CHENNAI: My city is beginning to glow. So are many more cities across the nation. In the months to come, we will all be sparkling in the incandescent radiance of wisdom. Before that look of bewilderment settles on your face, allow me to explain. We, the citizens of these chosen cities, will henceforth have the privilege of residing in a Smart City. It naturally takes a certain degree of ingenuity on the part of the populace, to be the favoured ones. There must be something unique about us, either an invisible halo or a light bulb over our heads or some obvious manifestation of our intelligence, that has made us eligible for this honour.
Casting aside your ego and acknowledging your ignorance by asking the question, ‘So what is a Smart City?’, definitely deserves an honest, elaborate answer. Firstly, the tag itself leaves one with an illusion of being clever and savvy. There is an aura to ‘Smart Citizen’ that even proves therapeutic to all those unfortunate souls who have been scarred for life by the memory of piled up arrears from college and red-inked ‘Fail’ marks on school report cards.
Besides, the city also gets a spectacular makeover. Walkers’ paths are given a fresh look. Existing pathways are dug up and paved all over again ( with a ‘smarter’ look). Benches are thrown in at regular intervals, lest you need to rest a while from the exhaustion of being smart. The fancy lights on fancier lampposts lend a ‘film set from the 70’s look’, to it all. There is planned greenery, playgrounds for children and corners earmarked as outdoor gyms with the right equipment to flex one’s muscles. Some of these walk paths are designed around waterbodies and the cool breeze that teases your skin as you stroll is enough to convince you that you and your city are indeed blessed. Never mind the mosquitoes.
As an artist, I can’t help but wonder why this beautification drive does not include art? Wouldn’t art complete this picture-perfect scheme? Couldn’t public spaces to interact with sculptures and installations also turn into areas for meaningful dialogues? Of course, art has been included in the project too, I am told. It will be used on the walls that line these paths, as a safeguard from its misuse by vandals, the poster sticking mafia, the paan chewing spitters and the chronic garbage dumpers. It’s my turn to look appalled. When and how did art take on the purpose of serving as a deterrent, so that bladders wouldn’t be emptied on precious walls?
Civic sense should be tackled at the school level and children taught the importance of keeping their surroundings clean. Fines could be levied on those caught littering. Public bins should be cleared often. Respecting every space outside of your own home is what makes you a ‘Smart’ citizen. Let art be used to bring aesthetics to the streets rather than reducing it to a trash can accompaniment. Let us bask in the lustre of a truly Smart City!