Ahmedabad is a city of about 5.5 million in Gujurat state. It is very much an educational center in India. Sudhir had travelled to Ahmedabad with me to visit his daughter Ira, who attends NID (the National Institute of Design). We arrived from Pune in the late afternoon and drove through the city to get to our hotel, the Radisson Blu. They have a business floor which was nice because there was a small business lounge to access for breakfast, snacks, and to meet with other people.
The first day I followed Sudhir around as he visited his friends and mentors. We first had tea with Ira and her roommates. They are bright and lovely, representing the future of Indian design. They are all in the first year of NID, so are waiting on their final results to determine whether they will get into their first choice discipline. Product design and textile design seem to be the most popular areas of focus, thus are the most competitive. We had an interesting discussion about the fairness of the system in which your grades determined whether you got into your preferred program or not. They seemed to be of the opinion that it should be based on your passion. Sudhir and I gently reminded them that passion is often measured by your marks, meaning if you are passionate about something, then you put in the extra effort to study, learn more, and do more.
Design Guru Subrata Bhowmick
After tea, we (Sudhir, Ira, and I) went to see Sudhir’s mentor, Subrata Bhowmick, a famous graphic and textile designer. Here is a description of him from the Jan 2009 issue of the magazine, Insite India (written by Roopa Sabnis Pinge):
Subrata Bhowmick was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He later shifted to Calcutta, India and then to Ahemedabad for higher education. He is a post graduate from India’s premier design school- the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad where as a student of Industrial Design, he specialized in Textiles. Later he studied in Europe and Japan. Now based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat; and in the forty years of his illustrious career, he has explored many different avenues of design including graphic design, advertising design, textile design, printing, weaving, knitting, fashion design, environmental design, product design, exhibition design, interior design and book design. His fabric calendars; based on traditional Indian designs, are perhaps, his best-known creations. He also conducts workshops for art students.
He has won over 50 national and international awards; and his design works have been exhibited in several international shows. Twice the Art Director of the Year and several times the Photographer of the Year in India, Bhowmick has won 18 President’s National Awards too! A complete archive of Bhowmick’s efforts to revive Indian art lies at the Arhus Plakt Museum, Denmark. However, despite all the accolades and achievements on national and international platforms, the designer comes across as being quintessentially Indian – and always trying to take India to the world. Moreover, he also finds time to conduct design workshops for art students sharing his experience and deep understanding of the contextual framework of design in the real world.
I have met a few of India’s design gurus before like MP Ranjan and Sudarshan Khamma, and I am always impressed by the combination of their global perspective and their local devotion to Indian design. They are the models for young Indian designers. Subrata Bhowmick is the top guru in the fields of graphic and textile design. We visited his home, which is like a museum of Indian cultural heritage: from large clay water jars, to wooden sandals, paintings and textiles, books and wooden doors. Ira and I sat on a raised platform with decorated pillows. I need to work at sitting comfortably cross-legged for long periods of time. Sudhir sat in a chair and Subrata in a rocking chair. Subrata is known for dressing in a kurta with beautifully embroidered shawls.
There are some people whom you meet with whom you feel at peace. Subrata is a very charming, witty, and elegant host. There are some people whom you could listen to forever, but he is a person with who you would want to engage in dialogue. He listens as well as shares his deep knowledge and experience. Sudhir and Ira shared with me the stories of his warmth and generosity. He is in contact with every member of Sudhir’s family who he treats as his own. When Ira was sick, he personally came to her hostel to take her to the hospital. This deeply impressed me because he is very much busy and in demand, yet he takes the time to build social relations. He is a person of heart, whom I would love to get to meet the elders in Australia. We had a wonderful dinner outside on the patio. Again, I am in love with Indian food and appreciative on having one cooked in a home not a restaurant.
Future Design Guru (Sandy Sudhir)
Leaving Subrata’s flat, we were picked up by Sandy Sudhir, one of Sudhir’s juniors and a formidable instructor at NID. He drove us to his new studio for his company Invent India. He will be an important designer in India over the next five years. His background is in product design. He worked as a product designer at General Electric where in has gained extensive knowledge in testing designs for the Asian markets. His studio does branding, digital media, and communication design as well as product design for a range of large Indian and global companies. He showed us his portfolio. The work is clearly professional, but I was struck on how similar it was to work I have seen in China, Australia, Europe, and the US. So I asked him about what is “Indian” about his work, if anything. He hesitated answering the question, so Sudhir spoke up first. He talked about having the confidence to challenge the client as an Indian designer when you are at the stage where you will do anything to just get the client’s work. Sandy showed us a project that he did for GE where they had done extensive testing in India and China about the aesthetic preferences of the product. They found a form (very rounded) that resonated with the target group for the product. A new VP came in and said to design it like the European models. Sandy and the team did as they were instructed and tested the new product forms again. They were violently rejected as too simple. Sandy said, “They said they did not seem designed.” The Asian aesthetic in India and China required that you show some technical effort in the design, the opposite of Scandinavian minimalism. Yet we concluded with the discussion that the point in which an Indian designer could “display his or her Indian-ness” in the design is not too far off. It is only a matter of maybe five years. But as Sudhir warned Sandy that he has to start thinking about the question of Indian-ness now, so that he is ready to answer it when the opportunity comes.
Just realised that I should have taken more photos of people. I tend to not like to intrude on people by taking photos, but now I have no visual documentation to provide.