The paradox of design in India

When I was in school, I was flipping through the pages of some books in the library and I came across a book that was about the yogis of the Himalaya. It had photographs of the people who needed hardly anything to survive.

In one of the paragraphs I read that when the mountaineers went there with their oxygen cylinders and well-equipped clothes and gadgets, they found many yogis already living there with bare minimum.

When a man needs nothing to survive, he basically is above a problem and hence there is nothing to solve.
Is that the point where “design” becomes obsolete and useless for an individual?

In a country with a background of such when we overthink the curve of a chair or the shift of a font it does somewhere clash with our own stories hearing which we grew up.

Design is a lot about the context. Though to create the objects for a hotel in Jaipur we would study the crafts of Jaipur, to create a brochure for Hyderabad we would study the monuments of Hyderabad but these smaller contexts lie in a bigger context, which is the spirit of India that we fail to embrace.

And again design is based on need. It is based on a continuity of getting it better and the user is a crucial part of design. And this user, who is a human being, is himself a “design” with immense potential of adapting to his surrounding. He can mold his behavior to face the problem and himself become the solution in that process. Having too many objects catering to him could inhibit his own evolution as a design.

When I was learning Indian Classical Music and was made to sit for hours on the floor with my knees folded that began to hurt, it was a problem.

When I asked my teacher, the solution he suggested was, give it some time and you would be okay.

After a few days of facing the problem again and again my body itself became the solution. I could sit for hours.

And a solution from a problem that came with time through adaptability and practice without the requirement of an external object, will it be considered design?

And these are the questions we need to answer. What is the urgency of the problem we are solving? How important is it to be solved? How much attention does that problem actually require? Is it even worthy of our time?

And we might come to the conclusion that other than having the basic needs provided for all, the other problems in human life can be majorly dealt with an inner evolution.

India is a country with volumes and volumes of work done on self-sufficiency and mastering own-self. To become the problem-solvers of this country requires understanding of its undergoing current before sailing the paper-boats on them.

Seeing the modern India look very different, just when we can start to pretend that we can now forget our past and start afresh, a riot or a political decision, a fight or a heinous crime in the name of “culture” would come to the surface to remind us, we are not done yet.

It is the rural India and the poor India mostly, which is still carrying its past with the stories and examples running in their veins. It is amongst them due to lack of maintenance it is distorting and rotting and the foul smell from time to time is reaching our surface.

There are two options we now have. Removing all the physical traces from the surrounding so that mentally we can un-attach ourselves… the temples with the deities that make no sense to us, the festivals that still influence the holiday calendars, the books that nobody understand but likes to quote and misuse the context, the music, the dance, the art, the craft that bear the evidence of a culture that is no more helping us to move ahead.

Or, let the educated India, the urban India, the resourceful India, the thoughtful India take charge of understanding India from the root again.

Is the man with his “chalta hain” attitude a bad representation of a spiritual past that once taught tolerance?

Is the woman in the bus with her “adjust kar lo” slogan a frail representation of a community where majority of the solution came from human willingness?

But these would only take us behind. What would happen to “design” then?
I guess we will realize that design was always at the heart of India. Our ancestors were very keen on finding solutions and spent years after years and generations after generations in that project.

Having the needs minimized within oneself can make it so much easier for everyone to have abundant. Their design problem was the “self”. Their design solution was a “better self”. And when the “self” was an “evolving self”, the surrounding, the system and the objects of use were all naturally influenced.

And as designers it is our duty to pay homage to those masters, understand and acknowledge them.

With more understanding of our very own past not only will we bridge our gap with the rural India and understand the country’s problem, we would also have much more to offer to the world outside, being from a country so ancient where problems and solutions have gone through rounds of tests.

And in that journey of searching for our own root to grow again, the findings could actually be more than expected…

First it is the cow Surabhi, then goddess Varuni, then the wish fulfilling Parijata tree and then the cool-rayed Chandra and then comes the amruta bearing Dhanvantari. And then goddess Lakshmi herself might appear showering abundance and success and prosperity. And Vishnu himself could be the finding at the end of this journey.


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