Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Laughing Buddha and The Little Child

The Laughing Buddha and The Little Child
Lessons from the Streets of Delhi

One Sunday a week ago, on our way out from Sarvana Bhawan after breakfast, we were waylaid by two little children. The elder girl, perhaps six or seven years old, and her tiny sibling, were both selling ball-point pens.

Though it was a few months since we had been here, we had already bought many of these on previous visits from them and other children. So, I shook my head in response to their insistent pleas to buy the pens. But I was carrying some clothes and some sweets and I asked them if they would like to take them. They nodded and as they accompanied us, the elder one said I had given them clothes and biscuits earlier. I wondered at their remembering since it was some time since I was last there. Then she added I had last met them at Palika Parking. I smiled and said: “that must be someone else”. In the manner of children, she said then it must have been a friend of mine since the lady there had also given them some clothes.

As I handed them the bag with the clothes packed in that my daughter had outgrown and the little box of toffees, the younger one fished out a tiny red laughing Buddha. It was made of some plastic. She tried to put it in my hand.

I said I did not want it. “Please take it”, she insisted. Wary of being saddled with something I really did not want, I thanked her and pointed to the Ganesha on the dashboard, saying I already had one. “Didi, gift hai”, she kept saying. “Nahin beta”, I said, unclear about what she meant and unwilling to take something that she would be able to sell to someone else. The elder girl asked her to let it be. But she placed the laughing Buddha back in the car, smiling and insisting: “gift hai”.

I took it finally. It would have been churlish to refuse the priceless gesture and the gift of the little girl and her big heart. Thanking her and waving to them both, I wished I had something else apart from old clothes and toffees to give her. Resolving to carry more things for them on our next visit to Sarvana, I hope and pray that they, and other little children like them on the streets of Delhi, stay safe and well. Meanwhile, the Little Laughing Buddha sits in our car, a reminder of how the gift of giving has nothing to do with how much you have.

Friday, June 21, 2013

National and Regional Identity in Design:- Part IV

Part IV – At Home in The World

Ghore Bhaire (translated as At Home and Outside/ The Home and The World) is the title of a novel written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore almost a century ago Considered a classic in world literature, the English translation of this novel is widely available, and is part of the recommended list of readings in the curriculum of Delhi University.[1] A recently published critical edition of this novel has the benefit of being annotated and edited by Professor Dilip Basu who taught English at Delhi University for many years, and who is passionate about the written, and the spoken and performed word, not just in English but also in Hindi and particularly in his own language, Bengali. When Dilip Kaka, a close family friend, asked Snehanshu to design the cover of this book, Snehanshu chose a photograph of a portico – a space both part of the house and the outside. The house was a large mansion in Birnagar in Nadia district, one of the ancestral homes of Snehanshu’s zamindar family in the days of the British Raj. The detail of the Corinthian columns in the classical colonial mould favoured by many of the richer families of Bengal, was used by Snehanshu in his cover-design of Ghore Bhaire. I found it interesting how a colonial form of building had enmeshed itself so deeply in the landed families of Bengal, that it forms the definitive image to portray a certain time and ethos of this region.

Snehanshu’s grandmother, whose beautiful Banarasi sari I wrote about in the first part of this four-part essay, forms another link in the journey of understanding the role of home and the world in shaping and re-shaping us. She persuaded her husband to move out of the quieter zamindar life in Birnagar to the bustling city of Kolkata, capital of the British Empire, where she ensured that her children received a different view of the world, equipped with higher education in medicine and engineering. The choice of the columns framing the interior of their house – one of the many such mansions the family had in Birnagar – is thus particularly relevant to the theme of Ghore Bhaire. The novel relates the differing perceptions of national and individual identity and independence within and across the boundaries of home, in the days before freedom from British rule came to India. I had seen the film adaptation of the novel by Satyajit Ray, but never read the novel in detail, either in the original or in translation. It was only when I set this as a reading for my post-graduate students in Industrial Design, that I read it and the critical essays that accompanied the book, with concentrated attention.

 The contrast in the ‘atmokatha’, literally ‘own stories’ of its three main characters, all extraordinary in their own way – Bimala, Nikhil and Sandeep – tellingly portrays how fundamentally our decisions in life are shaped by our awareness of and our search for our identities. The novel, which is recorded to have evoked varied responses and provoked more ‘vituperative criticism’[2] than any of Tagore’s other works when it was first published, also evokes varying responses on repeated readings. On re-reading the text, I felt that the novel is essentially the story of Bimala, and through her the story of the tempestuous journey that her land and her country make, in negotiating the differences between the codified confines of the past, and the imagined freedom of the future. Bimala, uneducated in the western system, brought up in the seclusion of the inner apartments, is patiently drawn out by her husband, Nikhil, from the physical and mental view circumscribed by, and within, these apartments. He exposes her to non-traditional music, books and company. He is eager that Bimala may be more aware of the world outside the compass of the space that she is traditionally restricted to, and in doing so also discover her own latent qualities, and accompany her husband as an equal partner in life.

This ‘drawing out’ of Bimala, brought up on traditional notions of space, form and propriety in her maternal home, results in events which both she and Nikhil are unprepared for. Bimala is honest enough in assessing her own actions as well as her liberal husband’s notions and actions, while yet according to him the elevated status of Hindu husbands. Yet, despite her decided individuality and intelligence, and her husband’s staunch support and love, she is inherently perhaps, insecure about her own identity. She sees herself through the eyes of others. Though, like the other women of her family, Bimala too is protected from the gaze of the outside world, she is self-conscious about how her house and her furniture, and therefore how she by association, appears to those who are deemed important and influential. In the India of that time, this denoted particularly the Europeans. She observes:
My husband still sharpens his Indian-made pencils with his Indian-made knife, does his writing with reed pens, drinks his water out of a bell-metal vessel, and works at night by the light of an old-fashioned castor lamp. But this dull, milk-and-water Swadeshi never appealed to me. Rather, we had always felt ashamed of the inelegant, unfashionable furniture of his reception rooms, especially when he had the magistrate, or some other European, as his guest.[3]

Dismissive about her husband’s long-expressed preference for home-made and regional objects and artefacts, when Bimala encounters the more emotional and militant form of the Swadeshi movement to reclaim Swa - one’s own - desh, it strikes a chord in her own fiery nature. Not only does she now countenance the rejection of all English people, including her kind music-teacher, Miss Gilby, but she also energetically espouses the cult of the home-grown, the swadeshi. Her perception of her own self and the world around her, is transformed even more dramatically by Nikhil’s charismatic friend and political leader, Sandip. His exhortation to protect the nation portrayed as a Mother-goddess, is different from her husband’s ‘dull, milk-and-water swadeshi’. She now clamours even more insistently to burn all her foreign-made clothes, and is convinced that everyone must do the same, even if that means starvation for the peasantry.
Openly pitted against her husband, she feels ashamed that ‘from his estates alone foreign sugar and salt and cloths had not been banished’. Like the others in her village, ‘old and young alike’ who had hitherto thought the use of country-made articles was a folly, she admits: ‘When Swadeshi had not yet become a boast, we had despised it with all our hearts.’ [4]

Sandip, on the other hand, moulds his identity for entirely selfish reasons. So, while he publicly deifies the nation, he corners all its resources and is happy to sacrifice other people’s comfort and even their lives, for it - justifying this predatory attitude as ‘the rule of nature’. Bimala realises his hollowness despite her fascination, but only after she has compromised her marriage, her happiness and even her identity. The reason for this is that Bimala, though certainly not a meekly acquiescent person, is yet still susceptible to the image that Nikhil or Sandip would like to mould her into. She is unprepared to unstintingly question or understand - which is the true purpose of education, and of freedom. Looking back at that time in Bengal and in India, where women for the most part, had come to be confined both mentally and physically into restricted domesticity, it is perhaps only natural that Bimala falls short.

While the novel is an exploration of many pertinent issues – about nationhood, the role of women in the domestic and the larger arena, the relationship between caste, community, region and religion – one can also find in and through its main characters, interesting parallels between the roles of design and identity. Though the novel demonstrates that you cannot categorise people into standard, unchanging black-and-white images, yet it does this through highlighting some definite ‘types’ of different individuals. A great many of us are like Bimala, conscientious and dynamic in our motivations but insecure about our own value. Swayed by the power of rhetoric and superficial qualities of design, we are confused about our identities as well as what national and individual freedom mean. Instead of developing our own personalities and skills based on our needs and abilities, we cast ourselves in ready-made moulds of others’ making, ‘ashamed’ to be ‘inelegant or unfashionable’. This is, of course, something that assails us not merely as designers or consumers, but in every aspect of our lives, particularly our persons. The most telling evidence of this, are the print, television and radio advertisements that have been incessantly promoting fairness creams for years. This has, since the past decade, been accompanied by more and more Indians streaking and bleaching their hair blonde in a desperate imitation of the predominant notion of beauty and fashion imported from primarily European and American cultures.

The fact that today, more and more Indians want to look like the West, is not a phenomenon confined to the present form of our cities, habitats, or political boundaries; nor a whimsy limited to some individuals. The reason for our deep discomfort with our appearance, an intrinsic aspect of our perceived self-identities, to a large extent has its roots in our colonial experience. In the very beginning of Ghore Bhaire, Bimala recollects her resentment about her dark features. She believes she is not beautiful, and that others do not consider her so because of this reason. Contrast this with the assurance that we earlier had of ourselves. Thus, in the Mahabharata, Drupad’s daughter, the princess Draupadi, famed as the most beautiful of all women, has eyes like the petals of the lotus, long and lustrous hair, and dark-skin – one of her names is Krishnaa, the dark one.[5] And to Amir Khusro Dehlawi the colour of the Indian skin is ‘like nectar’.[6]

The book Talking India, records a series of conversations between the Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo and the multifaceted Indian Ashis Nandy, trained as a clinical psychologist and sociologist. In the book, Nandy, whose work has been described as an exploration of ‘human potentialities and destructiveness’, speaks about the reinterpretation of the Orient by the West, where: ‘Not only has the West forged this construct of the Orient, they have sold the Orient this construct. So that a sizeable section of the Orient itself has begun to look at its own past through the eyes of the West. Because that, they think, is the more modern, progressive, scientific, and universal outlook.’[7]

Like Bimala and Sandip, not only do we aspire to garb our individual femininity and masculinity in notions and garments that have little to do with the realities of our climate and contexts, but also we transpose these borrowed and ill-understood notions on others. We get enamoured of the idea of a great, powerful nation, but are impatient with the small, vulnerable people who actually make up this nation. Invariably, we are also impatient with the creations of such people and their histories. This is why Indian society for the past many decades has marginalised craftspeople and their worlds. We would instead like to link ourselves with dominant, powerful nations or cultures. The designs or products of such cultures are linked with attributes deemed progressive and fashionable by most of us. This is also why we unquestioningly cough up lakhs of rupees to buy industrially produced ‘branded’ products, but find crafts ‘too expensive’. To us, this realisation was brought home through a master-craftsman from Tamil Nadu, a weaver of reed chattais, so delicate and strong that they could be rolled up into tiny cylinders and literally wrung without spoiling their weave. As we encountered these at a crafts fair eleven years ago and debated whether to buy one at 1100 Rupees, he asked us a question that brought the debate to a close. Did we, he questioned simply, think so much too before buying branded shirts at the same or higher cost, produced in a factory, and identical with many others?

Some of us can, of course, be likened to Sandip – willing to don or discard a regional or national garb at will in order to exploit an assumed identity for personal gain. The important thing for many designers is to sell enough and get a name. ‘Sustainable’, ‘liberal’, or ‘Indian’ become mere labels grafted on as passing trends, to grab the market for another season. Contrasted with Bimala-like people who have been denied choices, but are unprepared to reasonably understand the link between their local, regional, national and therefore their individual identities, when they do have the choice; or Sandips, who deliberately use their regional or national affiliations for personal profit, there is another very important category of people. This is personified in Ghore Bhaire by Panchu, an impoverished peasant, at the mercy of regional or political lords, and unaware of, or unable to access any choice in his life.

Nikhil actively cares about the plight of Panchu and his like. He understands that a nation is not a deified abstract image. A nation is its people. This feeling was also a very important part of Rabindranath Tagore’s concerns, in his life and in his work. But for most of us today, the Panchus of the world do not form part of our imagination or our efforts. So, for instance, in the summary of Ghore Bhaire that the students of Industrial Design were asked to submit, only one out of twenty mentioned Panchu at all. This is perhaps a manifestation of the attitude of the ‘modern’ Indian designer and also of the fact that most designers, similar to most people, rarely exhibit the empathy akin to Nikhil, neither at home nor outside.

Even when we do have positive reasons catalysing our actions, we resemble Amulya, a pivotal character in the story, rather than Nikhil. Amulya is so moved by his idea of the nation, that he sacrifices his life, as well as the ideals of good behaviour and honesty that he otherwise holds, for what he believes is the good of the nation. He swears unquestioning loyalty to Sandip, as we often do to our leaders, whether of design or otherwise – without considering whether what they profess to further as a quest for good design or good practice, is actually so. Idealistic, brave and impressionable, Amulya represents in a way, a younger and therefore more headstrong version of Nikhil, without Nikhil’s qualities of critical thinking, or forbearance.
These qualities are equally manifest in Nikhil’s understanding of Bimala’s misery at the disastrous effects of her alignment and entanglement with Sandip, despite his own pain at her open defection. Amulya dies with a bullet through his heart, like so many scores of young men and women in British India. We do not know if Nikhil will recover from the serious wound in his head, as he is brought back from his efforts to stop the raging violence that has erupted between and around his people.

Freedom can mean different things to different people, is what we understand through the characters in Ghore Bhaire. But the unbridled individual quest for happiness, at the cost of the happiness of others, cannot ever be freedom. As Bimala realises: ‘But he, whose kin are there, yet no longer near, who has dropped out of all the varied companionship of a full home-the starry universe itself seems to bristle to look on him in his darkness’. [8]

Ghore Bhaire, like many of Tagore’s works, which have outlasted his life by many years, shows that great creative work is the output of talent applied in the quest for self-knowledge bolstered by an understanding of our immediate world, and activated by concern and compassion for our homes as well as the larger world. That regional and national and even universal concerns affect design, as they do any other activity in life, is evident.

As a nation and a people, we seem to have lost those qualities of compassion, choosing brutality for the fulfilment of perceived individual, regional or national reasons. Land, which evokes such complex emotional and philosophical attachments, is now being often forcibly acquired, from the very people who are most deeply linked to it – farmers, villagers, adivasis. This dispossession of the country’s most vulnerable people is happening at, as Amit Bhaduri explains at length, a huge scale by our governments for three major purposes: mining, industry and special economic zones – all large-scale industrial activities that concentrate power and money in the hands of a very few at the expense of very many.[9] Zealously enforced by government agencies,[10] it is explained away, Sandip-like, as a necessary sacrifice in the name of development, by often the country’s most powerful minds.

In an open letter to Dr. K. Kasturirangan recently published in The Hindu, Madhav Gadgil, Chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, notes his surprise and dismay at Dr Kasturirangan’s being party to the report of the High Level Working Group on Western Ghats. This report, Gadgil writes, partitions the ecologically sensitive ghats into ‘natural landscapes’, one-third of which are to be ‘safeguarded by guns and guards’, and ‘two-thirds of so-called cultural landscapes’ to be thrown open to large-scale and exploitative development, while ‘remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions’. Such development, Gadgil writes, as shown clearly in the case study by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel of Lote Chemical Industry Complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, has caused pollution beyond all legal limits so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless while only 11,0000 have obtained industrial employment. In this context, Gadgil observes that it ‘would appear that we are now more British than the British’, reminding us of Francis Buchanan, ‘an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property’.[11]

The disturbing scale of land grabbing in the name of national development can be observed today all across free India. It is explained away as ‘inevitable’. So, the forcible takeover of agricultural, forest and common lands by governments and real-estate agencies for SEZs and industrial uses, despite sustained people’s protests, continues to be a rising phenomenon.[12] Statistics analysed by P. Sainath (described as ‘the only rural affairs editor in India’) show that ‘at least 270,940 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995, which translates into around 46 farmers’ suicides each day, on average. Or nearly one every half-hour since 2001.’[13] This means that by the time you have read this essay, at least one more farmer has taken his own life. Yet, despite the rise in suicide rates of Indian framers, this chilling phenomenon rarely gets any mention in our media or provision in our political planning.

As Ashis Nandy notes, ‘Ultimately, modern oppression, as opposed to the traditional oppression, is not an encounter between the self and the enemy, the rulers and the ruled, or the gods and the demons. It is a battle between dehumanized self and the objectified enemy, the technologized bureaucrat and his reified victim, pseudo-rulers and their fearsome other selves projected on to their 'subjects'.[14] We are all party to this oppression and will indeed continue to be so, till we are secure with our own individual and regional identities, and share a concern beyond ourselves.

One cannot become a global citizen by renouncing local resources or by renouncing one’s local links and responsibilities. The journey has to be individual and from within. As the example of Ghore Bhaire shows, true freedom and identity stem from having and realising the choice to inhabit both your inner and outer worlds – not an either/or situation. It is only then that we can question conventional dominant notions, even when we are suddenly confronted with choices, and can explore and adapt – instead of abandoning – our own inherited values or designs in the light of increased awareness of the values or knowledge-systems of other cultures. It is not one or the other, or the individual pitted against a region or a nation, but all these together which will create confident, creative individuals and nations. Just as, to Nikhil, and to Tagore, political freedom is nothing if it results from coercion of individuals, especially those who are poor or deprived, similarly independence means nothing if we cannot exercise it to achieve not just channels for our own creative self-expression with dignity, but also for that of others who are destitute of such opportunities.

What Sri Aurobindo said so many years ago is even more relevant today:
A reshaping of the forms of our spirit will have to take place; but it is the spirit itself behind past forms that we have to disengage and preserve and to give to it new and powerful thought-significances, culture-values, a new instrumentation, greater figure. And so long as we recognize these essential things and are faithful to their spirit, it will not hurt us to make even the most drastic mental or physical adaptations and the most extreme cultural and social changes. But these changes themselves must be cast in the spirit and mould of India and not in any other, not in the spirit of America or Europe, not in the mould of Japan or Russia…Our means must be as great as our ends and the strength to discover and use the means so as to attain the end can only be found by seeking the eternal source of strength in ourselves.[15]

And so we come back to the image and function of the sari, and the qualities it embodies – where the functional and the decorative may be part of the same whole; where resources can be used optimally but frugally; where an artefact can be simultaneously functional and decorative; where infinite variety and complexity are possible within an idea of striking simplicity; where work, despite being a necessary means of survival can also be part of a daily decentralised, individual quest for creative expression; where a rigorous knowledge and appreciation of aesthetics can enable the creation of distinctive design within a shared language and structure.

As individuals and as groups, as designers and as consumers, we can consciously decide to eschew materials, processes, and designs that depend on their production or existence on centralised, dehumanising and exploitative practices. In the choice of what we wear and use in our daily lives; what and how we design; and who we design for; we can seek to further the possibilities of human freedom and creativity, while seeing how we can improve living and working conditions for everyone – especially those who actually create things for us, using their hands. And for those who still crave novelty and endless variety, they can still patronize the sari, which can be draped in 108 recorded ways. So I would like to end, as I began, with the image of a sari. Not one woven a hundred years ago, but a beautiful Kerala cotton sari woven in today’s time. At Rs. 650, it is less expensive and far more valuable than the industrially produced plastic watches that are now the trend, and that Snehanshu had originally intended to buy for me. We are fortunate that we still have such a choice. But we may not for long.

Images © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji; Text © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji

[1]  The Home and The World (At Home and Outside), Rabindranath Tagore, English translation by Surendranath Tagore; ‘Bimala’s Story’, Critical Edition edited by Dilip Kumar Basu and Debjani Sengupta, WorldView Publications, Delhi 2011
[2] Tanika Sarkar, ‘Many Faces of Love: Country, Woman and God in the Home and The World’, p.265, as reproduced in The Home and the World, At Home and Outside, Critical Essays p.265.-84.
[3] The Home and the World, At Home and Outside, Critical Edition; ‘Bimala’s Story’, p.99. It is interesting in this context to recollect the furniture that Tagore chose to use in the colonial spaces of his family home at Jorasanko. Not only is furniture sparely used, low in scale and well-crafted in the Indian tradition, but also internal objects such as the evocative light fittings made of sea shells, apparently by Tagore himself, combine the traditional Indian features of practical and decorative use, utilising local materials.
[4] Ibid.
[5]  Mahabharata, Kamla Subramaniam, p. 98, Bharthi Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1st Edition, 1965, 16th Edition, 2011
[6] Amir Khusro, Dr Parmanand Panchal, p. 14, Hindi Book Centre, New Delhi,
[7] Talking India, Ashis Nandy in Conversation with Ramin Jahnabegloo, ‘Looking in the Mirror of the East’, p. 27, OUP 2006
[8] The Home and the World, At Home and Outside, Critical Edition; ‘Bimala’s Story’, p. 205
[9] The Face You Were Afraid to See, Essays on the Indian Economy, ‘A Failed World View’, p.36-7, Penguin Books, 2009
[10] The documentary film, Earth Witness, Reflections on the Times and the Timeless, directed by Akanksha Joshi, 2011, shows how farmers, shepherds, adivasis in different parts of India are being mercilessly pushed off their land by decisions taken by national agencies
[11] ‘Shocking Betrayal on Western Ghats’, Madhav Gadgil, p. 13, Op-Ed, The Hindu, May 18 2013
[12] See, a forum for readings and discussions on such issues.
[13]  P. Sainath, The Hindu, May 18, 2013, ‘Farmers’ Suicide rates soar above the rest’; for more writings by Sainath, see also
[14] Ashis Nandy, ‘The Psychology of Colonialism, Sex, Age and Ideology in British India’, p. 16, The Intimate Enemy, Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism, Delhi, Oxford University Press 1983
[15] The Right Object of Education – And India’s National Education, Words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

National and Regional Identity in Design: Part III

Part III - Moving Beyond ‘The Market of Things’ To ‘The Maker of Things’
Aiynakari in the ceiling of the Shah Burj, Red Fort, Delhi, 1997, © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji

Are the attributes that set out much of design practice in our history, still valid when our regional and national boundaries are increasingly threatened and fluid, and when local contexts are considered to be insignificant in the march of progress? And does the presence or absence of such a regional or national identity affect decisions we take as designers, as citizens, or as policy makers? What do regional and national identity mean for the creation of design?

Perhaps the most visible answer is in architectural design. Architecture once formed the most public and potent image and identity of different regions and shaped the ways of life, particularly its cities – think of how Hyderabad was distinctly different from Trivandrum, which appeared quite different from Agra. Agra, in turn had an identity of its own not to be confused with Delhi, or Ahmedabad, or Agartala. As in architecture, the context-sensitive was pervasive in every aspect of Indian life, whether in daily ritual, music, literary texts, language or philosophy as A.K. Ramanujan demonstrates so clearly in his essay, ‘Is there an Indian Way of Thinking’.[1] Today, different regions could be interchangeable, particularly in their architecture. Cities and towns within the country seem to not just follow, but actually promote, a homogenised catalogue of buildings. Superficial permutations are then applied in an effort to render these buildings ‘different’ from each other.
 So the preferred mode and material of building all over the country uses concrete, steel, glass – all products of large-scale industry used piece-meal by local designers, contractors and users, who choose to ignore both regional types of architecture as well as local materials. Architecture is but one facet of this standardisation – it is reflected equally in other forms of design, apparel, product, urban design. Most designers of clothes, objects, appliances – which also form an integral part of our daily world – follow a similar path. In The Island of Sheep, a novel that is as much about the quest for ‘self-identity’ and the notion of ‘home’, as it is a swashbuckling adventure, one of the villains cast as a stockbroker, is described thus: ‘The patron of every new fad in painting and sculpting and writing. Mighty condescending about all that ordinary chaps like you and me like, but liable to enthuse about monstrosities, provided that they’re brand new and for preference foreign. I should think it was a genuine taste, for he has that kind of rootless, marginal mind’. [2]

Most of us today have a genuine taste for ‘brand new and for preference foreign’, and ‘that kind of rootless, marginal mind’. Many feted designers today opt for industrialised materials and processes in the form, construction, and material of their designs. Naturally enough. If the intention is not to celebrate national identity but to graft on an international identity – generally governed by the need to establish a ‘market’, then it is obviously unlikely that there will be any expression of a specific region or a nation in one’s creative work.
Some designers do deliberately choose a larger-than-life, an ‘in-your-face’, assertion of regional and national identity. Often it is a gimmick to stand out from the standardization that marks most people and products today. Sometimes, it is certainly more than that – perhaps a political statement to declare their beliefs and hopes. A very few designers actually seek to explore the possibilities of a larger meaning for their communities or their societies through their work. The effect that designed form, material, and the process of production, can have on the poor of their regions and nations, the crafts of their regions and nations, and the ecology and culture of their regions and nations, are very rarely considered by most contemporary designers.[3]

An instance of intelligent and creative packaging design, crafted to integrate form, material and process of production

We are all participants or victims of ‘…the industrialized impotence which affects both rich and poor. Where this kind of poverty reigns, life without addictive access to commodities is rendered either impossible or criminal. …The liberty to design and craft one’s own distinctive dwelling is abolished in favour of the bureaucratic provision of standardized housing, as in the United States, Cuba or Sweden. The organization of employment, skills, building resources, rules, and credit favour shelter as a commodity rather than as an activity’.[4] So, as a government,[5] we in India consciously promote products - including even saris - generated by large-scale mechanization. As designers in India, home to the largest number and the most skilled craftspeople in the world, we ‘design’ objects that require mechanized, industrialised modes of production.

We even ‘tailor’ saris in what we believe are progressive western modes[6] and often in artificial materials, making a mockery of the basic principle and design-strength of one of the most aesthetically and functionally brilliant designs ever generated. Consequently, we have a strange and sad situation. Small farmers, craftspeople, and weavers are pushed out of their livelihoods, while the rich are willing to pay for industrially processed and audaciously priced objects such as ‘designer saris’. Paradoxically, hand-crafted saris made of natural materials have become too expensive for the poor, who can now only afford cheaper mill-made saris of artificial materials. So, my cook who dislikes wearing the nylon saris that make her perspire profusely in the kitchen and are a great fire-hazard, cannot but wear them. The cotton saris that she buys even in her village in Bengal cost a minimum of four hundred rupees, so she reserves their use for special occasions such as Durga Puja.

A failure on our part to sufficiently promote traditional designs, in turn leads to their ‘de-recognition’ as ‘proper’ or ‘appropriate’. The Times of India recently carried a report about a 67 year old Indian visitor being denied entry by a policeman into the Etisalat Metro Station in Dubai. Why? He was wearing a dhoti. Such a denial of the right to use public transport, despite the Roads and Transport Authority there having no official dress code or policy, and despite the policeman being explained that the dhoti is modest and traditional Indian attire, points to a penalisation for no offense but expressing national or regional identity.[7]

If we are to recover our individual and larger identities, we need to move beyond the obvious confines of the market, and discover and uncover for ourselves, and for people from other cultures, the implicit values that still make up many of the particular attributes of Indian culture. Today, when television sets beam a standard, so-called ‘global identity’, and villages and small-towns aspire to be like metropolises, there is a certain sense of shame in aligning oneself with one’s region, and there is a certain sense of pride in displaying ones’ refinement by patronising obviously Western or global products which either overtly portray a modern western identity, or one version of a standard ‘national’ identity. That this was not always the case is evident from the example of Amir Khusrau Dehalwi, who like many others before and after him appended the name of his beloved city, Dehli, after his name, and took pride in describing himself as Toot-e-Hind, or the parrot of Hindustan. His regional and national identity defined him as an individual, and formed the spring for the great outburst of his creative work, which lives on centuries after his time. Another pervasive aspect of his identity, was his humanism, reflected in all that he did and expressed most ardently in his devotion to his Sufi master, Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro was deeply attached to Dehli, the city of his birth and youth, and a place he continued to come back to whenever he could.

Interestingly enough, even when is deeply immersed/ trained/ exposed to one’s own regional customs, it does not necessarily imply that the choices in design or ways of living will necessarily be informed by that awareness. Conversely, even when is aware of the significance of one’s own regional and national identity, it is perhaps only by locating it within the knowledge of what comprises the rest of the world, that one makes an informed choice embracing one’s region and nation. The training for this should ideally begin in school. As Sri Aurobindo says: ‘In any country the best education that can be given to children consists in teaching them what the true nature of their country is and its own qualities, the mission their nation has to fulfil in the world and its true place in the terrestrial concert. To that should be added a wide understanding of the role of other nations, but without the spirit of imitation and without ever losing sight of the genius of one’s own country.[8]

This attachment with the land of our birth, while it gives a sense of security and fulfilment to all of us, irrespective of what we do, can also fuel our creativity, which is of course, not confined to the designer alone. The empathy that the essays and stories of the much loved Indian writer, Ruskin Bond, evoke in so many readers, have a lot to do with the memories he transmits of the trees, the birds, the places, and the people he has lived with. In two recent publications, Bond, whose grandfather came to India from England, clearly writes about his feelings ‘On Being an Indian’ and the state of mind that can make you ‘Love your Art’. Though his family’s association with India is barely three generations old, Bond writes:
But India is where I was born and grew up….so the land does hold me…But its more than the land. I know that I’m as Indian as the postman or the paanwala or your favourite MP. Race did not make me one. Religion did not make me one. But history did. And in the long run, it’s history that counts.[9]

And he returns to history to illustrate his precept of ‘love your art, poor as it may be’:
…in the persons of Mahboob Khan and Ramji Mal, stone masons who were engaged in restoring Shah Jahan’s Hall of Mirrors in the Agra Fort. They had been at work for ten years, slowly but deftly bringing their epic task to completion. The restoration work is so intricate that these two skilled craftsmen can restore only about six inches in a day. In recreating the original stucco-work on walls and ceiling, everything has to be done impeccably; millions of pieces of tiny mirrors and coloured glass have to find their exact place in order to reflect just the right amount of light and, at the same time, conform to a certain pattern.
It is a small art, theirs, but it requires infinite patience, skill and dedication. No fame for them, no great material reward. Their greatest reward comes from the very act of taking pains in the pursuit of perfection.
Surely they must be happy, or at least contented men…those who work with wood or stone or glass those who fashion beautiful things with their hands are usually well-balanced people. Working with the hands is in itself a therapy. Those of us who work with our minds composers or artists or writers must try to emulate these craftsmen’s methods, paying attention to every detail and working with loving care.[10]

[1] ‘Is there an Indian Way of Thinking’, pp.34-51, The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, edited by Vinay Dharwadker, OUP, 2012
[2] Ch. 6, p. 86, ‘Sundry Doings at Fosse’, The Island of Sheep, Penguin Books, 1956, London
[3] Some artists/architects/designers/entrepreneurs who are working on integrating indigenous needs and skills with the needs of today:,,,
[4] Ivan Illich – Towards a History of Needs, pp. viiix; Contrast this with the manner in which Indian society, both in the village and the city, functioned, as for instance described in The Indian Craftsman, A.K. Coomaraswamy, First published 1909, Second Revised Edition 1989, Reprinted 2009, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi,
[5] For a brief and clear analysis of our official policy on the role of handicrafts in the national economy and culture, see K. G. Subramanyan, Do Hands have a Chance, Essays on Art and Culture, Seagull Books, Calcutta 2007
[6] In the July 28, 2013 issue of Hindustan Times Brunch, the cover story of “Indian Fashion’s Greatest Hits’ by Yashica Dutt, quotes Manish Malhotra as saying how he ‘made saris sensuous by using chiffon, satin and net’, titling her piece, ‘The Sexy Sari’. (p.8-9) She writes that ‘armies of women are getting customized saris, with Malhotra’s designs’. Ignoring the fact that the sari was always a customized article of wear, this statement is rather typical of large-scale commerce and media which denies the attributes of customization or design sense to small scale enterprises and the traditional craftspeople. That Malhotra chose to ‘make-over’ the sari into the hands of large industry, and into materials spawned by large-industry is more than unfortunate. See also Delhi Times, The Times of India, p.3, Monday 5 August 2013, where ‘two of India’s finest couturiers’ as Jyothi Prabhakar writing in the newspaper declares, Ritu Beri and Manish Arora, have showcased their collections, named ‘Punjabi Rock n Roll’ and ‘Indian’ respectively. The images of the collections that accompany the news item may be interpreted as anything, and to my eyes, appeared interchangeable, but not particularly illustrative of the names of either collection. The collections can be viewed on,,,
[7]Dubai Metro denies entry to Indian in dhoti’, The Times of India, 5 August 2013, p. 16, PTI
[8]  The Right Object of Education – And India’s National Education, Words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
[9] Ruskin Bond, A Garland of Memories, ‘On Being an Indian’, pp. 6-7,  ETCH, Nataraj Publishers, Dehradun, 2013
[10]  Ruskin Bond, Notes from a Small Room, ‘Love your Art’ pp. 126-8, Penguin Books, 2009 

Images © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji; Text © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji

Saturday, June 15, 2013

National and Regional Identity in Design: Part II

The Question Of Identity

Needless to say, the question of a contemporary Indian identity in design is a difficult one, since the context of Indian identity itself is a deeply debated one today. Identity in any case, is complex and often in flux – and regional and national affiliations may come at the cost of each other.

Today, most people and governments in the world wish to become more like the industrialised countries of Europe and America. National identities all over the world are getting standardised to fit the image of a ‘global consumer’ with only minor variations. India is no exception. It is commerce, not individual skill, which is now the creator of objects as well as of identities, and financial value is the most coveted attribute. The omnipresent market, in the form of corporations and large entities, shapes both our choices as consumers and designers. It also shapes identities in more overt ways. It re-makes national boundaries – witness the cleaving of the U.S.S.R. and much of Europe through the force of capital and capitalism in the recent past.
Colonialism, the most aggressive form of industrialism, has done the same thing in the distant and not-so-distant past. There is, as we know, a Punjab east and west of the Pakistan-India border; and people on both sides of the Bangladesh-India boundary speak Bangla, wear similar sorts of saris, and draw equal inspiration from the songs and compositions of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. There are also vast numbers of expatriate communities all over the world, who rarely renounce their original affiliations, even if they reside in a different nation.

Regional identities, too, are not static. A geographical part of Madhya Pradesh is now a separate state of Jharkhand. Many families in Dharwar in Karnataka speak Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra. With the rising number of inter-caste and inter-community marriages, parents in one family may not only be from different regions of India but also often have different languages as their mother-tongues. Such changes may allow us new and dynamic ways of seeing ourselves and our contexts. But more worryingly, in many areas, agendas set by national leaders seem to ignore or clash with regional aspirations, leading to often violent confrontations with the idea of the nation and the ideas of a people.[1]

In any case, the concept of the nation-state, as conventionally understood, is something we have adopted – rather than adapted – from the western world. The very word ‘nation’, is derived from Latin. It is defined in the 1959 edition of the Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, as ‘a body of people marked off by common descent, language, culture, or historical tradition’.[2] ‘National’ is defined as: ‘belonging or peculiar to, characteristic of, or controlled by a nation.’[3] An edition of the 2003 Oxford Dictionary omits the mention of descent in its definition of ‘nation’. It simplifies the meaning to ‘a large group of people sharing the same culture, language or history, and inhabiting a particular state or area’. Its definition of ‘national’, as ‘having to do with a nation; owned, controlled or financially supported by the state, a citizen of a particular country’,[4] incorporates new meanings. Control, is now thus, specifically financial control, and the idea of something ‘characteristic or peculiar to a nation’ is no longer stated.

When the same western culture incorporates varying overtones in its definitions of ‘nation’ over the span of merely half a century, it is reasonable to assume that different cultures over different times must have seen the idea of nation differently from the conventional modern notion. The conventional definition of ‘Indian’ in English as: ‘belonging to India (with various boundaries); a member of one of the races of India’, is obviously limited. Did we, as a nation then only come into being when the British decreed us one? What do the words ‘India’ and ‘Indian’ signify beyond the current geographical and political meanings? What is our pre-modern idea of a nation. How did we see ourselves, and how do we see ourselves? Who, after all, are ‘we’? What are the lakshanas of being Indian?[5]

One of these lakshanas, certainly for a great part of our history, appears to be a spiritual, ritual and practical link with both immediate and larger backgrounds. It was very strong and real affiliations that Indians, certainly till at least a generation ago, had with their context – family, land, community, village, town and region. These affiliations can be clearly witnessed in people who still have a strong relationship with the land – adivasis, rural communities, shepherds, small farmers. Land, signified and loved as earth and mother, is synonymous with Desh or country. This emotional attachment to the land, whether or not you are a land owner, comes with a deep sense of responsibility towards it. My maid and cook, for instance, speak of going to their desh, not their village or town. Even today, the Beghas, an adivasi community in Chattisgarh, firmly believe that the earth is their mother. They practice a system of sowing which does not use the plough, which they say rents the breast of the earth. The Begha system of sowing nourishes them as well as their land; it is a practice that helps in consolidating the dry slopes of Central India, while conventional agriculture ways weaken and dislodge this landscape.[6] But this emotional attachment, though it may in its extreme forms result in parochial attitudes, does not imply a conflict with other lands. This is different from the conventional western notion of asserting supremacy of the nation on the basis of religion, State, or region, as demonstrated most tellingly in the case of Nazi Germany or in the colonial experiments of Europe and America. 

This was because land, though an indissoluble part of an individual’s identity and security, was, till the British colonial policy disrupted it, a community asset in India. An extensive survey and study of British records from the time that they moved into India, has been done by the Gandhian historian, Dharampal. These records clearly show the presence of decentralised yet firmly rooted and connected practices that enabled a cohesive functioning of individuals with communities, habitats and regions in India. As Dharampal explains, ‘the community (geographical, or based on occupation, or kinship) seemed to have been from very ancient times the primary unit of organisation in India…in most areas the village community as a whole had the final say not only in matters which concerned the village as a whole but also with regard to any transfers, or alienation of village land or other sources from one party to another. In samudayam villages of course and perhaps similarly in the bhai-chara villages, the total land and other resources completely vested in the community while simultaneously the individual family had a hereditary claim on its own share of such resource.’[7]

This was a practical application of the conception of space and time in most systems of Indian philosophy. The idea of the vastness of space and time, and how the lifetimes of human beings count but little in this vastness; yet the belief that they, like everything else in this universe, are an important part of a larger fathomless whole, informed each aspect of Indian thought and creativity. Habib Tanvir found this idea of space and time informing not just the ancient Sanskrit works of drama but also in living traditions of regional-theatre. He explains it as: ‘[w]hat the villagers do by way of simplicity of staging, the imaginative use of space with regard to make-believe, and the manner in which they deal with time…’. He drew on this realization of time and space in his own productions and ‘…came right back to ‘Indianness’…to our Sanskrit tradition and folk traditions. Blending folk with the classical, realising there are no barriers.’[8]

Both the arts and sciences in the Indian tradition affirm a view of there being ‘no barriers’ in the cosmos, conceived with the aid of a vocabulary and an organisation of numbers and entities which moves effortlessly between the infinitesimal and the infinite. The Sanskrit shloka that forms the opening invocation in the Isa Upanishad is routinely chanted in many Hindu households even today. It sums up this world view,[9] which is very different from the current dominant conceptions in most parts of the world of humans dominating nature, or being mere instruments subject to an overwhelming God.
Purnamadah purnamidam Purnartha
Purnasya Purnamadya
Purnameva Vashishyathe

Secondly, unlike much of dominant Western thought which sees humankind marching forwards on a linear road of progress, Indian philosophies explain existence as a cyclical journey, which in each cycle is actually a process of regression. So, many Indians even today, despite being brought up on a formal education which promotes the Darwinian notion of evolution, fall back on the phrase ‘Yeh Kalyuga hai’ to explain away the ills of today’s age. The characteristics of Kalyuga, the last in a cycle of four yugas, each falling further from the ideal of truth and equality, and the idea of space and time that it is part of, continue to be part of the Indian imagination – seen and heard in our films, songs, or proverbs.

Within the nation, the idea of being part of the same nationality is implicit, with a few exceptions. It is when interacting with an international audience, that the explicit signs of a nation are deliberately brought forward. The most grandiose notions of homeland and nation come to mind when one is banished or is away from the homeland, or when one is presenting it to other homes, other lands. The Island of Sheep, was first published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1936. Written by John Buchan, who went on to become the 35th Governor-General of Canada, and is feted as ‘one of Britain’s finest writers of suspense stories,’ it is a tale of breathless adventure. It, also, as a sidelight, offers views of glorified ‘national’ attributes. Its heroes, indubitably British, but much travelled all over the world in an era when Britain was a colonial power, seek to cast the world in a version of values that seem special to their home and nation. Thus, one of them, back in England, ‘as he sniffed the scents coming up from the woods and the ploughlands, seemed to feel the magic of the place. “Pretty good’, he said. “England is the only real comfortable spot on earth – the only place where man can be utterly at home”.[10] Note the sweeping generalisation about the idea of home, and how this idea of home must be true for everyone; for ‘man’, not just for an Englishman.

In the western world, as we know, the idea of the supremacy of man over nature especially after Renaissance, later went on to denote the supremacy of a certain race and religion of man over not just nature but the entire world. The role of spirituality also changed and diminished. Travels in The Mogul Empire 1656-1668 was written by the Frenchman and traveller, Francois Bernier, several centuries before the fictional characters of The Island of Sheep. This was a time when religion was a great driving force. Bernier was held to be more objective than many other European travellers to India, and his book was lauded by its 19th century British translator for its ‘very remarkable accuracy’. 

A conversation recorded in the book, reveals the differences in the lakshanas of the Indian and the western idea of the world and the self, even as late as the 17th century. Some learned Pandits gave this answer in response to Bernier’s question about their religion. “We pretend not,” they replied, “that our law is of universal application. God intended it only for us, and this is the reason we cannot receive a foreigner into our religion. We do not even say that yours is a false religion: it may be adapted to your wants and circumstances, God having, no doubt, appointed many different ways of going to heaven.” And this is Bernier’s comment on this answer: “I found it impossible to convince them that the Christian faith was designed for the whole earth, and theirs was mere fable and gross fabrication.”[11]

In the Indian philosophy of Vasudeva kutumbhaya, there existed a system of interdependence between people, objects and their contexts. This system drew from an intellectual and a spiritual framework, propelled by a philosophy that recognised dominant as well as fringe beliefs. In practical terms, this system of interdependence was created and continued through regional, professional or community-based identities. These identities were not static, as evident in the internal reorganisations that occurred through the efforts of individuals or groups who questioned and evolved or changed these systems repeatedly. Objective disagreements and debates were a key component of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sufi practical and theoretical philosophy. These debates proceeded, not by rejecting different religious systems – as evidenced in the Brahmins’ tempered rejoinder to Bernier’s question – but by acquiring a systematic knowledge and exposition of their features, before refuting or accepting them. So, for instance, Hinduism in its later years draws from Buddhism, Jainism, and even Islam and Christianity; Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism arise out of an attempt to distil, adapt, or evolve a reformed idea of Hinduism and other religions and beliefs.

As the great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore explained, ‘unlike in Europe, the State has never been in India a central thing in the life of the nation. While European civilization assigned a central position to the State, Indian civilization from ancient times put in that place society guided by dharma as it was conceived by the people.’[12] Further, all these people, objects and contexts practising different variations of different religions in different regions, were tied into a larger whole through a vision of sacred geography, which spanned great parts of the sub-continent. So, not only are streams, springs, mountains, rocks and trees sacred to a region and inviolate, but also pilgrims from other parts journey to see and worship these. Even today, people from the deepest south, east and west travel to the Himalayas in the north, to visit the places extolled in hymns and history[13]; place-names and even forms all over the sub-continent are made in memory of the regions that people have moved from;[14] temples in the mountains of North India transport you to those in East India.

Clear instances of the intermingling of regions are evident in most of the Brahmin families from the Central Himalayas, who align themselves with the Pahars, the mountains, and often introduce themselves simply as Paharis. This is their first identity today, reflected in both language and customs. Though they settled here at least three to four hundred years ago, they retain the memory of their original region as well. My grandfather, Pandit Daya Krishna Joshi, told his sons that they came to the Kumaon mountains from Dharwad on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. A sister-in-law’s family who moved from Karnataka, has chosen to remember their original region more directly. They speak Kumaoni amongst themselves, but their family title is Karnatak. Her grandfather was named Badri, after one of the foremost deities of the mountains. His name, Badri Dutt Karnatak, thus carries his present as well as original regional identity. So, the first allegiance seems to be that of the region, not caste, not profession.

And the final allegiance was not just to the region or the nation, but the world and your soul. The Mahabharata says: ‘Give up the individual for the family, the family for the habitat, the habitat for the land. But for the Aatman, give up the whole land’.[15] Such responsibilities towards region and land, and to a lesser extent to the ‘Aatman’ are still there, but in a far more diluted fashion. One of the reasons is that language, which is one of the most visible variants of regional identity as well as the most potent medium for the expression of individual identity, is now far more standardised.

Part of this is an imposed standardisation. So, one version of Hindi is promoted as the ‘correct national language’. Regional variants such as Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, and so on, are not considered as important. In my own family, none of my cousins can speak in Kumaoni and Garhwali; we converse entirely in either English or Hindi. The second reason is that many of us now grow up in urban situations divested of regional contexts. Even for those who do grow up in small towns or cities, the aspiration (which quickly translates into reality) is to move out – to bigger cities in the country or to work-places outside the country. The rich and the middle-class, who become the standard model for many, including the poor and the oppressed, mimic a stereotypical image of the Western world. In a recently published interview in a national newspaper, Chandra Bhan Prasad, introduced as ‘a traveller, an analyst, a writer, a scholar,’ had this to say in response to a question about whether he saw changes in the lives of Dalits and tribals.
Yes, the biggest change that has occurred and which I thought would never happen in this country—that food sources have become common for Dalits and upper castes. Earlier, Dalits mainly ate millets...what is called coarse grain. That was a low social marker—this is Dalit food or cattle feed. Now Dalits and upper castes and OBCs have common sources of food—wheat and rice. And jeans and T-shirts have become new weapons of emancipation. I see in villages Dalit youth sporting jeans and T-shirts. Something is happening in the countryside. Dressing well, eating well. They are also migrating from the countryside to cities like Mumbai and Aurangabad and Ahmedabad and elsewhere.’ [16] 

It is interesting to read this, especially in the light of increasing recognition of the rich food value of millets, which are now being embraced by the health-conscious in India and the rest of the world, and which have now become as, if not more expensive than, wheat and rice. It is also worthwhile to recollect that ‘khichri’, a food item reserved today for illness or banter, was a favourite of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, arguably the richest ruler of the medieval world, as of his father, Jahangir. In fact, records show that three hundred years ago, the food that the rich and the poor ate was not substantially different, and included such healthy items as millets of various kinds.

Nationhood today, like the food we eat or the language we speak or the architecture and attire that we promote, is paradoxically an exclusivist choice that allows dominant versions to standardise regional richness. Yet both philosophical texts as well as childrens’ tales still transmit our historical culture of amicable differences. Duniya sabki is a book of poems written for children, by the activist, writer and stage-actor, Safdar Hashmi (April 12, 1954 – January 2, 1989). Its title poem, Duniya sabki, in the Indian tradition of a dialogue between Emperor Akbar and his wise courtier, Raja Birbal, demonstrates to the reader as to the Emperor, who has grown arrogant with power and believes everything belongs to him, ‘that either the world is everybody’s or nobody’s at all’.[17] 

This view of the world, allowed divergent and diverse expression of ideas, but is no longer offcially encouraged – witness our national school curriculum. Political lingo and objectives set out the attributes of an ideal homogenized Indian. Generally, region and nation in actual terms today is seen to be an either/or situation. To be a true national, you must not display too many regional affiliations or associations. Harmony, it is assumed, can only be achieved through similarity. We don’t really buy the idea of unity in diversity; we simply tout it as a convenient line.

In such a time, most of us, designers or otherwise, are not clear of what our regional and national identify comprises of, or what role design or designers can have in formulating or even an expressing ‘Indian’ identity. Can we be uniquely Indian with distinguishing regional attributes, in a time when global influences are so frenetic? If yes, would not this identity of Indian-ness in design be something that designers today can positively capitalize onto project the image of being Indian, to continue certain characteristics which can be an asset for India and for design? If not, then is it not time that we look within to seek out such qualities that help Indian Design to stand out in an increasingly standardized and homogenized world?

[1] The increasing Maoist and people’s movements against the Indian State in many rural and tribal areas, are a manifestation of this conflict between regional and national aspirations.
[2] Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, Edited by William Geddie,  first published 1901, revised new edition 1959, W. and R. Chambers, Edinburgh and London
[3] Ibid. p. 712; Further we find the definitions of Descent: ‘transmission by succession, derivation from an ancestor’, p. 283; and Culture: ‘a type of civilisation’, p. 257
[4] Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, Indian edition 2003, OUP, Delhi, Catherine Soanes, Alan Spooner, Sara Hawker. Note also definitions of ‘Culture’: ‘the arts, customs, and institutions of a nation, people or group’; and ‘descent’: ‘a person’s origin or nationality’.
[5] A thought-provoking exploration of ‘Is there an Indian Way of Thinking’, can be found in The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, edited by Vinay Dharwadker, OUP, 2012
[6] Earth Witness, Reflections on the Times and the Timeless, directed by Akanksha Joshi, PSBT 2011
[7] Dharampal, p.35, Chapter 3: ‘Erosion of Norms and Dignity in Modern India’, Rediscovering India, SIDH Mussoorie 2003. See also pp. 12-13; and p. 79-84, Annexure C, (‘Gentoo Internal Government on the coast of Chormomandel’, Alexander Dalrymple, London, 1783); and Annexure D: (‘Land Rights and Village Organisation’, S. Lushington, Collector Of Tinnevelly and Ramnad Pollams, 1800)
[8] p. 23, ‘My Milestones in Theatre, Habib Tanvir in Conversation’, Charandas Chor, Seagull Books 2004, Kolkata.
[9] "From the whole the whole, from the complete arises the complete. Deducting the whole from the whole, the whole alone remains.",;
[10] The Island of Sheep, p. 36
[11] Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire, p. 328.
[12] The Mahatma and The Poet, Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore 1915-1941, Compiled and Edited by Sabysachi Bhattacharya, National Book Trust India, First Edition 1997, Fourth Reprint 2008, Saka 1929, p. 25, Introduction.
[13] In the 1960s, when Dharampal was travelling in a 3rd Class coach of a day-train from Gwalior to Delhi, he met a group of about twelve villagers carrying their cooking vessels and their provisions. These people, about four of whom were women, were from two different villages near Luckhnow, and were on a pilgrimage. They had journeyed over a period of three months, among other places, to Rameshwaram, in the very south of India and were now on their way to Hardwar, where the Ganga descends from the mountains, before returning home. Dharampal, in a conversation that lasted the 6-7 hours of the train travel, learnt from them that though they had passed through Madras, Bombay, and other important destinations of ‘modern’ India, they had not stopped to see anything there. He also learnt that they were from different jatis, but on a pilgrimage there are no jati or caste differences. Claude Alvares, Preface: ‘Making History’, Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century, pp. v–vi, in Dharampal, SIDH Mussoorie and OIP Goa, 2007
[14] Madura in South India for instance is named after Mathura in the north;
[15] Bharat Gupt, India:  A Cultural Decline or Revival, Preface, p. xiv, D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd, New Delhi, 2008
[16] Walk the Talk, The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta in conversation with Milind Kamble, founder of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and Chandra Bhan Prasad, his mentor, 
[17] Safdar Hashmi, ‘Duniya Sabki’, ‘…Samajh mein uske aiee, Yaa to dunia sabki hai, yaa nahin kisi ki bhai’, 2006 Edition, SAHMAT, New Delhi

Images © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji; Text © Anisha Shekhar Mukherji