It is always a joy to come across art adorning walls of subways or underpasses. The sight lifts your spirits as you marvel at the thoughtfulness of the civic authorities in their attempt to brighten up the surroundings.
Here, in India, there have been many such initiatives, but many of them are doomed by the thoughtlessness and even destructive tendencies of people. The route of my morning walk includes a stretch on a double road. One day I was pleasantly surprised to see huge pots filled with soil placed at intervals between the two roads like a natural divider. My imagination raced ahead as I pictured flowering bushes greeting me every morning. Two days later, I was flabbergasted to see several of the pots broken, with shards strewn everywhere. It was obviously the work of some miscreants who delighted in wanton destruction. Maybe they were young men on bikes who were racing on this road late at night, weaving their way in and out and knocking into the pots in the process. I wondered if these would be replaced or the project abandoned. However, the civic authorities seemed an optimistic lot as all the broken pots were replaced within a few days. I sighed with relief at the sight but it was too good to be true. The new pots met with the same fate as the old ones. Eventually, the effort to beautify the area was given up and now I see the abandoned pots cutting a forlorn picture as they lie outside houses lining the side of the road.
We read in the paper about massive amounts being spent on refurbishment of public parks, which are soon vandalised, laying waste public funds and thwarting efforts to make our city beautiful. A case in point is that of an installation called Love Hyderabad, meant to showcase the residents’ love for their city. Within a week, the monument was vandalised, with many insensitive visitors defacing it with messages and even leaving dirty footprints as they tried to scale it. Soon it had to be fenced to prevent further damage after a security guard was roughed up by a group of youngsters when he tried to stop them throwing cake on the structure. Eventually, the installation was moved to another venue where it has been placed on a wall, out of reach and out of harm’s way. Advertisers deface the city with impunity by pasting posters on public property. Walls plastered with these are an eyesore and things have reached such a pass that two proposals are under study to tighten provisions of the Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act.
The civic authority put up vertical gardens in some areas recently as part of a three-day Global Entrepreneurs Summit. Nearly 500 animal and bird-shaped pots were donated by companies. Of these, 40 flower pots were stolen despite staff on guard duty. Of 80,000 small pots arranged in other vertical gardens, 5,000 were stolen. Now they are thinking of installing surveillance cameras to catch the culprits. Meanwhile, the remaining pots have been taken away to a safe place and will be returned once adequate security arrangements are in place.
Vandalism appears to be the scourge of our age with wilful damage inflicted on ancient monuments which are part of our cultural legacy. According to studies, there are young people as normal as can be who admit to having committed acts of vandalism. Some of these occur as a prank. There is the adrenaline rush of getting away with doing something forbidden, a misguided playfulness.
Vandalism is a costly crime and, according to a licensed clinical psychologist, many people use this to vent their anger or frustration through displacement, doing something to inanimate objects instead of a more threatening object or individual.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.