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Viral Video: Moonwalking Over The Potholes Of India

An astronaut in a space suit and helmet bounces in slow motion over what look like gaping craters on the surface of the moon. The figure moves slowly, as if there's zero gravity, through dusty haze.

But when the camera pans out, a tuk-tuk (aka rickshaw) whizzes past in the background. This is not outer space. It's a crater-pocked road in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore.

The video was created and posted online this week, on September 2, by Baadal Nanjundaswamy, an artist and activist based in Bengaluru. He tagged the city's municipal authorities when he uploaded the video on social media. He wanted to draw their attention to local streetscapes that are so riddled with potholes that, in his estimation, they look more like the surface of the moon than asphalt roads.

Even though the video has a humorous tone, potholes are a serious matter in India. In the past five years, some 15,000 people have died in pothole-related accidents across India. In Bengaluru this April, a 28-year-old motorcyclist died when he collided with a car while trying to avoid a pothole. Since then, local police have identified 350 potentially deadly potholes in the city and started filling them in.

With his video, Nanjundaswamy sought to send the municipality a message: They are not fixing the potholes fast enough.

"I was not expecting it to go so viral!" the 40-year-old artist tells NPR.

Nanjundaswamy's tweet has been liked or retweeted more than 34,000 times; his Facebook post has been shared, liked or commented on more than 64,000 times. The video has since been re-shared by multiple sites.

The plan seems to have worked: A day after he tweeted the video, Nanjundaswamy went back to the same street where he filmed it — Tunganagar Main Road in North Bengaluru — and was delighted to see construction equipment at work. The municipality was filling in the potholes. He tweeted a short video of the work on Sept. 3.

A government spokesperson told local media that they promptly took action after the artist's complaint.

Netizens have erupted into virtual applause on social media, praising Nanjundaswamy's creativity. They've even started debating which Indian city has the most "moon-like" roads. Some have suggested a new social media challenge highlighting abysmal roads across the country.

Another Twitter user jokingly suggested using Bengaluru's roads to train astronauts from India's space agency (which hopes to land an unmanned rover called Chandrayaan-2 on the lunar surface early Saturday India time.)

Another fan invited Nanjundaswamy to make a similar video of the potholes of his city, Mumbai, claiming deeper craters than in Bengaluru. A contest appears to be underway.

The fan base of those who love Nanjundaswamy's video — and hate potholes — apparently extends beyond India's borders. Another Twitter user invited the artist to Denver, to make a similar video there.

This isn't the first time Nanjundaswamy has turned potholes into art. The artist has been flagging potholes in his projects for the past five years. It's made him a well-known figure in Bengaluru.

In the past, he's drawn the face of Yamraj, the Hindu god of death, around a pothole, to make it look like the god's mouth. Around another pothole, he drew a caricature of a politician with his hands pressed together in namaste gesture.

Two years ago, Nanjundaswamy designed an art installation with a pool of blue water and a mermaid in a puddle on another busy Bengaluru street corner.

"Potholes are one of the major problems in Bengaluru. They are everywhere! People get hurt every day," Nanjundaswamy says.

In a way, his pothole art is asking to be destroyed. It sacrifices itself for people's safety. When authorities pave over rutted roads, Nanjundaswamy's creations are often wiped away.

"I think the authorities know who I am. We've never contacted each other," the artist explains. "But they have been nice to me."

It is a non-verbal form of dialogue but it appears to be a meaningful conversation. He makes pothole art — and they fill in the holes.

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Furkan Latif Khan