TWO YEARS AGO, people began to notice a curious new phenomenon on the streets of Bangalore. As avenue trees fell to make way for broader roads, as buildings tumbled and rose and neverending construction pushed clouds of dirt into the air, paintings started to appear.
On the walls of an underpass, a haphazard juxtaposition of images catches the eye: historic monuments in Karnataka painted alongside native wildlife. Blind statues gaze out at the clogged arteries of the city. Greenery abounds in the parallel reality that the pictures depict. Birds flock in paintings at a traffic light, colouring parts of the city where few birds of any sort are to be found. Some scenes are painted in a cursory manner, a few with delicate attention to detail; colours blend with light, and the bird seems ready to fly out of the stone. In others, the surreality of the animals makes them seem a product of the artist’s dreams.
The paintings grew, it seemed, overnight. They grew so fast and inexplicably that they could almost have been spontaneous organic outgrowths of the city-soul itself. They covered the grey walls around Lalbagh Gardens with animals and trees; within days these images had masked the protest graffiti previously adorning those walls. They covered student scrawls on the walls of government schools with illustrations of proper hygiene. They covered up layers of torn Kannada movie posters, the detritus of years. Murals spanning kilometres of public walls covered up phone numbers for businesses, years-old dates for rallies at Town Hall, declarations of love and affection between nameless forgotten sets of initials, demands for recognition of Tamil Eelam and calls for world peace. They erased dirt and urine stains and illegible graffiti, and they wiped away the green mildew that covers everything after the rains have ended.