The “I❤XYZ” installations have gone viral in India, with creative variations, clever modifications, and dropped letters.
From Mumbai to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, from Srinagar to Port Blair, a particular kind of “lovaria” has gripped India. Welcome to the “I❤XYZ” phenomenon, a cross between the iconic “I❤NY” design and the famous “I❤amsterdam” public square installation. The graphic designer Milton Glaser (1929-2020) famously drew the NY caption while sitting in a cab on his way to a meeting in 1976, for a tourism marketing campaign of New York. “I❤amsterdam” was inaugurated in 2004 as the city’s marketing slogan: it soon became a major selfie point.
In India, it probably began in Mumbai in 2016 at the Kala Ghoda Festival with an installation of “Love Mumbai” designed by Hitesh Malaviya and Hanif Kureshi, with “Love” written in Devanagari script and showing a heart. Efforts by Humans of Bombay and St+art India to make it a permanent part of the city’s landscape led to its installation at Bandra Reclamation Promenade, and then, with the blessings of the municipal corporation, variations began popping up across the city. “I❤Mumbai” appeared in Juhu and a garden in Vile Parle West; the word “Mumbai” was soon replaced by “Bandra”, “Malad”, “Ghatkopar”, and other neighbourhoods, to convey pride in the local area.
Now almost every big city has these, and it is possible that the total number exceeds a thousand. My own collection of images sourced from travel and online research runs into several hundreds of such installations. The push for the installations has come from various quarters: municipalities, smart city projects, railways, airports, parks, hotels, shopping malls, residential buildings, and even universities, office complexes, and ordinary citizens.
In Rajasthan, after Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Ajmer got their signs, a petrol pump owner in Kota decided to instal “I Kota” because the municipal offices had failed to do so. The villagers of Chakar in Punjab got “I Chakar” made with NRI donations. The fever does not seem to have spread to Bangladesh or Sri Lanka yet, but interestingly, Pakistan has clearly caught on to it with a point inaugurated in Lahore in 2020, followed by the signs appearing in towns and cities, from Karachi to Gilgit.
They are frequently called “selfie points” by municipal officials and are indeed thronged by selfie-seekers. The aesthetics, depending on your taste, vary, but many are also creative adaptations of the basic blueprint. In Palani in Tamil Nadu, the heart is replaced by a namaste sign. In Malvan in Maharashtra, there is a clever play of colour to highlight “love” in the middle of “Malvan”, written in Devanagari.
- From Mumbai to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, from Srinagar to Port Blair, the “I love XYZ” installations can be found all over India.
- They are often major selfie points.
- The push for the installations has come from various quarters: municipalities, smart city projects, railways, airports, parks, hotels, shopping malls, residential buildings, and even universities, office complexes, and ordinary citizens.
Variations appear in the choice of colour and script (the one in Visakhapatnam has “love” in the Telugu script), but most versions continue to mimic Glaser’s design.
These installations can also lie in a state of disrepair after the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Letters drop off, shrubs start growing on them. The dropping of ‘T’ in Meerut led to “I❤Meeru”. In some cases, the words are so big that they may not fit in a single picture frame during a selfie. One viral meme from this genre shows a person in front of the Gandhinagar installation but only with the first four letters of the city’s name showing in the background.
There are quirky variations. Outside the Advanced Eye Centre, a government set-up in Chandigarh, you find “I MY EYES”. Then there are those with numbers in them, such as “I❤Sec 17” in Chandigarh or “I❤Ward 90” in Kolkata. Pune and Kolkata, like Mumbai, have one for nearly every neighbourhood.
In Pune, it recently led to political friction as the signboards, costing between Rs.3 lakh and Rs.10 lakh, exposed a contractor- corporator nexus, and the municipality led a crackdown on illegal boards.
The government of New York, which holds the trademark of “I❤NY”, is known to raise objections against its usage on other platforms but would find it hard to sue in India where lovaria spreads at a frenetic pace. However, strangely enough, it is rare to find “I India”. One does exist in Bhopal, but with “I love Bhopal” inscribed inside the heart.
Chinmay Tumbe is a faculty member of IIM Ahmedabad and author of India Moving: A History of Migration. The author thanks Sughosh Joshi, Ninad Parab, Samata Biswas, Priti Pandurangan, Annika Taneja, Sudha Tumbe, and numerous contributors on social media for crowdsourcing the images from across India.