Tag Archives: india

Tata vs Turtles

The Tatas, one of India’s oldest and largest multinationals are planning to build (already started preparations for building) a port at Dhamra, Orissa, India. This spot is one of the very few nesting places of the very rare Oliver Ridley turtles, and if the port is completed that will be the end of them. There are other things you can do to help save the turtles. You can read about them here on the Greenpeace site.

Please take some action, however small. The port can be built anywhere. We can’t make new turtles. If the huge corporates don’t start realising the consequences of their actions, and taking responsibility of them, many eco-systems will be ruined forever. There is still time to stop them.

You can put this same ad on your blog or site to help spread awareness. And here is more on the whole story so far.

Why does it always have to be this way? Why is the price of so-called ‘progress’ so heavy? Maybe we need to redefine progress.




I saw a truck last night which had a compact disc stuck on the back as a reflector, and it was working pretty well gleaming there in the dark. A whole line of them stuck there would work brilliantly in dazzling the driver behind you. The masses in India are really innovative in the way they use and re-use and re-re-use things. This is because of poverty most of the time, but also due to a deeply ingrained philosophy that it is wrong to waste anything. Waste not, want not. We should learn from them. The traditional Indian village was largely self-sufficient, with little need to import things from neighbouring towns, and little waste. Lets hope we don’t lose this way of life and hopelessly go down the ‘we want more’ road.

A fellow student who went on an exchange programme to Italy was presenting her work and told us of how in Italy, bad looking vegetables are often thrown out during the long and complex sifting that vegeables go through there. The vegetable is actually edible, but is just a not so red (or green), maybe bruised, or unshapely. If that isn’t the most shockingly wasteful thing I have heard of, then I don’t know what is. If they just sent all those vegetables to India, a lot of us would gladly eat them.

Magic of the big screen

I don’t know what it is about the cinema, I have always thoroughly enjoyed going to a movie in a cinema as far back as I can recall. There is something magical about it. In the darkness, its just you and the big screen. Some 40 plus feet of emotions, speed, the human experience projected in front of you in all its glory. And lets not forget the the magic of sound. A brilliant sound system just makes the whole thing come to life. In some theatres you can actually feel the sound traveling around you, from one side to the other. There is no fun watching a movie on the laptop, or even the television. The whole experience is somehow scaled down, and you can’t get lost in it, the way the big screen takes you in.


Before the multiplex boom hit India, I remember going to small theatres in our home town, Pune, where the tickets were really cheap (by today’s standards). Around Rs. 15 to Rs. 22. A ticket bought in ‘black’ (not at the ticket counter but from some illegal ticket seller outside) would be Rs. 30, and that was a lot. The theatres were stuffy, run down, with creaky fans, and non-functional air-conditioning. Still we went, braving the heat, poky seats, and sleazy crowd. The power supply in Pune fluctuates like mad, and this would affect the projector, so suddenly the movie would dim. This was most infuriating while watching movies like ‘The Dirty Dozen’.

English (by which I mean Hollywood) movies almost never lasted beyond a week, so we would race to watch them in the first week. Strangely, the best Hollywood flicks would come to the worst theatre, a small, stuffy, hot, lousy place ‘Vijay Talkies’, which was a mile away, a beastly Rs. 40 to 50 by rickshaw. Still we persisted in going there in desperate circumstances. We believed that any good movie, had to be seen in cinema, anything less was the ultimate sin. My sister and I went in the peak of the Indian summer to see some obscure Hollywood horror film. Vijay Talkies was so stuffy that we were almost faint at the end, and on exiting we felt the  outdoors was air-conditioned instead.

Other theatres we frequented more were West End Cinema (a mix of English and Hindi films), Victory Cinema (purely Hindi cinema for the masses), and Rahul Talkies, again a mile away, but showing good Hollywood films, and much superior to the rest of the cinema halls. Snacks in these theatres were a cold drink, samosas or choco-bar ice cream. Never eat choco-bar in those old Indian cinema halls because they melt super fast, and in the dark drip quietly chocolate all over you. After watching the Lion King I came out looking like a chocolate Dalmation.

Post 2000 the multiplex phenomenon happened to India, and suddenly we had cinemas where the air-conditioning cooled, the seats were clean and comfy, and floor plushly carpeted, several different movies, and even more snacks to choose from at an American style snack bar. The magic of the big screen was amplified. Of course all this came at a price, nothing less than Rs 100 per ticket. Add to that the MacDonald’s burgers, the Pepsi, or the Barista coffee you had to have there, and you would spend nothing under 300. This meant that the demographic changed, and only the reasonably well off went to multiplexes, while the unwashed masses continued going to the old single screen cinema halls. I sampled both equally. For ‘timepass’ one went to the old style cinemas. For a good film which you were really waiting for you went to the multiplex. Either way the pull of the big screen was stronger than ever.

In Bombay (where I studied for 6 years), there were still lovely old cinema halls in ‘town’ (south Mumbai). These were the grand old ladies of Bombay, remnants of an era gone by. There was Sterling, in a quiet lane of VT, with its lovely floors. There was Metro, established by MGM, but now only screening blockbuster Hindi films. There was Eros, which I went to just once. My favourite was Regal, just a stroll from the Gateway of India. True to its name, it had a fantastic interior, from the Art Deco period, and it is now a Heritage building. These old cinemas were much cheaper than mutliplexes. Sometimes, us bored commercial artists, would bunk the morning of figure drawing, illustration or typography, and rush to the Regal on bus No. 83 or 84. (whichever came faster or was emptier). And then we would happily escape into the mysterious blackness of the cinema hall and forget who we were, as the big screen swallowed us up one more time.

Looking at yourself


Violence today

Recently Sanjeev Bothra, an alumni of NID, had come to teach a typography course here, and we had many interesting and enriching conversations with him. Over lunch one day he mentioned how there is so much violence in most cultures today, across the world. Violence may not necessarily manifest as physical violence, but violence in the way we think. Even the thought of harming someone, or hating someone or something, is the beginning of violence. And so many times a day we perform violent acts on others, even in our minds. The only way to create a more non-violent world is to accept and acknowledge the violence in our minds, and try to come to terms with that. What we are doing to the environment and natural resources is a form of suicidal violence.

Living life at ultra high speed is also a form of violence. The art and beauty of slowness, doing things at a normal pace, is a lost art. Today’s rush-rush-rush world takes a toll on all of us, more than we realise. Doing everything at high speed, from taking a bath to eating meals, to conversations with others, its all losing its meaning, because the moment passes before it even arrives. People don’t relish their food slowly at a meal anymore, they don’t read books peacefully anymore. We are always rushing to get to the the top of the ladder when we have just about put a foot on the lowest rung. This high-speed lifestyle is another form of violence, we bring upon ourselves and people around us. We need to dedicate more time to ‘slowness’, the most underestimated of forces, along with silence and humour.

Sometimes if one thinks of Gandhi, what he did with our country was nothing less than a miracle. To unite so many incredibly diverse people, with different language, (the 1991 census recognizes 1,576 classified ‘mother tongues’) culture, food, dress, customs, to fight non-violently, for freedom, is no easy task. Maybe its time to relook at the Gandhian principles and basic way of living. This would help us live better with each other, and would reduce the environmental impact we are having, as he believed in ‘simple living, high thinking’. We don’t really need half the things we have, but are we ready to give them up?

Things gone crazy

Last week, on 26th November 2008, there was a crazy terrorist attack in Mumbai. When the news first started coming in on the evening of the 25th, it seemed to that the terrorists had gone on a crazy shooting spree at Colaba, a touristy area of south Mumbai, and I thought it would end there. Little did I imagine it would continue horrifically for three days. On 26th we woke to the shocking news that not only had they randomly sprayed bullets at Cafe Leopold and VT station, but they were now firmly entrenched in two of Mumbai’s best hotels, the Taj and the Oberoi, and they had killed many and taken many hostage.

Burning Taj. Image courtesy: google.

Each night one went to sleep hoping that this horror would end, and each morning one just woke up to more depressing news. Now they are shooting people, now some police officer dies, now a grenade has just gone off in the Taj, now they are moving the hostages at the Oberoi on the terrace, now they have let off some gas. As if this was not enough the terrorists also took control of a Jewish centre nearby. God knows what atrocities were committed there. There are stories that the hostages were horrible tortured before they were killed. Most of them were having their dinner when the shooting started. At Cafe Leopold the terrorists had a meal, paid their bill, and then opened fire. At VT station (one of Mumbai’s largest and most crowed), they shot a mother who dared to scream among many others. They even shot some stray dogs that dared to bark at them. This is human nature at its worst. Continue reading

Dashrath Patel

Today a very inspiring person came to NID and spoke to us. It was none other than Dashrath Patel, the amazing painter, designer, sculptor, thinker, and above all, just an amazing human being. Truly humble, genuine, and from the heart. We first saw a movie about him, about an exhibition of his works at NGMA, Delhi sometime in 1998. The body of work he has produced in his lifetime is amazing. The objects and works of art were so simple and functional. But more than the movie, it was seeing him in person and hearing him speak. He shared some experiences of his life.

There is no design today. Today design is stylization. It is no longer in the context, and does not deal with the needs of the people. In the sixties, design was born out of the needs of the people.
When he was young, they doing a project for India Post, the post offices, they had a problem, that when they went to villages, the people were not ready to speak to them. He spoke about how to become a part of the village. When they went to the villages, all the doors were closed. He and his friends sat down and started eating. An old woman came out of the house, and he asked her for water. She said no, because she was of the harijan (low) caste, and no one would drink water from them. He asked “Do you drink water?” and she replies yes she did. Then he said, if you can drink, then so can I. She still said no. Then he asked her, do you digest the water? She said yes. Then he said, so can I, so give me some water. So she got him a pot of water. It was in Kutch and the water tasted terrible, bitter, and they had to walk twenty miles to get their water. But while drinking it, he was sensitive enough not show his disgust, as that would have hurt her. They asked them if they could read and write, and he said yes, so they got their letters to him to read out to them. He realized that the old woman was a talented poet, who could write beautifully. And so the village slowly opened its doors to them.

When I was young I waited for hours on the streets of Mumbai to see a car besides a fiat or ambassasdor. Today I see only foreign cars; we have become a dumping ground for outdated western culture. The developed world is dumping its defunct designs on us, and we think we are becoming developed.

In America once upon a time it was a thing of pride, that every person had a car. If that happens in India there will be no place to park, let alone drive. It is so true that we are becoming a consumerist society. We have to look at peoples’ needs. Earlier design was done for peoples’ needs, now it seems to be done for people’s greed and money. Earlier, for example, you bought a watch for thousand rupees, and it told you the time. Today the watch is for twenty thousand rupees, and it still just tells you the time. This is so true. India is unfortunately blindly copying all the things of the West, and we equate globalization with progress. This is going to be a horrible mistake.

The developed world has reached a bottleneck, and there is no further to go. But in India today there is still a small chance that we can change that.

The bullock cart at NID is over two hundred years old and was brought to NID by Dashrath. It is unique in that the wheels don’t have an axle. They move inwards and outwards depending on the roughness of the road. Sometimes the job of a designer is not to design, not to try and be creative, or be ‘different’. Sometimes, some things are perfectly designed for their purpose like the bullock cart, and our job is to just uphold that example of design.

Knowledge is not to manage but to use and inspire. So why call the library ‘knowledge management centre’.

In his young days he went to study in Prague and also lived in France. He never learnt the French language, and used to communicate when he had to by scribbling, and making small visuals.

The beauty of our country is the small things that people do, the way the fruit seller arranges his fruit,

It was amazing to see the man who was one of the founders of NID. The body of knowledge he has, the experience, and the humility endear him to one and all. Looking forward to more interaction with him on Monday.