What Was That One Thing Missing From Our Signals?


I was driving past a signal the other day and luxuriating in that feeling of utter and serene calm that Pune’s traffic always brings out in me, when something jolted me out of my reverie.

It was a long, tall pole, dispiritingly grey in colour, with an electronic display of some sort affixed to its apex. The display had a message on it, exhorting me to plant more trees, or drive less, or something along those lines. I stared at it in utter fascination, only to have it change on me in the blink of an eye. Now the electronic screen sagely assured me that a clean (not to mention green, it coyly added) Pune was the best kind of Pune. I was all agog to learn more, and eagerly waited for the next installment of advice from this seemingly never ending fount of wisdom, but the signal turned green, and I had to move on.

But, as I went onwards on my journey, I was overjoyed to learn that there are more than one of these contraptions on Pune’s streets. In fact, there seem to be dozens of them, if not hundreds. They’ve cropped up all over town, at every major (and maybe minor too! Who is to say?) junction, spreading cheer and joy with their sharp and witty messages, displayed on those electronic screens on a 24/7 basis.

This, it seems, is the latest initiative by our dear old PMC to make our lives better, and our minds smarter. Putting up these electronic displays at various signals, they have no doubt realised, will better our lives immeasurably. And upon reflection, it is hard to disagree.

Consider the many advantages: first, it is extremely good use of our already too broad and wide footpaths. So many endless kilometers of these footpaths do we possess, in fact, that we were crying out for a more judicious use of all this space – especially near traffic signals, where pedestrians already have far too many facilities made available to them.

Second, what would you rather have? Money being spent on making signals work better, or electronic signboards that send across happy positive thoughts? Me, I’d go in for the positive spin any day. I mean to say, what was the one thing missing from our signals? Electronic signboards – what else!

Third, who among us has not experienced ennui and boredom while waiting at signals? I, for one, certainly have, and therefore welcome the opportunity to calmly and silently reflect on a message while waiting for my turn at the signal.

And finally, the aesthetics of it all. A tall grey pole at a signal with a non-high-resolution screen that displays non-corny messages in pleasing palettes of red, yellow, green and blue. It takes what was earlier a drab, dreary signal and transforms it into a perennial riot of festivity. If Brazil has the carnival but once a year, why, we have these displays on all the time. So there, Rio, so there.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. I’d have tried to essay a guess, but I know when I’m beat – inspirational moves such as these are not for us mere mortals.



#All views expressed in this column are the authors. 

Ashish Kulkarni

Ashish Kulkarni

Ashish is a confirmed Punekar, which guarantees eternal undying love for the city, but also mandates an incurable sense of cynicism about it.

He doesn't expect the paradox to be resolved in his lifetime
Ashish Kulkarni