Words to Pictures – Change needed

Seen at the Bangalore Cantonment Railway station – An old man limps straight to the platform ticket vending machine. He looks at it & then looks around. That he is confused is written all over his face. There are instructions put up right above the machine in various languages but he doesn’t notice it first. Then it catches his eye but he remains blank. He then goes to the counter & gets instructions from them on getting himself the platform ticket.

“Do not pass urine here” is scribbled across a wall the corners of which have urine marks. Somewhere else it is better worded like “Do not create nuisance here” or as “Do not urinate here”. At the street corner one can find a message painted that reads “Do not put garbage here”. On Bangalore’s prominent roads like MG Road you will invariably see a board that reads “Keep Bangalore clean”. Seen a message that reads “Stick No Bills” enroute to work & back?

Communication of this kind is pretty common in our city & a very basic necessity for any city administration. Only, I got myself asking – who reads them? The answer is obviously someone who can read English in the first place and secondly someone who cares & gives a damn. Then I thought does a message like “Do not pass urine here” really have an impact considering that one is unlikely to see an English speaking software engineer doing it. It’s the guy who is out on the road most times who does it & there is a high possibility that he doesn’t know English. Similar is the case with the message “Do not put garbage here”. What if it’s your house maid who is dropping it off there? Can all house maids read English? Ditto again with the message “Stick No Bills”, which gets covered up in the early morning hours by a guy on cycle.

Yes, these are all simple basic messages in English & not one of Shakespeare’s stories & hence can be understood by most of them. Also yes that sometimes it is written in Kannada & Hindi as well, but that is not the norm is it? For a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore which has people from across the country – the need of the hour is pictorial displays. It has its advantages & one can get creative. For examples there are quite a few spots around where I stay where Gods & Goddesses & religious symbols are painted on walls prohibiting people to either relieve themselves there or dump their garbage.

Isn’t the line apt in here? – A picture speaks a thousand words. May be the city administration can just insert a small ad in the papers asking people to contribute their ideas (or work itself) for the pictorials of some basic instructions they want to communicate. It will so liven up things and may be also bring a smile on in the most unlikely of places – like say the parking stretch.

2 Comments so far

  1. tarlesubba (unregistered) on March 19th, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

    you have covered this in some detail – form of communication, intent and reach. great post,lokesh.

    another aspect is that the underlying logic and norms of the rules that these communications convey must be very clear, intuitive and consistent.


  2. Mudpuppy (unregistered) on March 20th, 2007 @ 12:32 am

    You think the issue is communication? Hmmmmm… I agree that pictorial signs might help, but I think the real issue lies elsewhere.

    I wouldn’t dream of urinating on a wall in public when I go to China, and I don’t read a character of Mandarin or Cantonese.

    People pass urine, post bills, and throw trash wherever they want in Bangalore because they know that no one will stop them and no one will punish them.

    It’s the same thing that causes the ridiculous behaviour on the roads. No one in Bangalore gets punished for unsafe driving or unsafe vehicles. And people die all the time as a result of it.



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