Public walls often are free display/promotional space for those with muscle power. This story tells you everything that is going right and everything that is stopping things from going right in our public space.
Excited and responsible residents from Chennai’s several neighborhoods gathered over weekends to paint public walls in the city with information on water conservation as part of EI’s Wall.E initiative. This volunteering effort turned out to become a public gathering of a new kind, where strangers started discussing the waterways of their city. Cutting across age and several other social barriers, they worked as a team, planning on what they would paint on these walls. Suggestions ran from leaving hand prints to painting info pieces on conservation. What would have easily taken five to six days of professional work was finished in a matter of two days with 100+ volunteers turning the activity into a celebration.
It definitely was drawing all the right attention located in the midst of a traffic island in the center of Chennai city. So much so that a minister en route to work volunteered with the public.
A conservancy worker commented “finally we get to see something colorful on these walls,” the traffic warden at the junction readily volunteered to manage traffic for both days to ensure that the painting went on with ease. It was an unsaid collaboration, coming together of all those who cared.
Now that’s what is all that is going right about this city, now to all that is hindering the right things. Anniversaries, book launches, television reality shows or a big movie release, all find their promotions done through large posters plastered on most of the city’s walls. These posters are an eyesore and an encroachment of public space.
The Greenways road, Chennai Metro water walls were painted through a public volunteering effort. With permissions from the CMWSSB, paint support from The Hindu Newspaper, several volunteers came together and painted the stretch. These paintings were left untouched for a period of two months, just as the volunteers were relieved that the posters have not come back, it happened on the December 4 all over again.
Giant posters, competitive in nature in expressing their love to their late leader, were plastered on the paintings. The politically important road is the perfect location for these posters.
The first call came from a volunteer, “What is the purpose of us slogging when they can just do this.” This was followed by several angry messages from many others who extended a helping hand. The young coordinator who put together the effort wanted to do something; a bunch of us got together, went ahead and brought down these posters to recover our paintings to a certain degree. Only to send a message to our volunteers that ‘We care for your efforts’.
This is a never ending cat and mouse game, we clean the walls and paint them. They paste posters on and leave, we bring them down to paint again. It’s going to be a cycle until one of us gives up, having known the spirit of volunteering we all know who is going to win in the end.
It’s a painting Vs poster contest; for now the paintings are back in the lead. Until some leader decides to rally to one of the memorials or until another star makes a guest appearance on one of the reality shows.
Through time and effort, volunteers left a piece of art. Political greed for name and fame leaves them with nothing but shame.