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Graffiti boys vs spit vandals

- La Martiniere walls filled with artwork to fight off assault

Woman to boy: “Which party are you?

(The teenager, standing on a chair near a wall with paintbrush in hand, is too puzzled to react)

Woman: Why are you vandalising the school property?”

Sombuddha Sengupta, a student of Class XII at La Martiniere for Boys, has turned graffiti artist not for any party but to protect his school’s boundary walls from the city’s spit vandals.

He and around five other students spent the better part of their session break filling the walls with colourful graffiti in the hope that their artwork would stop the see-wall-will-spit brigade from soiling the brickwork.

The start of a new academic session and the oppressive heat may have halted their campaign but Sombuddha and his friends from the school’s art club intend to resume work over the weekend.

“We aim to bring about a change in the attitude of people in Calcutta. If we keep repainting the walls, eventually people will be deterred from spitting and even relieving themselves there,” said Vibhor Kumar, a Class XII student.

Each of the three panels, about 15ft high and 8ft wide, took the boys 16 hours of toil to complete. Most of the work is representative of pop art, complete with psychedelic colours and lyrics loaded with meaning such as John Lennon’s Imagine.

The mission is to paint the entire stretch of the wall on the AJC Bose Road side along with a part of the Rawdon Street wall, which is equivalent to a canvas 15ft high and 200ft wide.

“We had planned to finish before the elections but the heat has forced us to keep the students indoors. We feared the boys would fall sick if they continued,” said Romi Majumder, art teacher at La Martiniere for Boys.

Majumder isn’t just the students’ guide, she is with them whenever they are painting. “We plan to resume soon and complete the work,” he said.

Principal Sunirmal Chakravarthi is proud that his boys have set an example for others to follow. This, I believe, is a good way of beautifying the city,” he said.

There have been occasions when the graffiti group has had to repaint a panel the very next day after completing it because someone smeared it with gutkha-laced spit. Such setbacks make the boys even more determined to continue the effort, team member Srutarshi Adhikari said.

The Calcutta Port Trust had to spend around Rs 20 lakh last year to achieve what Team La Martiniere is aiming to with graffiti. The port trust had all 78 hangers of the Howrah bridge covered six feet from the base with casing made of fibre-reinforced polymer sheets to protect them from the corrosive effect of gutkha and paan-laced spit projectiles unleashed by pedestrians.

At La Martiniere, the effort put in by the boys has invited appreciation even from people not associated with the institution. There have been instances of people stopping their cars and alighting to watch the team at work for a while. A roadside tea-stall owner invited the boys for a rosogolla treat one day. A young passer-by was so happy to see the boys paint the lyrics of her favourite Lennon song that she commended them for their initiative.

As for the woman who mistook Sombuddha for a party worker painting election graffiti, the boys are game for the odd surprise as long as it is a well-meaning one.

Once he completes the school project, there will be a new one waiting for Vibhor at home. “My mother wants me to paint my room!” the Class XII boy said.

What message do you have for the La Martiniere graffiti gang? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com