|(Top) The old Shatti Seri and its new avatar. Pictures by Suman Tamang|
Darjeeling, May 22: A drab and broken staircase, pounded by hundreds of residents in Darjeeling, has got colour to it, thanks to seven women in this hill town. And what colours they are.
Shatti Seri (meaning the 60 steps) may be the most used flight of stairs in Darjeeling, making it a landmark for hill residents.
The seven women, professionals and students, started a Facebook page called OMG Darj. It soon became the first step to the most colourful public art display in the town.
Smriti Raphel Rai, a professional photographer, speaking on behalf of the women, said: “We had formed a page on Facebook called OMG Darj (OMG stands for Oh my God) to express our feelings when the idea of preserving Darjeeling’s landmarks cropped up during an interaction. We zeroed in on the Shatti Seri as it is the most used staircase in town.”
“We came up with the idea to use different tiles as we came across (on the Net) a similar design in Brazil,” Smriti said. The straircase in Rio de Janeiro that inspired the women were decorated by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. He tiled more than 200 steps with over 2,000 colourful tiles collected from over 60 countries. The steps are known as Escadaria Selaron (Selaron stairs).
But the women were worried that the tiles would become slippery in the rain.
“We came across anti-slip tiles, which were expensive, but helped solve our problem,” Smriti said.
The anti-slip tiles, which cost the group around Rs 28,000 were sponsored by residents of Darjeeling living in Dubai.
Shatti Seri connects Doranga Bazar with H.D. Lama Road in Darjeeling.
“We approached the municipality to seek permission to beautify the place and Amar Singh Rai, the civic chairman was kind to us,” Smriti said.
The cash-strapped municipality could not fund the project but Rai did request acquaintances to help the group.
Decorating Shatti Seri soon became a community project. “We got most of the things in kind. People came to us with even two tiles when word spread. Some gave us paint, water, cement and sand, almost everything,” Smriti said.
The group collected around Rs 35,000 in cash from hill residents to pay the labourers who fit the tiles.
“Some of the contractors of the Darjeeling civic body gave us Rs 15,000 which we used for labour payment. The rest of the amount was mobilised from the public,” said Smriti.
Some of the residents provided drums to store water, schoolchildren lent a helping hand during holidays.
It took around one and a half months to turn Shatti Seri from dull grey-brown to a riot of colours.
Rai, who cut a ribbon to reopen the staircase for use today, said: “We appreciate the initiative of the young group, especially at a time when we are facing a funds crunch. We hope this initiative will encourage other people to take up similar initiatives to beautify the town. There must be a feeling that public places belong to everyone.”
The OMG Darj group had earlier come up with public art along Nehru Road that leads to the Chowrastha in Darjeeling. The group had also started an initiative among school children to visit public libraries. “We are now planning to place dustbins across the town. We are making an appeal to the residents of Darjeeling to donate mustard oil tin boxes so that we can paint them and convert them into dustbins,” said Smriti.