Police in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) are taking an unusual step in promoting road safety in the huge, overcrowded metropolis – by using the iconic photo from the cover of The Beatles’ classic album "Abbey Road."
The Delhi-based Asian News International (ANI) news agency reported that Kolkata’s traffic police have put up dozens of posters around the city showing the four Beatles walking single file on a zebra crossing in North London with the caption: "If they can, why can't you?"
The Beatles (and the album cover) are so popular and well-known in India and elsewhere that they are not even identified on the poster.
"We wanted a catchy and appealing campaign, and we hit upon the idea of using the Beatles and cash in on their universal popularity. We are trying to say that if John, Paul, George and Ringo could use the zebra crossing, you can also do it," Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police Supratim Sarkar told BBC.
"We will be able to tell after a couple of months whether the campaign worked."
Sarkar added: “The Beatles touched thousands of lives with their music and we are simply trying to use their universal appeal to save lives.”
An unnamed senior traffic officer told the Calcutta Telegraph newspaper: “We toyed with ideas ranging from Shakira to Gangnam Style, keeping the youth in mind. We finally chose The Beatles because of their timeless appeal and the photograph, which fits the bill.”
Neel Dutt, an Indian musician and Kolkata resident, told the Telegraph that the campaign makes perfect sense.
"Kolkata has had a long love affair with The Beatles, and if that can make people abide by rules, then [there is ]nothing like it," he said.
However, some posters on the Kolkata Traffic Police’s Facebook page were less than enamored by the idea.
"Don't waste time and money putting up these [posters] that may be understood only by elite 2 percent of the people … who tend [not] to walk on the streets too much," a Kolkata resident named Sanjiv Kapoor wrote on the page.
"Instead spend the money on making zebra crossings at the right places, and educating drivers and ordinary pedestrians on what they are for! If people today actually use them as shown in the photo, they will be run over before you know it!"
Another poster named Rajib Banerji applauded the idea, but suggested some people in Kolkata might not know who The Beatles were.
“It should be made mandatory for pedestrians to cross at zebra crossings at busy intersections otherwise they should be fined,” he wrote.
“But you [traffic police] should spread this awareness amongst those people also who do not know who the Beatles are, who do not understand English or have access to Facebook or the internet.”
Traffic fatalities are a very serious matter in cities like Kolkata. Press Trust of India reported that in most developing countries, almost half of fatalities arising from traffic accidents are pedestrians. Moreover, in India as a whole, vehicular crashes are the second biggest cause of death.
The World Health Organization revealed that India records more than 130,000 deaths from traffic accidents every year – or about 14 every hour, one of the highest such rates in the world. The number of people injured by such incidents is much higher.
The legendary Abbey Road photo was taken in August 1969 by photographer Iain Macmillan. Over the past 40-plus years, tourists from around the globe have flocked by the hundreds of thousands to the street in St. John’s Wood, London, to make the same crossing that John, Paul, George and Ringo did.
The photograph, which did not mention the group’s name nor album title, became as famous as the album’s songs themselves. One of the bizarre aspects of the cover was that it accelerated rumors that Paul McCartney had died since the “Paul” figure in the picture is walking barefoot.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.