It’s an Ad Mad World right here in the city. Take a walk down any street in Mangalore and chances are you’ll begin to feel completely claustrophobic by the time you reach your destination. The city is hedged in by giant billboards that line every road that leads to just about anywhere.
It’s a price one has to pay for the onset of modernization that has assumed giant proportions in this once quaint and sleepy little town. The cosmopolitan culture that has already set in and is here to stay, probably welcomes this change, but for most of us who have been born and brought up in Mangalore, this seems like an unwanted intrusion.
“Rows of trees as far as the eyes can see” does not hold good anymore if you want to describe Mangalore to someone who is visiting for the first time. Well at least not within the city limits. Massive advertisements and hoardings put up by major companies block out not only most of the skyline but also natural sunlight and fresh air. If you happen to live within the city limits you will soon discover that there’s no such thing as a natural view anymore. Gone are the days when you could sit on your porch and exchange a few words with your neighbour who was watering his garden. Now you’re more likely to see a beautiful Bipasha Basu on the Pantaloons ad (no, she’s not real enough to make up for the neighbour) or a smiling Mohan Lal endorsing the Malabar Gold Festival. Either that or you are forced to put up with the ugly rear framework that holds up these billboards, depending of course on which side of the fence you live on.
In the last few years, high-rise commercial complexes and residential apartments have cropped up like mushrooms in the city. In fact, it is not possible to live anymore in Mangalore without being subjected to the deafening noise of construction work going on somewhere in the vicinity. What with the noise and the dust around, pollution is at its peak. When your nose and ears are subjected to this pollution why should your eyes be allowed to enjoy the beauty of nature? And so we have the billboards and the hoardings to give us an unwanted package deal. To add to the ugliness, the ?Stick no Bills’ signs are ignored and movie posters glued on many walls around town. The Municipal City Corporation admits to keeping a check on these, but they agree it’s an uphill task that needs the support and cooperation of the public.
The hoardings are placed at strategic locations so as to catch the fancy of the right clientele. For eg. huge hoardings of Frankfinn (Air hostess academy) and Sixth Sense (Designer Wear) are found vying for attention in front of city colleges and schools. So also advertisements for restaurants, mobiles and shopping festivals. While popular Bollywood stars and savvy sports personalities bring in the illusion of glamour to the city, special introductory offers for vehicles, designer clothing and accessories entice the young crowd very effectively.
So also, every time there is a high ranking visitor in town (could be religious or political), up go the posters, flyers, hoardings and billboards, all put up in a tearing hurry, some of them precariously. In many places these huge posters and hoardings not only block the greenery around but they also block the few remaining old fashioned tiled houses which are a trademark of Mangalorean life.
Banks, Educational Institutions, Beauty and Health Clinics, Fashion Houses, Restaurants, Household Appliances, Building and Construction houses, Newspapers and yes, even Radio Mirchi/FM have huge hoardings splashed all across town, in locations that are guaranteed to get them plenty of attention. Some hoardings are also placed prominently in bus stands, the railway station and the Airport. To give them their credit, there are a few that merge with the location and do not obstruct but these are few and far between.
Who benefits from these hoardings? Well plenty of people, both in terms of publicity and financially. The companies to begin with. Easily topping the Billboard list in town by the sheer number of ads they put up, are the telecom companies ? Airtel, Reliance, Spice, BSNL, Tata Indicom etc. followed closely by Allukas and Malabar Gold. The latter are fairly new Jewellery houses in the city but the amount they invest in advertisements has them drawing in a large crowd of customers. Old Mangalorean jewellers like S.L. Shet and Canara Jewellers have also placed their advertisements following the ?if you can’t beat them join them’ policy.
Others who benefit from the hoardings are private property owners who have enough space in front of their houses or institutions. This space is often rent out to advertising companies who rent it out again for a profit to various companies that are looking for prime locations to place their advertisements. Both parties make good money out of this deal. The price of the hoarding is entirely dependent on its location. The more strategic the location the more money you can demand for renting out your space. While hundreds of trees in Mangalore are already being felled to make way for new buildings, there are a few more being felled just to make place for hoardings.
The Revenue Department of the Mangalore City Corporation has to grant official permission to put up such hoardings in the city and it is normally done taking the financial aspects into account. An auction is held once in three years and all advertising agencies that put up these hoardings are entitled to pay an advertisement tax to the city corporation. A spokesperson at the Revenue Department said that they collect the tax on a yearly basis from the agencies and do not deal with the companies directly. In the past, there have been cases of delayed payments over a period of time and the corporation has come down heavily on those agencies that owe advertisement tax to its office.
Another official from the Revenue Department said that, at the moment there is a rule that bans hoardings and posters on and in front of all Government buildings, places of worship and electric poles. He said this rule is often flouted and when this happens it is the revenue department at the MCC which brings down the offending banners, posters and hoardings. This again depends on the availability of staff to do the job.
One of the most important aspect of putting up these hoardings is perhaps the one that is least looked into. Almost all these hoardings are fixed with iron fasteners and many of them are placed on top of high rise buildings making them potentially dangerous to the public. Scant attention is paid to safety standards and in a place like Mangalore especially during the monsoons it is quite common to see many of these hoardings ripped off by the force of the wind. The hoardings placed at a lower level or on the roads also become an immediate target in any political fracas as political parties take pleasure in burning them down.
There has been some public opposition in the past protesting the display of hoardings that encourage smoking for example, but these are just surface concerns. The real problem, namely the city’s deteriorating face, has hardly been addressed. Agreed, these hoardings are very essential to the companies to market their products in a rapidly growing economy, but can the Mangalore City Corporation not find a way in which their policies are streamlined to safeguard and preserve the natural beauty that has always been a part of Mangalore?
What we need are ?enforced’ rules where companies are allowed to advertise only on commercial buildings, that too at a stipulated height taking all safety standards into account. There is also a need to ban hoardings in front of huge trees that have lived and breathed here for hundreds of years. Mangalore City would retain its beauty if there were no ugly hoardings that blocked and marred the impressive architecture of Educational Institutions, Places of Worship etc. And of course safer too, if there were no hoardings, banners and flyers at circles and sharp turns, that block the driver’s view of oncoming traffic.
The signs are there for us to see ? in our eagerness to turn cosmopolitan, we are traversing down a road that is leading to a sizeable distortion of our city’s fa?ade. The natural beauty of our trees, the fresh air and sunlight of the ?outdoors’, the uninterrupted view that was a trademark of our small town could very soon remain as mere memories. Are we prepared to face that thought?
Photographs by Deepak Pereira, Oman
Author: Shaly Pereira- Oman