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What the Ph. . . !


URBAN DICTIONARY: Daku wanted the graffiti to look pretty because it wasn't a random angry rant like those in some Delhi underpasses

For long, Mumbaikars have complained about the administration not giving a f*** about the city. Here's someone who does. In July, a graffiti artist who works under the alias "Daku", neatly and artfully stenciled the Devnagari alphabets 'ph' and 'ka' across several locations in the maximum city. There is one each in Mahim, Tulsiwadi, Lower Parel, on a wall close to Jehangir Fort and even in Juhu, in all its uncensored glory, eliciting both mirth and curiosity.

The mind and pen behind the expletive art is Daku who has been active in Delhi for nearly five years. His tags (elaborately painted signatures), mostly done in bold colours, are a common sight across Malviya Nagar, Begumpur and other parts of south Delhi. The Mumbai outburst, he says, was fueled by the atmosphere of fear, frustration and anxiety that he encountered on his latest trip. ACP Vasant Dhoble had just come down hard on the city's nightlife, and he heard several stories of moral policing excesses from his friends.

The 30-year-old graffiti artist says he wanted to make the city "smile" with the profanity lettered in Hindi. "When the execution is so fine and perfect the meaning becomes the very opposite. I could have done an angry scrawl, freehand with spray paint. But I did not want it to look like a random rant like the kind you see in the South Ex underpass in Delhi, " says Daku, who is also a part of an international graffiti artists' collective called "156".

The four-letter word is routinely beeped out of television programming and censored on some online portals. But, Daku points out, the intention behind how he used it wasn't malicious. "F*** has multiple meanings. And it's not just for English speakers. It has now come into the colloquial Hindi vocabulary as well. Even those who don't know what it exactly means are using it in their own way. I wanted to engage all kinds of people with this. Devnagri is the script for both Hindi and Marathi and could therefore cover a much larger set of the literate population in Mumbai, " he says

Though the take-off point was Dhoble, Daku says he wanted the message to cut across classes and go beyond the privileged few who can afford to frequent nightclubs. "It's about the city and the palpable tension and stress in the city in general. I want it to make sense to the chanaa-wala on the street as well, " he says. And make sense it does. While passing by one of his works on a Mumbai street in a taxi, Daku decided to test the waters. He asked a cabbie what the word meant. "I don't know what it means, but I have heard some passengers say 'f*** yaar' when they are upset, " he had told Daku.

Apparently, this isn't plain, irreverent provocation for a cheap thrill. Daku is clear about his intended audience and the distinction between art and defacement. He painted the F-word on Marine Drive at 3 in the morning. While other locations have it in solid black and white, Marine Drive got a shiny chrome silver. Seven hours and an epiphany later, Daku came back, only to paint over the "ph", leaving just a "ka" behind. "I figured I wanted to stick to locations like urinal walls and places that have some sense of chaos. Marine Drive gets a lot of tourists. This isn't meant for them, " he says.

Unlike his works in the capital, the latest pieces in Mumbai do not bear his signature. "I didn't sign it because it wasn't a personal comment. I meant it to reflect a general reaction to all that was happening in the city, " he says.

kim. arora@timesgroup. com

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