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Friday, April 17, 2015

The writing is on the wall !! - By Nihal D. Amerasekera

The writing is on the wall !!

By Nihal D Amerasekera 

The above caption is a reference to a graffiti on the wall in Babylon, the great Kingdom, between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris around 550BC. The region  iscurrently referred to as Iraq. The graffiti  was a prediction about the destruction of the Kingdom of Babylon. So you see, Graffiti is old as history itself. 

In the spring of 2008, the Tate Modern in London opened the world’s first major public museum display of graffiti and street art.  Thankfully it is considered as serious art.  With his satirical street art, dark humour and political sketches Banksy is one of the best known of  the street artists. 

Wall paintings , etches and scratchers have been with us since the time of the Pharaohs.  I have seen their handiwork in Ephesus in Turkey from the 10th Century BC.  Ever since I arrived in London, the graffiti capital of the world, I have been mesmerized by the artistic beauty and the clever thinking behind some of the work of the ‘masters’.  Their creations with the spray cans and the paint brushes have been magnificent. They use their creative minds as their palettes  andthe drab walls and railway arches as their canvas. Of course there is vandalism and bad language created by warped minds of some graffiti artists.They too are a cross section of our society with those same social problems. 

I will always remember a graffiti of Che Guevara on a blank wall which is  a symbol of poverty and suffering of the social underclass. Its colour and the facial expression brought him back to life.This must be the work of another Picasso unable to claim his fame due to his background of poverty. Since the 1970’s there has been a gradual move away from graffiti as it is a now a punishable offence.  Graffiti are  considereda desecration of the environment but I remember with much affection the glory days  of those colourful murals  and inspirational aphorisms. There  is  often an irresistible desire to scribble. I read a news clip from the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror of a girl who had scribbled on the mirror wall at Sigiriyawith a hairpin and was punished with 2 years imprisonment. The sentence was later squashed. The wheels of justice in Sri Lanka grinds slowly both to convict and to release. 

I started my career as a trainee radiologist in a London teaching hospital. It is a completely different ball game to being a medical registrar. Once again I felt like a helpless medical student learning the heart sounds, timing murmurs and eliciting  clinical signs.To make diagnoses looking at images and not having the patient before me needed a new way of thinking. The return to radiation physics was soul destroying. The rest of the trainees felt the heat too. I wasn’t surprised to find a graffiti in an inaccessible corner of the registrars toilet “XRAY IS A FOUR LETTER WORD”. It was a graphic description of my own sentiments. Honest, I didn’t write it but wish I did !! It was much later I realized the immense importance of imaging and its vast potential. Radiology was one of the best things I have done in my life. 

Although ablutions are a basic and mundane function, lavatorialhumour has been in existence since time began. The public toilets are a magnet for graffiti artists. The dim lights in the basement and the relative seclusion perhaps help in its creation.  I recall reading a hurriedly written script on the wall “Pass anything but not wind”. All I could say is “Easily said than done”.Amongst a gallery of graffiti in the Oxford Circus public toilet their was a polite request “don’t overestimate your ability, get closer to the urinal.” Gents toilets are a paradise for dribblers.  If I had the courage to replyI  would have said : “ I will  have to swim to get there”.  On the back of a toilet door was a gentle reminder :“Your exhaust needs a silencer” 

On a blank wall near London’s Kings Cross station there was a forlorn script written in brilliant red “ Obama for President :  Cameron for Queen” 

The word “phat” doesn’t mean what it sounds. According to the  Merriam-Webster dictionary it is an adjective meaning ‘very attractive or appealing’.

Be that as it may,  when I was walking in London’s China Town I came across a plush notice “Tea Rooms”  and then in small letters“A quiet place for a tea and Phat”. I was greatly enticed by what’s on offer and stepped in.  It was most certainly quiet and the tea was good but I didn’t have the urge for the Phat.  

On a wall near the London’s Olympic stadium was a sinister note:

“Get a free vasectomy – do the 100 Metre hurdles” 

I appreciate enormously the subtle humour of those wall-  scribblerswho are said to be on the margins of society.I have always been fascinated by these ‘Confucius’ like aphorisms: 

“End of the world is nigh - beat the rush and by your lottery ticket”. 

“Life is a thief of time” 

Old fishermen never die - they just smell that way” 

“Save fuel - Get cremated with a friend” 

“Today is yesterdays tomorrow” 

“Keep death off the roads - Drive on the footpath” 

“Amnesia, where are you?” 

“My inferiority complex isn't as good as yours” 

“Examinations are nature’s laxative” 

“Cigarettes are the biggest cause of statistics” 

“Eat more beans, the world needs more gas”.

“Yoga is made out of full cream milk” 

“Death is hereditary” 

“Neurotics build castles in the air.

Psychotics live in them.

Psychiatrists charge rent.” 

It is not a graffiti but Oscar Wilde who said “I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.”.Self deprecation is an art form and is an important aspect of British humour. This well thought out graffiti appeared at the very corner of a wall full of multi-coloured scribbles – “Those who can write , write books. Those who can’t  - write graffiti”. 

I hope I have whet your appetite for the wisdom of graffiti. They certainly rule ok and have a world of their own.


  1. Very entertaining and brilliant ND-

  2. Rohini
    Thank you. Encouraging and perceptive as always.

  3. Most entertaining post ND. I saw Bansky's "Wall and Piece" at my nieces's house and was fascinated by it. Graffiti is still an offence in the UK Am I right? You have chosen a very good selection of Medical ones within your overall inclusions. "Eat more beans, the world needs more gas" struck a personal chord! Your Oscar Wilde quote shows what a brilliant mind he had, Thank you.

  4. Mahen
    In the UK Section 6 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides for offences in relation to graffiti. Someone caught doing graffiti will be guilty of a criminal act and can be fined up to £5,000 if the damage they have caused is less than £5,000.....
    Love them or hate them they are here to stay. It is the voice of the people marginalised and trivialised by society.

  5. Sorry my comment is late. No wonder I got the caption The Late Zita!
    Brilliant offering ND, from the pen of a master! To my mind comes a graffiti: In a famous hospital a famous professor Michael Burns was always away on lecture tours, talks, conducting exams and such that the post graduates were fed up. So the graffiti went 'What's the difference between God and Prof Burns? God is everywhere, Prof Burns is everywhere but here!'