Murray’s Gate Road, were she lived till her passing in 1980. From here, her theatrical and singing career resumed. She became a film star, though she was selective in her roles. In public memory she is permanently etched as Avvaiyar for her lead role in the eponymous 1953 film by Gemini.

 KBS was to actively participate in the freedom struggle, singing songs at public meetings, campaigning for the Congress and even selling Khadi during the Mylapore temple festival. Gandhi, Nehru and Kamaraj were her admirers. She championed the cause of Tamil Isai. Post-independence, KBS was a member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1958 to 1963. In private life, she managed her finances herself and invested wisely and well, leading a life of comfort and supporting several deserving causes. Never giving up her white clothes and ashes, she attained quasi-saintly status.  And, she showed that a single woman could be successful, on her terms.

 I rest my case on whether Murray or KBS deserves to be commemorated. 

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