My eyes are burning, wrists busted, shoulders aching, jeans cemented, but the mind feels great,” says Arun Ganesh, who celebrated India’s 60th year of independence liberating some of the roads of his home townfrom potholes.
On the eve of independence, a group of about 12 met at night at the Vijaynagar bus stand, which stands in Velachery on an arterial road here leading to the Bangalorehighway. Their mission: fix the deep-rooted problem ofpotholes.
Armed with cement and gravel, mosquito repellent and signs that said “I fixed”, they discussed how best to fill as many potholes on the road as they possibly could. It wasn’t going to be easy as the road was choked with traffic even at 10pm. Some wondered if it was a foolhardy plan—after all, the group hadn’t bothered to take permission from the police or the city.
Working through the night, the group—which started out with 12 people and ended with 17—filled 120 potholes
However, as the night wore on, and the traffic thinned, the roads started to smooth out. The group—split in two, to attack different sections of the city’s roads—found its task a bit easier. Concerns about permission melted as the occasional policeman only expressed delight at the initiative. “Which was the whole point,” says Mahesh Radhakrishnan, one of three people who originally came up with the idea, now dubbed the “I fix” programme. “We wanted to do something special for Independence Day. And while we thought about setting up a huge flag across the beach road, or scribbling wish lists in saffron and green across the side of a building—we finally thought, why not fulfil one of the items on the wish list and fix a problem ourselves.”
Potholes on Indian roads are commonplace. In Mumbai, the financial hub of the country, the state high court had to intervene last year and order civic authorities to repair the roads and set up a Road Monitoring Committee.
India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, has also battled the problem for a while. A few years ago, the city’s mayor was so flustered with the ever-appearing potholes that he threatened to impose a fine ofRs1,000 on the city’s civic engineers for every pothole discovered. Later, the municipal authorities offered rewards for the capture of fugitive potholes that might have escaped their attention: a Rs100 award for every pothole reported to the authorities, who estimated the number at over 50,000.
But Chennai’s “I fix” group is very clear that their act is not just symbolic. Says Divya Rajagopal, another of the plan proponents: “It is a very practical initiative—we are not trying to send any message to anyone or anything.”
As the night wore on, the group managed to surpass its target of 60 potholes each on the two stretches—the first one from Vijaynagar bus stand all the way to Taramani, where the IT corridor begins, and the second in Mandavali, an area in the heart of the city.
“We started with about 12 people, at around 10pm, and by the time we finished around seven in the morning, we had 17 people,” says Vijay Shankar. “Which is great, because I thought it might be the other way round. With the patriotic fervour that comes during Independence Day, we can do some good work—but the trick is to continue the work when the fervour dies down.”