Signs of our times are poor

first_imgOne of the pleasures of not being a professional writer is the advantage I have of writing without being subjected to its rules. That there should be rules to its writing would be obvious to anyone who reads the morning papers, listens to television news or views its ads. Or indeed travels around the city and country filled with signs and billboards and directional signals.Excessive wordiness is a peculiar Indian trait but it is hard to beat a sign that hangs at a Delhi sports complex. “The joggers and other walkers using the track alongside the Golf Driving Range are hereby advised to use the track on the other side of the cricket field for their purposes, as an occasional golf ball may fall on the track adjacent to the Range, and injure the said person. The sports complex takes no responsibility in case of injury as the members have already been forewarned of the impending injury”.PeculiaritySuch archaic and lengthy language immediately presumes the worst, that many will be injured, some seriously enough to wage a legal battle with the sports authority. The sign could well have read, “Beware of falling golf balls”, but then that would hardly be an important government project, calling for tenders and a short list of sign painters. Unfortunately, people who get seriously injured by golf balls are usually those who stop long enough to read the sign. Words are always used to assert your self-importance. Why is the All India Institute of Medical Sciences not just the Indian Institute of Medicine? Is there also then a Some Institute of Medical Sciences?advertisementIf you drive along the hills in Himachal, you will come across other sets of government signs whose language seems to have been fashioned by a frustrated, but highly moral poet. Marry Safety Divorce Speed . Then an almost Wordsworth-like We love You Enough, About Safety We Never Bluff. Or the more risque, If you love porn, at curves sound horn . In an important government department in Dehradun, the Bureau of Road and Infrastructure Poetry, grown men sit around a table to discuss their inspirations. “Aare Prakash, how’s this-If Your Bus falls in Khud, Life is Nipped in the Bud “. “Yaar, you are almost Tagore”. The other peculiar obsession with abbreviations and short forms borders on incoherence and miscommunication. A recent news story had a sentence: PMO and UPA including Delhi CM likely to be indicted by CAG in CWG. Such lazy writing presumes the reader is entirely clued into Indian politics. But a foreigner reading it may understand that a pre menstrual obstruction and a uterine pituitary ambulatory are the cause of a constriction of the aortic globulin? Humour of course has been a saviour of India’s private signage.There are enough instances of misspelling to keep you wondering HORAN PLEAS or HOWREN PLEZE before Making Pass. And the eternally enigmatic sign that hangs outside a temple in Orissa, DO NOT ENTER, WOMEN DURING MENSTURATION. A comma at the wrong place can not only alter the meaning altogether, but provoke enough women’s rights groups into action.Government road signage however generally works on the principle of ‘the more the merrier’. Outside my house is a massive directional sign so large it could be visible at high speed along a 6-lane highway; but the sign occurs along a narrow residential street where traffic moves at a pace so miserly, pedestrians are always ahead.The sign informs the driver to take a right for Malviya Nagar.The sign might as well have said London Next Right.DelhiThere are seven colonies between mine and Malviya Nagar, but there is no road information available on them. The sign for Malviya Nagar was obviously available, and needed to be planted somewhere to ensure the public felt their funds were being put to good use. On the road to the airport is a sign for the Indira Gandhi International Airport Domestic Terminal (sic).Should there then also be an Inter State Bus Terminal for Local buses? The city is filled with meaningless signage that conveys little but looks selfimportant enough to suggest that Delhi is a world-class city.The judicious use of signage ensures the road environment is not cluttered and forms as neutral a background, so the passage through it is swift and without confusion. Unfortunately, most signage is not only misleading but is a complete misinterpretation of reality. At a nearby junction is another sign with a large painting of a traffic signal indicating a red, yellow and green light with the words Stop, Get Ready and Go against each of the appropriate colours.advertisementIs this supposed to be a driving lesson, a sort of learn on the job situation, or should someone with a licence be aware of it before they take to the road? Should then there be other signs stating ‘ Turn steering to the Right for a Right turn’ and ‘To slow down use Brake’? Sadly, despite all its claims, Delhi always has the feel of a frontier town. As if everything is on trial. Testing out pedestrian bridges, road signs, new building types, cabling systems, rapid bus systems. So tentative are the steps that nothing is completed enough to be successfully tested. Bus lanes peter out into midstream traffic, signs are international looking, but misleading, new building technology is visually appealing but ceilings fall apart.In the same vein, newspaper classifieds are filled with a host of cultural pretenses. When used cars are sold it’s best to give the ad a prefix of Lady Doctor Driven, Maruti 800. If there is no lady doctor in the family then the next best is ‘Army officer used Maruti 800’. Advertisements Presumably the officer is on border duty and doesn’t get a chance to drive. The mere act of possession by a lady doctor or an army officer implies that the car has a high pedigree, from a good home. Follow this up with, ‘owner going abroad’, and you have a legitimate reason to sell the car. Most of our lies are small and white. Some cultural inhibition stops us from simply stating that ‘a 12 year old Maruti 800 that chokes and splutters could be picked up cheap’. The same holds true for matrimonials.Parents give glowing accounts of their, deviant and delinquent sons, and cloak it in language that is representative of his rightful place in society: Hindu, high caste, fair skinned male, heir to family fortune, residing in South Delhi colony, earning seven figure salary, owning own business, living abroad, pious mother, father in government service, sister settled in nearby South Delhi colony, member of a reputable club, owner of high value shares and five suits, graduate from leading national academy seeks? A boy of such pedigree should have been married by the age of 11, but the ad is so open-ended that it says nothing of value. The father’s government job could be the Prime Minister, or a coolie at the railway station, a pious mother could be the head pujari at the Laxminarayan temple, or an overly sanctimonious kerosene- crazed mother-in-law, the family fortune may refer to Reliance, or to a Bihari extortion racket, living abroad could be Japan or Bangladesh.A more realistic ad will doubtless get more hits: ill mannered and hostile boy aged 56, dark skinned, bald and with signs of leprosy, earning a two figure salary in a temporary job in a matchstick factory officially living in a rented barsati above landlord, but currently in jail for alleged rape of a minor, seeks beautiful, rich, high caste girls with large breasts and big dowry. Marutis and TVs a must.advertisementFarmhouses welcome. Box 203.- The writer is a well known architectlast_img

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