The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Read the writing on the wall... and laugh
R.K. Murthi

WHY is this world turning more violent, less hospitable? The reason is not far to seek. Most forms of laughter are dying out. This includes the rib-tickling graffiti, (that is the generic name for all sorts of writing on the walls).

What the world needs is to recruit more people into the ranks of graffiti fans. Just reading graffiti is enough to bring a smile to one’s face. Here are a few samples from my graffiti collection.

I came across this graffiti in 1977, boldly etched on a bus in Southampton, U.K. It said: ‘He that cometh unto me, I will, in no way’, cast out. A postscript read: ‘Unless more than five standing.’

The Delhi Transport Undertaking, (DTC) some wits, on seeing the number of fatal road accidents involving DTC buses before the Blueline buses took to the roads to better the record of the DTC, called it the Delhi Transport Undertaker) one of their buses with the slogan, ‘Handle your bus like a loaded gun.?


In 1981, the British Safety Council held a national graffiti competition. Ms Fletcher, who had created a sensation when streaking was popular, and triggered the birth of a graffiti, ‘Beware. Your ends are in sight’, to graphically depict the result of streaking, was the judge.

Thousands of entries were received. The top honour went to Lyndon Cowley, for graffiti: ‘Do you spell electrocute with one yell or two?’ Two entries, which were commended read:

‘Safety is no accident.’

‘I’m dead against safety. RIP.’

In India, we have found in graffitti a ready tool to make people laugh and also make them think. Creative spirits, working in the field of family welfare have come with jingles to make people adopt one or the other measure to prevent childbirth.

The simplest of such graffiti read: Do ya teen bus. Once, so ran a story, a woman with seven children was standing at a bus stop in Delhi not boarding any bus, because she could not find a bus that said it would carry more than Do ya teen (Two or three). Bus, in Hindi, means end, stop, cessation. But, since the English word bus has now been inducted into Hindi, the woman got confused.

The slogan underwent a changes when the government realised that three children were one too many. Thus came the new caption: Ek ya do bachche/Hote hai ghar mein achche. The slogan currently in use says, Pahala bachcha abhi nahin,/Doosra bachcha kabhi nahin.

We have still not adopted the highly creative form of graffiti evolved by the Italians. I came across one of these graffiti (known as fumetti) in 1974. This fumetti, too, dealt on the means to contain the population growth. Most Italians are Roman Catholics. The Pope frown on any family planning method other than self-restraint. No doubt, abstinence is to be commended. But it is a virtue that most people can’t practise. Therein lies the rub.

An enterprising Italian was asked by the Italian Birth Control Lobby to help them with an incisive and effective fumetti. He did not baulk. The Papal instructions were clear. Yet the man readied himself to cock a snook at the edict.

He titled the fumetti ‘Secret’ and through a series of frames, with cartoons and bubbles brought home the message.

The first clip showed a virile Franco telling his charming wife, Lia. "We can’t go on like this. When I embrace you, you are always cold." Lia replies, coyly, yet firmly, "How can I be any other way? I’m always afraid of getting pregnant."

In the frame that follows, Franco shows his frustration; and seeks pleasure from elsewhere. Lia frets and fumes when she comes to know of her man’s disloyalty. Lia decides to seek a way out. She consults a doctor who is also a family friend. The doctor suggests Pillola as the cure to her marital problem.

The last frame depicts this scene: Franco is very happy. He tells Lia, "This time you were wonderful. Let’s hope there won’t be any more trouble." Lia replies coyly, "I’m taking the pill. That’s the secret of our new-found happiness."

According to a report, Norm Shuttleworth of Australia has produced a petrochemical potion known as graffiti gobbler. It wipes out graffiti in no time. It is the belief of Shuttleworth that graffiti are not worth the space on which they are etched. He belongs to the group that looks upon graffiti as sheer vandalism. His product, he says, is as effective on illegitimate or obscene posters as it is on the legal and laughable.

But, even this paint has been deftly used to provide a few laughs. In my collection of clippings of odd events is one that tells of a daring move from the No made by an employee of a Detroit firm, Ostrand Enterprises. He jokes that he has been going around removing the ‘No Parking’ signs, (with the help of the graffiti gobbler, I think), and hasn’t had a ticket in a month. Some of the most captivating graffiti has to do with politicians.

On late Gundu Rao:

Gundu Rao is really Goonda Rao.

...Found on a wall of a house in

Bangalore during an assembly elections.

On late Rajiv Gandhi:

Sketches which dealt with evils like corruption and communalism, with bubbles that read Hamein dekhna hai and hum dekhenge, (These were two pharases which were often used by late Rajiv Gandhi) and the post script, Paanch saal se hum dekh hi to rehe hain.

...during Lok Sabha elections, 1989.

Janta Dal is Janata dhal.

...during Lok Sabha elections, 1989.

Bofors — Beginning of Fall of Rajiv Sarkar, ...during Lok Sabha elections, 1989.

You have, in these graffiti enough room for laughter. Here are a few more:

Don’t meet trouble half-way. It’s quite capable of making the entire journey.

...At the entrance to a government building.

Hard work has not killed anyone yet. Still, why take a chance at being the first victim?

...on the premises of a factory

Every body lies; but it doesn’t matter since nobody listens.

...At the consulting room of a psychiatrist.

Bigamy is having one wife to many. Monogamy means the same.

...Banner at a meet of gays

If eyes don’t see, hearts won’t break.

...On the blackboard of a classroom in a co-educational college

"What to do if you are going bald?" Graffiti for promoting a hair tonic someone added the post script. Prepare to meet thy dome.

Scrawled on the walls of a ladies’ room in a cafe was this message,

"Please Wiggel Handel." A post script read: If I do, will it Wiggel Bach?

Note how the spellings of handle and back had been altered to refer to two music composers.

Home Top