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From Abbey Road to Kolkata traffic cops: How far have the Beatles fallen?

David Cameron should have come to Kolkata instead of playing cricket in Mumbai.

He could have inaugurated the Calcutta Traffic Police’s latest brainwave – using the Beatles to teach unruly Kolkata pedestrians to use the zebra crossings ala the iconic cover of their album, Abbey Road. Those posters of the Fab Four crossing Abbey Road in single-file have popped up at busy intersections all over the city with the caption “If they can, why can’t you?”

It would have been a total win-win for Mr Cameron. He could have highlighted Britain’s greatest export since the sun went down on the British Empire. At the same time he could have slyly demonstrated that Britannia is still bringing the fruits of civilisation to its old subjects. It would also have given him the perfect cue to sing “I want you, I want you so bad” to the Indian businesses he has been courting as passionately as John once wooed Yoko.

Traffic safety is of course serious business.  Studies by WHO have shown that in countries like India, pedestrians account for almost half of the recorded fatalities every year.

No one is claiming the Beatles, however fab, will be a magic pill to fix those numbers. “The purpose of the campaign is to create awareness without preaching,” Supratim Sarkar, joint commissioner of police (traffic) told The Telegraph. Let's give the posters a chance.

The Beatles poster. Image from Kolkata Traffic Police's Facebook Page.

The Beatles poster. Image from Kolkata Traffic Police's Facebook Page.

The Kolkata police apparently toyed with all kinds of ideas from Shakira to Gangnam style because they wanted to get across the importance of road safety to young people. Eventually they settled on the zebra crossers from 1969 because of their “timeless appeal.”

Hmmm.

It certainly says something about the city that seems stuck in its own time (less) warp. That old white car in the background of the Abbey Road poster would not look that out of place on Kolkata’s streets today. The choice of the Beatles actually says much more about the age demographic within the police force  and their nostalgia for those used LP stores on Kolkata’s Free School Street than it does about the posters’ target audience.

But never mind that.

What does it say about the poor Beatles themselves? It’s bad enough that Lennon has been co-opted to sell Macbooks. Now the Fab Four, hippie hair and all, are being turned into poster boys for discipline.  “Our campaign is to spread awareness on the importance of road safety by following traffic rules and regulations,” Anuj Roy, officer-in-charge (planning and survey traffic) told PTI. So it has come to this. The Beatles are not just part of the establishment now. They are now being used by the establishment, not as warnings but as role models, to admonish the young into following rules and regulations.

On the plus side, it is nice to have a poster campaign in Kolkata that has nothing to do with either Rabindranath Tagore or Mamata Banerjee. For that at least we should be thankful to the creative wizards of the Calcutta Traffic Police.

However the police should be careful. These days the force is not in Didi’s good books. The commissioner RK Pachnanda has been unceremoniously transferred from his job for getting too pro-active in his investigation after a police officer was killed recently. And someone could point out to Didi that Abbey Road does have that little song called Her Majesty that goes “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl but she changes from day to day.”

In fact, is this whole poster campaign really a sly commentary about Mamata-land? Perhaps the Beatles were predicting Bengal's 2013 financial woes all the way back in 1969?

You never give me your money

You only give me your funny paper

And in the middle of negotiations

You break down

Out of college, money spent

See no future, pay no rent

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go

But, oh that magic feeling….

We have to admit that whether the posters work or not in saving pedestrians from hurtling minibuses, it is a magic feeling indeed watching John, Paul, George and Ringo stride across the zebra crossing while the traffic signal blares out Rabindrasangeet.

It’s an OnlyInKolkata moment.

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