Tulsi Pipe Road (now renamed Senapathi Bapat Marg) is a six lane road that any city should be proud of. But this being Bombay, three of those lanes have been taken over as permanent dwellings by the nameless, faceless masses that keep the city going. And since people who commute in air conditioned cars prefer not to come in contact with poverty, the narrower but prettier sea-fronting Cadel Road (now named after the local hero, Veer Savarkar) became the arterial road, while this road was almost totally ignored.
When the former mill area of Lower Parel was redeveloped to become an alternative business district, Tulsi Pipe road started regaining some of its former importance. The multiple flyovers made it an easier road to navigate, but when there was an alternative route, people preferred to use it.
And then came the Wall Project.
The Municipality invited people to give full vent to their creativity on the wall marking the boundary between the Road and the rail tracks. The project was supposed to galvanise the city as none other had - to being people together to take charge of their surroundings.
The newspapers the next day were full of colourful pictures of people painting on the walls. The people who had turned up were a representation of the city itself – from people who have made the street their home to media professionals who work in Lower Parel. School kids, college students and the assortment of people with a civic conscience. The Project was hailed as the first of its kind where people who would never meet got together for the common cause of beautifying the city. Column inches were devoted to taking about Street Art coming of age in the country and of people taking charge of their communities. It seemed to be the Next Big Thing, and it was easy to get carried away.
The first time I took the road, it was a cloudy day, and I noticed the graffiti only because I was looking for it. But when the sun was out, the walls did look colourful and cheerful. There were panels that seemed to have almost a professional touch, and there were others that displayed more good intentions than talent. A street that normally wore a somber look had been transformed into something quite colourful and unique.
But, the lives of the residents who live in the shadow of those walls is playing out exactly as it used to. Nothing really has changed, except at the superficial level.
Is the Wall Project something to cheer about because it did get people together to take charge of their city if only for a day. Or should it be dismissed as yet another gimmick. I wish answers were as easy to find as questions are.