V11n2 Fence 5Divya Kothandapani (E’16) is painting a work of art in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, even though she isn’t an art major. Surrounding the electrical and computer engineering major are many others who aren’t artists, except on this day. Kothandapani and the people she’s inspired to join her are painting a mural of Mahatma Gandhi. The crowd includes college students, local residents, and even employees of a local Home Depot. Kothandapani pauses to watch the mix of strangers mingling like the colors in the mural they’re creating.

The project’s inception traces back to early in the fall 2013 semester. Kothandapani had become treasurer for OM, a campus organization dedicated to celebrating Indian spirituality and culture. She was responsible for managing an event that would celebrate Gandhi’s birthday.

Growing up in California, her family of Indian roots would sometimes tell her to be more like Ghandi, but she never really knew what he represented. So, in figuring out how to best commemorate him, she turned to the civil rights leader’s autobiography. With each new page, she better understood his life, work, and nonviolent philosophy. By book’s end, she thought of an ideal way to honor his memory: Bring people together through painting a meaningful mural that would enrich the community and be an artistic reminder that violence isn’t the answer.

Through OM, CMU students were asked to submit designs. One by Adelaide Cole (A’14) was selected, in part, for its henna design influence, which is ingrained in Indian culture. Kothandapani also reached out to a Pittsburgh nonprofit called Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project. With that organization’s help, OM received community support for the mural and secured a location—the side wall of Coriander, an Indian restaurant that is located on the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, Murray Avenue. Home Depot even offered to donate painting supplies.

The mural’s design includes one of Gandhi’s powerful quotes: Be the change you wish to see in the world. During the painting of the phrase’s letters, Kothandapani experiences the meaning behind those words—hearing pride and awe in the volunteers’ voices as they gaze at what they just created. Only a few months ago, the mural was just an idea. Now it’s a reality, a reality that advocates peace.

Kothandapani says she hopes the mural will inspire all who see it for years to come to be the change.
—Paul Carboni (DC’13)