To understand India it is important to understand its soul. This is a country with a strong spiritual core. There was a time when this core oozed out its lava and bathed the crust every now and then. It is true now the crust has grown thicker and the distance from the centre is more but it still remains the same composition, with that core as the centre to which all the threads are knotted drawing us towards it like a magnet.
When Krishna guides Arjun encouraging him in battle, he still discourages him in violence. Now this itself is a controversy that a mind which is not trained in this school of thinking cannot penetrate. This kind of controversy is in the lengths and breaths of India. To understand India, one has to train.
As a designer one is very well equipped to “experience”. And to give that fertile mind a way to experience that soul which will enhance their understanding of this country will have influence in all their projects. Being in India, we are anyway taking a lot of projects that work with its context. However, that understanding not been given a chance academically to reach that core is like losing an opportunity when all the other skill-sets are present.
The education that is given in the first year of foundation in NID lays out a wonderful ground for it actually. The very realization that the knowledge is within, the claim of the faculties that “we do not teach anything” are so much aligned to the education imparted by the rishis to turn the students inward for answers with questions and encourage to look outward with curiosity towards everything.
Its just a matter of connecting the dots once that mind is prepared. Its just a matter of exposing them to the philosophies and practices to enhance that “experience”. My proposal to have a course “The India Studies” aims to create that base.
I feel a duration of 2-3 weeks should be given to this in the first year (foundation) and 2nd year when they have chosen their disciplines. In the foundation, this would be a common ground and in the 2nd year more specifically aligned to the disciplines having many common points and many areas to get in to specifically. From 3rd year on-wards as the students are more focused on individual projects, having this contextual base laid out for them “the India Studies” would keep happening directly or indirectly on a personal end.
The course in Foundation
The aim of this course in foundation would be to briefly touch upon many aspects and create a wide exposure, aimed mostly to convey an “experience”. The student should for the first time be able to go beyond the map of India, the flag, the national anthem, the bollywood classics, the history, the geography and all the superficial layers to have a glimpse of that “soul” even for an instance. And these as the crust can then be laid out so that the interconnecting threads to that centre can be felt.
1. Exposure to meditation as “design” being a problem-solving method
This should expose them to the different technics, purpose and stages of meditation. The students should be able to try the different ways to see how some naturally align with them and some do not. Practitioners should be invited to share their experience, realization and journey. The students should themselves be guided to try and practise and discuss with the facilitator the problems they are facing.
2. Realization of that common centre
In this part, the students could be exposed to the various modes that are not meditation (in a literal way when one sits closing his eyes) but are experienced as meditation by the practitioners and the audiences. Classical dancers, musicians, sufi singers and painters can be invited to perform and guide the students into how these work as paths that are much more than entertainment and a way to spiritual experience.
These performances may not please the students immediately as the receiver also have to be prepared but it will open the path for them to travel and know that aim. Moreover, the underlying philosophy that all paths lead to one will begin to be experienced when the different practitioners will take them to the same centre and talk about the same.
Gradually, a hath-yogi, a gyan-yogi, a bhakti-yogi, a karma-yogi if could be picked carefully from the society and asked to present their experience and journey to the students, it would create another layer of paths which would take to the same centre again.
Practitioners of different sects who in this country have found that common centre at this point could connect those threads. Organisations like Zorba the Buddha in New Delhi have managed to get to that centre where without discussing religion directly, various ideas and concepts are shared and celebrated.
The message through these different approaches leading to the same would strangely start to coincide and sound repetitive and this experience would be a strongly felt base for the ideology of “unity in diversity” that India strongly represents.
3. Exposure to sustainability as a spiritual concept
As designers, these students would anyway be dealing with sustainability again and again. This course at this point would have a wonderful opportunity to introduce sustainability as a spiritual concept. Why the trees, rivers, wind and sun have been personified? Why have these been worshiped admired? What is the difference in that worship and the worship today that makes Ganga so polluted? It is essential for these topics to be debated upon and discussed to understand where is the clash with our own culture that are turning against our own ideals today.
In the animation movies of Studio Ghibli from Japan, this experience is very much expressed when the forests and the rivers are personified into spirits. The designers and animators using the modern technology have managed to pass on that wisdom well, without fighting with the past or present.
In India even if a historical or mythological work is done we can hardly get to that depth. Despite of gradually mastering over the skills to present, there is an ignorance coming from the lack of deeper experience that keeps reflecting again and again. And that is exactly why a course focused to connect us back is much needed.
5. Touching upon the history again
Now, having that base laid out, it would be a wonderful opportunity to revise the history of India. Documentaries like The Story of India by Michael Wood is a great way to get into history again. This is that part where one can see how the different groups of people coming to India to trade, conquer or settle formed layers of exchange. This is where one can investigate how the intermixing in different aspects of life affected behaviour, artifacts, thinking and texts.
6. A time for heated debate on the current issues and problems
And now from having explored the ideals and the past, it is time to face the very present. What are the problems? What are those ideals that were supposed to help us but divided and misguided instead? How did that happen? What were the practises of the past that evolved for good? How as a designer one can consciously contribute to the flow of the past to the present and future from lesser developed ideas to a better one yet not losing the valuable wisdom gathered through the trials and errors one is carrying as heritage. How does one create that balance?
What does the present India look like?
What do we want it to be like in 5, 10 or 15 years ahead?
The course in 2nd year
This should be more about understanding the trail of that discipline in India.
For Product Designers, what is the history of Product Design in India? Why were certain material more in use? How were they used by the Indians. What influenced the uses and evolution? When design was not an established subject who were behind these design-thinkings? Can the modern designers learn from them? Instead of being a group of people to change the trends can we instead blend with them? The use of leaves and clay as disposals and cloth bags for shopping, that have disappeared due to our own lack of faith, can we revive into modern India in a modern way?
For Graphic Designers, what is the history of Graphic Design in India? In a country that had written documents much later, how were communication evolving? What were the advantages or disadvantages of that system? The chantings, the classical music that still cannot be passed on in written documents precisely, how can modern communication tools preserve them? What were the other ways of communication apart from the verbal tradition? What did the ancient symbols and personifications mean to them? How did they use colours, symbols, metaphors in their communication? What does a yantra mean? How is rangoli, kolam or alpona different? What material did they use and why? How did the communication gradually change as different visitors, conquerors and settlers throughout the history of India brought different messages?
For the Film and Video and Animation students, What are the differences in the ways story-telling was done in ancient India? Eg. The storyline of Puranas moves ahead and branches and comes together again joining a thread it had left open to keep tying knots as it moves ahead. Why it appears realistic half-way and becomes symbolic again? Were they doing it consciously to create a message or that was the poetic ways preferred those days? Why does one story have so many versions? Is it misleading or interesting with that aspect? What are the other ways of story-telling and how did it evolve or start to mingle with time to adapt to changes? How do these stories still influence?
Overall, it is important that we know the background before we set out as designers to do our own projects. This will help a student be more geared to understand his own country and the people who he would be designing for. It is so obvious that an effort to help grow this understanding should take place.
This should not create a misunderstanding, however, that we should only adapt to “Indian ways”. Moreover, a study as such will only reveal that there is nothing like that in a country like India which through its own history has been so adaptive to different styles and ideas time and again. In fact a closer understanding to its ever-evolving spirit will help a designer take it ahead and create that blend in a more conscious way.
- It is a sad truth that the purpose of education has been hijacked by the potential placements and packages. And the firms and companies working for the developed nations or in that thinking are making more money as they are working for or with them. A project that works on the country’s domestic problem soon dies out with little fund in a heroic death. Therefore, introducing a course like this can be seen as a useless, poetic addition, impractical in its application and taking the country backward instead of focusing on forward movements.
–Globalization is a wonderful way to help the country’s economic growth apart from many other advantages. But a deeper understanding would reveal that one cannot join two necklaces unless one first joins the beads to the thread. We have not managed to put our own beads through our thread well. And if we could do so, it will only help being part of the globe, in a more organized and conscious way and with lesser insecurities for being ourselves.
- It would be a challenge to find the right people who could be presented in front of the students as practitioners of the various paths, meditation, dance, yoga etc. Due to lack of maintenance these precious practises have become rare. It is practised with genuine intention by few people who have devoted everything to keep that going ahead.
–A movement like SPIC MACAY and collaboration with it could be a wonderful way. Also, a look-out for people who are practising different traditions knowing the depth, is a good way to keep gathering that resource-base. I am working on collecting interviews and works of such people in the blog with the same aim.
- One has to be very careful while conducting the course, to not deliver it with a religious, political, orthodox or rigid mindset. That would spoil the whole purpose. This is exactly why these initiatives are avoided to make education look more liberal and secular at the cost of ignoring one’s own history in the fear of being interpreted in the wrong way.
–But it is better to learn to deal with it rightly than to be led by the ones who would misuse it and would impose on us their way. A debate, a discussion, a genuine curiosity and an open minded approach would set the right example for the whole country to deal with such subjects.