The graffiti promised a cure for my son’s disease, it was all a lie!
(Marriage of your choice)
“Kia aap be-aulaad hain?”
(Are you childless?)
“Kamzor jism ko mota banaein…”
(Beat weakness and get healthy)
I am sure every single person in Karachi is immune to all these appealing statements painted on walls catching our eyes almost daily. The system is usually blamed for such cheap marketing tactics but it is in fact, Karachiites’ signature trend – purposely created.
Graffiti, defined as wordings or images scribbled on a wall, actually originates from ancient Romans and Egyptians in the form of cave paintings and was used as a manner of self-expression. It has transformed ever since in different forms with the impulse to make one’s mark in the society.
Ironically, we see some protected heritage sites like bus stops, parks and buildings boundaries, side-walks of main roads and flyovers as the most appealing canvas for such mass messages.
An agonised building owner remarked,
“Wall chalking is an illegal exploitation of private property and ruins the aesthetics of the city”.
There are numerous places with signs which are trying to keep the city clean saying,
“No spitting Paan,” and “Don’t throw garbage here!”
But, in my opinion, they are a different form of littering and ruin property. It makes me wonder if we are a filth-loving nation or if it is just a mind-set of rebelling against what is being told not to do.
Do we not have enough mediums for expressing our talents and emotions? Or do we just purposely select the medium under least scrutiny for displaying unethical content of advertisements?
A beggar pointing to a roadside wall claimed it to be the best place for advertisements. He claimed,
“Jo bhi lagaogey foran bik jayega… Koi kuch nahi poochta!”
(Whatever you put up gets sold immediately… nobody asks anything)
The government, despite numerous efforts, has failed to eliminate the root cause of the problem.
But wait! Do we even need a new law here?
There is an already established wall chalking regulation which declares it a punishable offence with a fine of Rs5000 along with six months imprisonment.
Also, most of the political parties themselves are a major cause of this problem. The most noticeable statements depict that the flag bearers of democracy making their presence felt through unauthorised graffiti without actually quantifying its impact, such as,
On one hand, political slogans and nasty comments ignite sensitive issues while on the other hand, fraudulent medical claims by quacks and fake faith healers misguide the unaware majority of our population.
My major concern, being a health manager, is about the authenticity of the practitioners advertising medical services and their necessary credentials. There is a dire need for scrutinising such healthcare marketing modes because of its far-reaching impact.
An elderly female at a local clinic revealed that she had been visiting a road-side healer who had displayed his advertisement and contact details on almost every other street. She said,
“I used to go five hours before his visiting time as he had a packed schedule with a long list of appointments and patients to treat every day. But I regret it now, as it delayed my required medical treatment and I ended up having two of my fingers amputated”.
While exploring the wall chalking trends in Karachi, I came across more than half of them by hakims and spiritual healers. These ‘pirs’ have a majority of shares in wall graffiti, promoting their wonders and self-proclaimed miracles.
While interviewing my neighbour, it was interesting to note that she had been visiting some popular pir for her critically ill son. The pir had told her,
“Bete ko is la-ilaaj marz se bachana hai to teen tolah sona pooray chand ki raat ko samandar ke kinaarey phenk do”.
(If you want to save your son from this incurable disease then throw three tolahs of gold into the seashore on a full moon night.)
“We were utterly deceived. Despite being one of the educated elites, we fell prey to the influence of the much-publicised criminality visible on street walls”.
My father has always been against such wall graffiti, especially those that post devious and deceitful ‘religious’ messages that need to be communicated to the masses. He believes,
“Such unethical endorsements pose a major threat to the society, being a guide towards fallacious beliefs”.
On the contrary, I am not totally against this form of art. I believe that if used constructively, graffiti can be used as a very powerful medium for public service messages.
While doing a survey, I found one such message by the Chhipa ambulance service ‘Dus-Bees’ (10-20) which is their contact number for emergencies. One of my colleagues declared it as a good reminder and said,
“Our minds stop thinking when we are in a state of panic. When my sister went into labour, the urgency of the situation was creating chaos, but in the midst of it all, I remembered the graffiti ‘10-20’ I had seen chalked on various walls and that helped us a lot”.
My research also led me to a very appealing initiative that seemed like a great way to eradicate the nasty impact of graffiti. The initiative was organised by the Message Welfare Trust and Master Paints; students from Gujarat, Faisalabad, Islamabad and Gujranwala participated in what was a Street Art Competition held in Lahore in March 2011. The contestants were given themes like peace, education, culture etcetera to enhance and sustain the positive image of Pakistan. The best painter was to be awarded Rs25,000.
In my opinion, this out-of-the-box activity not only restored the beauty of Lahore but also gave those involved a good creative outlet and became a great community building activity through which all the participants interacted with local residents for ideas and help.
In light of that, I strongly believe that the prevailing menace of wall graffiti can be countered easily; graffiti culture need not be eradicated but should be streamlined towards its productive and positive impact. It can eventually be transformed into a very effective marketing medium provided the necessary regulation of the content. Moreover, we can also encourage expression of our hidden talent if this unique alternative medium is appropriately utilised.
If one city in Pakistan can manage to give graffiti a creative spin, I don’t see why other cities can’t follow suit. With a little help from the government and support from the masses, we can tame this beast into beauty.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.