It is no secret that the people of Tamil Nadu worship their icons like none other. We are known to adopt heroes, make them our own, give them the demi-god status and sometimes, even adore them beyond their lifetime.
One person who commands such adulation and respect is late Chief Minister MG Ramachandran.
Still, the Chennaiite in me scorned when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally in Kanchipuram, announced that ‘Chennai Central’ railway station will be renamed after MGR.
No doubt that MGR is an icon, that too in a league of his own. But the ‘Chennai Central’ is also an icon by itself. The almost 150-year-old building was built by George Harding, who is considered to be the face of Chennai. So much so, that if films have to establish Chennai, the railway station is any director’s favourite choice. It is one of the few remaining heritage buildings in the city that don’t have the tint of politics.
The Central station, as it is fondly called, is to Chennai what filter coffee is to Madras. Everyone who has lived in Chennai and taken trains regularly will have numerous memories from city’s very own ‘grand’ Central.
One of my parents’ favourite story to narrate is how I cried all the way from the Central station to Hyderabad – all because I wanted ‘blue Uncle Chips’ that I had apparently spotted just when the train started moving. I was barely three years old then. My parents tell me that they were nervous about taking me to the Central for almost two years after that incident.
My summer vacations, too, started in from the Central, with me accompanying my grandmother to Trichy (her native town). I remember rushing through the railway station, buying a Tinkle Digest and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the train, the extreme heat notwithstanding.
Years later, I remember standing near the weighing machine right outside the arched-entrance that led to the platforms and waiting for my parents to get my school identity card – praying that my classmates don’t leave for the excursion without me.
In 2015, along with a bunch of excited girls, I started my journey to pursue post-graduation from that very railway station. I never went back to living in Chennai after that.
But I carried a poster of the red majestic building and hung it on my wall to remind myself that home is not far away.
Of course, there are a numerous memories of a train being indefinitely stationed at Basin Bridge. And then, after what seemed like eternity, it would trickle forward and I would heave a sigh on relief on spotting the ‘Chennai Central’ yellow board.
For me, the Central station is both the start of an adventure and the comfort of being home. An ‘MGR Railway Station’ would establish no connect, not even trigger these fond memories.
Maybe, the prime minister mistook Tamil Nadu for Uttar Pradesh – as he’s visited the former four times in the last forty days. A name change is unlikely to help the BJP-led alliance win any brownie points or kindle the Tamil 'spirit' ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
What’s in a name, you may ask. Well, it's not just a name – it is an emotion; an emotion so strong that I want them to leave Chennai Central alone.
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