| Policemen watch a man clean a wall of a housing complex in Salt Lake and (above) a house untouched by graffiti. Pictures by Jayanti Bhattacharya and Sanat Kumar Sinha
Calcutta, June 3: When your eyes grow sore staring at defaced walls, if and when the West Bengal Prevention of Property Defacement Act, 1976, is repealed, look east.
For, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy's dream township should remain an island sticking out in the sea of graffiti.
Salt Lake, after all, has remained practically free of the muck on the wall. All residential buildings retain the coat of paint that their owners put on them. The walls of government offices and apartment blocks are the exceptions that prove the no-graffiti rule in the township.
So in Salt Lake, the house owner can go to bed without the worry of waking up to graffiti-plastered walls. 'I cannot imagine my Salt Lake house being smeared with graffiti, though our Park Circus home is,' says Anin Chatterjee, who lives near City Centre.
No graffiti also means no turf tussle over wall space, something that house owners in Calcutta and its nearby places have to bear the brunt of. 'I come from Sodepur where the few neighbours who spoke up against graffiti had their window panes smashed. Some houses were even vandalised in the dead of night,' narrates Santanu Biswas. The secretary of the FD Block committee admits that Salt Lake is a haven in contrast.
The man, who put the official seal on whitewashed walls before the Assembly polls, points to the people when asked about the clean walls of Salt Lake. 'Salt Lake is like Metro (Rail). The same set of people who behave differently elsewhere try to keep it clean,' feels Debashis Sen, state election commission chief and resident of CE Block.
Salt Lake's populace, otherwise largely indifferent to issues, seems all too ready to wield the broom against the graffiti brigade.
'We are very conscious of our rights. They do not dare touch our walls,' claims Biswas, whose block FD is home to local MLA Subhas Chakraborty.
He recounts an instance when residents took a stand against wall writing. 'Before the last Lok Sabha elections, members of a political party had come to write on our neighbour Basudeb Banerjee's wall. Ironically, he was then the state chief election officer. The durwan was sent out with a strong message and the boys immediately backed off. Seeing such people speak up for their rights instils confidence in other residents.'
With the township teeming with VIPs ' politicians to bureaucrats ' defacing a wall could mean stepping on a wrong toe. 'We have so many ministers and former ministers staying in the neighbourhood. They want their own walls to stay clean and so we all benefit,' says a resident of FE Block, home to finance minister Asim Dasgupta.
The presence of block committees also helps. 'Partymen did write on the walls of our Ladies' Park. After the Election Commission order, they did a shoddy whitewash job. We immediately swung into action, giving the wall a proper clean-up at our own expense,' says one.
Sudhir Saha, president of Bidhannagar Town Trinamul Congress and secretary of CE Block, has other reasons for Salt Lake's clean slate. 'The houses are built in such a way that there is little expanse on offer for us to write on. Even that is often hidden from view by pavement gardens... Also, since the houses here are tastefully done up, people react very strongly to any defacement. We have seen how that reflects adversely on the ballot box. So why risk a self-defeating move'
The township is already closing ranks against the proposed repeal of the Act.
'We, the common people, do not like graffiti,' says Ramen Das, vice-president of Bidhannagar Welfare Association. 'Residents here will not tolerate any attempt to deface walls.'