madnomad.com dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Highly Addictive Timepass
By Evelyn - 12 Jan, 2000

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The signs we've seen suggest that Indians go to great lengths to educate the general public. Actually, it's more about using the general public to reinforce behavior of workers. At an airport, we saw an elaborately detailed sign listing out the do's and don'ts of airport customs officials: 'Do not ask the passenger to pick up for you the boarding card in case it slips in the process of stamping of security.' Signs in a branch of the State Bank in India had a similar effect, explaining to the public that under no circumstances should off-the record transactions take place.

Sometimes explicit signage confuses more than clarifies. A restaurant displayed a giant sign, proudly advertising 'Veg and Non-Veg Meals Only.' The expiration date on a pack of biscuits read 'Best before within upto 6 months of manufacture.' At a telephone booth customers were forewarned of the rules to avoid payment quibbles after a call was made: 'No discount/concession will be allowed on the plea of wrong number dialled/no connection occurred/any cross connection.'

In the train station on either end of a long journey from Varanasi to Calcutta, we had the unexpected pleasure of using the retiring rooms provided at the stations. Signs posted in one itemized the pieces of furniture in the room and the toilet facilities. I went down the list, not sure where to look for the 'wood chair shirt arm (came seated)'. Amongst the itemized toilet facilities: 'Bathroom - 1 / toilet (with flushing system) - 3 / wash basin with tap and pedestral - 2 / tap – 5 / shower – 2 / Towel Rack – 4 / Soap dish – 2.' Let's be clear. They make it difficult to walk out with a new wash basin under your arm.

Public service messages have also been a continuous source of curious but creative Indian English. At a train reservation office a cheery sign read 'Ordinary the rest, fairlie the best.' All over Indian cities are memorable one-liner traffic warnings: 'Better Mr. Late than late mister', 'A helmet is an asset', and ominously 'Old Bridge Ahead. Drive Dead Slow.' Much more thought-provoking than the "Mud on road" signs you see in England.

Environmental awareness messages have also gained popularity in India. The Delhi Department of Urban Development placed a large ad in the newspaper advising its residents 'Next time you're really under pressure, look for a loo before you turn this city into one… DELHI - not just a city, your home.' All over Calcutta we saw the words 'Stick no bill' and 'Commit No Nuisance. Fine Rs.500' painted on walls and building facades, sometimes right on top of a residual poster fragment.

The basic message to look out for pick-pocketers was elaborated in the form of a multi-panel cartoon illustration at another bank. Unfortunately, we could not photograph the illustrations: 'Robbers following you on two-wheeler or car may snatch your money. / A thief may break into your dickey. / A cheat may hoodwink you by some trick. / REMEMBER, a timely precaution will save you from life-long botheration.'



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