First off, I’d like to thank everyone who read the Roads Project, and for their AMAZING responses and questions! It was really heartening and exciting to see that so many people – many of them not from Chennai! – were interested in the women who created history, for Madras and elsewhere.
Doing the roads project with Kanchana Venkatesh, one of Prajnya’s summer interns, was like going on a sort of Discovery of Madras tour – with a twist. We’ve spent many days wandering around the city, arguing over which road sign looked most picturesque, and who gets to take the final photo!
Initially we planned to do thirty-one roads, and have enough posts for the entire month of August. However, this was before we took a closer look at not only how many roads are named after women, but also how much information is available about these women.
Getting information about some of these women was impossible. For example, the only thing I was able to ascertain about Jayammal (of Jayammal road, Teynampet) was that she was the mother of dancer Balasaraswati. Other women who have roads named after them didn’t even figure in books and web searches (Kamalabai street, T Nagar; Muktharunissa Street, Triplicane; and Navaneethammal Street – to name a few). Even a public figure like Rani Annadurai was mentioned only a couple of times in any biography of C N Annadurai.
Who were these women, and if they were deemed important enough to have roads named after them; then why isn’t any information about them available? If any of you have any idea who they were, please write in and tell us!
This brings us to another issue: if these women weren’t public figures, do they merit having roads named after them? For example, if Rani Annadurai was not an activist, why is there a road named after her? Annai Nagammai, Periyar’s wife, certainly played a large role in the freedom movement; and his second wife Maniammai was part of the Dravidian movement. On the other side of the coin, though, it can be argued that Annadurai was able to rise in public life only because of the support he received at home from his wife and family. We must acknowledge the role of these largely invisible women in the lives of public men. Do you think Annadurai would have risen so quickly in the ranks of Tamil Nadu politics if he was bogged down in domestic duties? Who knows?
One question that came up in the comments and responses was this: when we’d stated in the introductory post that we’re not planning to include roads named after goddesses, why did we include a mythical figure like Kannagi? The same question went for Avvaiyyar and St. Mary.
I’ll be the first one to admit that no project is perfect. The reason I didn’t want to include goddesses in the Roads Project was simple: it would never end! I also feel that Avvaiyyar is still relevant in today’s education system, where children study her teachings. Kannagi has been used as a symbol in the Dravidian movement in the days since Periyar originally disowned her as an ideal woman; saying that chastity is a sexist concept and should not be applied only to women. Since then, attitudes towards Kannagi have changed with the change in government. No discussion of the Dravidian movement is complete without a mention of her significance. With regard to St Mary, while the miracles around her may or may not be true, the fact that Jesus (an important historical figure) was her son makes her a “real” person.
When we first started this project, I hadn’t really imagined a situation in which we’d need a concluding post. However, your responses and your questions made it necessary! Also, when we were actually in the thick of doing the research and finding out about these women, there were so many things we wanted to say about the process and the paucity of information that we decided to go ahead and write this conclusion.
Once again, I’d like to thank all of you for following this series everyday – I hope you had an enjoyable and enlightening three weeks!