Odisha was in the news for a good reason recently. It was named the best State for promotion of sports at the Sportstar Aces Awards on account of Bhubaneswar having hosted three successful international events — the Hockey World Cup in 2018, the Asian Athletics Championships in 2017 and the Hero Super Cup in 2018.
Odisha has invested time and money in making sports more visible in the capital city. I was in Bhubaneswar recently and found that commuting had become an aesthetic experience. Long stretches of street-facing walls were covered in murals.
Much of the art focused on hockey, especially around the Kalinga Stadium. Apart from dynamic images of players in the middle of a game, there was a lot of conceptual art around hockey sticks. One of my favourites was a mural that showed large black ants winding their way around a stick.
Mural art has picked up in several cities, but the murals in Bhubaneswar struck me as particular. In another part of the town, walls have been painted with flowers. Giant blue morning glories are painted such that it seemed the homely flower was demanding its due. There were a few Frida Kahlo murals too, and one I especially remember is that of the famous artist’s face crowded in by flowers. It was almost as if the flowers were emanating from her.
There’s another whimsical sort of mural, where the artist has painted just the feet of an Odissi dancer in motion. The adjacent wall has the eyes of the dancer, dancing with fun, with astonishment, full of rasa .
Looking at these murals made me wonder whose mind and heart was behind them. The murals made me think about how under-utilised public space has been so far. While interiors and a few expensive homes are decorated well, as per the owners’ tastes, the side of the wall that faces the street is considered nobody’s personal property.
I grew up looking at urban walls covered in posters, advertisements for everything from black magic to underwear, films to political parties. Then, a few years ago in Mumbai, a tiny corner was transformed through the efforts of an art collective that calls itself the Bollywood Art Project. It took nearly a decade for other public spaces to open up, especially suburban railway stations.
In Delhi too, there are a few walls covered with graffiti and artwork. By and large, though, our cities remain overwhelmingly grey.
Perhaps, it is time our city councils and State governments started funding the creation of murals. India barely supports her artists, and it is time citizens got access to a glimpse of art through the year, every year.
This would serve to keep us interested in each other’s imaginations. It would also make commuting a lot less dull.
The author is a writer of essays, stories, poems, and scripts for stage and screen