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Jaipur 02.5 Sick Day

Today, I took a sick and tired day. This was half-way through the trip and I was feeling on the verge of catching a cold. When I plan intense trips like this, I always require a down time day in which I need to recover form the exhaustion of constant motion, presenting, but mostly talking to people. I am really an introvert, which means that people do suck the energy out of me. If I don’t get enough alone time, I start to get physically sick, mostly manifested as a cold or flu.Thus, I stayed all day in the hotel to catch up on blog postings; one of which was lost when the wifi went down after I had been working on it for three hours. I slept a lot and then in the evening watched TV.

I said before that I decided not to go to the Taj Mahal. Although Jaipur is a lovely city and the people I have met have been lovely, there is something about the place that does not resonate with me. It is not that I dislike it; it is just that I would never feel comfortable there. As Gary said, perhaps there is some really bad juju in the history there.

In total sweetness though, the hotel manager sent up one of the staff to check up on me when I did not come down for breakfast or lunch. My stomach was a bit upset. They were happy when I did decide to come down for dinner. The service at the Rani Mahal was really excellent.

In my brief travels, I have noticed the number of Nepali or Indo-Asiatic young men working in the food service sector. Rajesh often conversed with me in his limited English and my non-existent Hindi or Nepali during breakfast in the dining hall or when he brought and picked up the room service trays for me. It seems that he travelled to India to work and that all his family is back in Nepal. I was told that Nepali’s are treated as if they were Indian citizens in terms of travel, employment, and educational opportunities.

Jaipur 01.5 (Rani Mahal, Hawa Mahal, Rajasthani food, and the Indian Institute of Craft and Design)

It was dark when I arrived in Jaipur. Like Pune and Ahmedabad, it had a new airport as well. The prepaid taxi drove me to the Rani Mahal hotel, the heritage hotel that I had booked online. The concept of the prepaid taxi is such a relief in terms of reducing the anxiety of traveling and not getting ripped off by taxi drivers. It is a concept that they should establish elsewhere (Australia and the US) when coming from the airport. The hotel itself was extraordinarily beautiful. Words cannot describe it, so here are some photos.


When I arrived, the owner/manager offered me masala tea and provided me with a menu to order dinner.  He put me in the suite room, which was this beautiful room with original painting of the same beautiful Queen in the other paintings in the hotel.

After eating, I was exhausted, watched some TV (kung fu of all things), and soon went to bed. Two things are very interesting about Indian TV. First is that there are probably over 100 channels in several languages. Some are devoted to playing the music scenes from Bollywood movies. The second was the number of commercials about making the skin of both men and women fairer. There is one ad for men to remove the tan from your face with a face wash. Another ad was for a deodarant that whitens your underarms. I knew about Indian colorism, but wow to see such blatant advertisment for men and women.

The next morning I got in contact with Shriya Nagi, the women who researchers, writes, and designs Pool Magazine in Jaipur. Thus she is the Jaipur branch of Sudhir’s company, Indi Design. We coordinated to do a little touring in the morning before my afternoon talk at the Indian Institute of Craft and Design. The day’s tour of Jaipur was planned because my original intention was to go to see the Taj Mahal in Agra the next day. But after talking to the hotel manager, I decided against going by myself.

Shriya arrived around 11:30am and we got a taxi to take us to the old city. Jaipur is beautiful with its salmon colored buildings. It does look pink in the evening sun.


We arrived a Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace near the center of town. Stunning cannot begin to describe, the intricate beauty of the palace and its Mughal architecture. It was built in 1799 C.E. It is five stories high and is called the Wind Palace because of the intricate lattice work, arches, and courtyards that allows the wind to circulate throughout the palace.


We spent about 45 minutes at the Hawa Mahal, then went to lunch at the L.M.B. Hotel, a resturant famous for its Rajasthani food. Shriya was last at the resturant eight years ago and the quality of food had not gone down since then. The food was very rich, but very good. 


Following lunch, we had to hurry to get to the Indian Institute for Craft and Design for my talk.

The Ranjasthani Government established the Indian Institute of Craft and Design in 1995. Its original intention was to provide educational opportunities for the children of craftspeople so that they can go into design. While providing lots of opportunities for craft peoples from all over India to work with IICD staff and students, it has not met the goal of enrolling lots of crafts people’s children. Partly, they say this is because the children do not wish to leave home and in some cases the parents refusing to let especially the girls leave home. 


They were currently working on a project for the Mumbai airport in which they had invited Tamil Nadu terracotta artisans to design and build large-scale terracotta elephants, horses, and figures.


They do lots of projects for the Federal Government. When meeting the director, I learned that there is a tangible origin to the concept “government red tape.” In India, documents that are transferred between the government are wrapped in a red ribbon with a folder for the documents and a pocket for the cover sheet. Who knew that red tape was a real thing?


The talk went really well with lots of interesting questions from students and staff. Their work is the closest to the essence of Cultures-Based Innovation. Swati, one of the students, showed me her final project for her diploma. All aspects of CBI were present in terms of extensive documentation of the process and meaning of embroidery and beading for the craft community of her focus. She had to produce a tangible prototype of "new" designs based on inspiration from cultural heritage and five digital design concepts. She had to work with crafts people to implement the designs learning about how their process impacts on what is possible. The areas of gap were figuring out the business models to make it a sustainable enterprise and a clear articulation of how the benefits go back to the craft communities. They did indicate that they plan to start an incubation center to support the manufacturing of student designs and the establishing of craft-based design enterprises. The IICD has the potential to be the best institute for research partnerships in CBI in India.

I will write more about what Cultures-Based Innovation means in an India context once the tour is over, but there are some consistent themes that arise from the questions that I am receiving.

After my talk, the director dropped Shriya off at home, which was on the way, and me back at the hotel.

Ahmedabad: Day 03 (National Institute of Design)

In planning for the trip to India, one of my main objectives was to go to the National Institute of Design. Every Indian designer I know and respect has a direct connection to NID as an alumni, faculty, or student. Sudhir is a graduate of NID. MP Ranjan was both a student and long-term faculty member of NID. My admiration for NID important because I had my first snag in the trip.

I had been double booked for at talk at NID at 5:30pm and CEPT at 6:00pm. No matter what, neither institution was willing or able to change the time. So I had to decide to cancel the talk at CEPT. It was probably the best decision. I got the opportunity to tour the studios of NID, with Praveen who leads Industrial and Systems design as my guide, whom I had met in Melbourne.

The campus is stunning in terms of modernist architecture, probably reflected from the Ulm Bauhaus connection with NID.


There is a wide variety of studio spaces. Taking only 100 students out of 50,000 applications per year, NID has ample space for each student who works both individually and on teams to solve complex design challenges



The talk was probably the best I had given because of the ambiance and my general excitement of presenting at NID.  They had arranged to record my talk to make it open to a wider audience. The auditorium was full of students and staff. (I was told that most talks are not so well attended as this one.) It was explained that the students and the staff at NID know me or know of me. They have followed my blog for years, or seen video lectures I have given elsewhere, and we have met in other cities at conferences and visits. I loved the brief dialogue with the audience after the talk. The students are bright, engaged, and needing to develop the confidence to led India (and the rest of the world) in the 21st Century.

Everyone has talked about how NID has changed and with the forced retirement of a lot of the best professors, it has gone down in quality. But if there is one place in India, where I would like to spend some time teaching, it is NID.

The next day Sudhir, Ira, and I parted ways. I felt so sad to leave them. Ira had to go to school. Sudhir had a meeting in Mumbai and I was off to do some Swinburne recruiting work. I met with Pankaj Arora of Swinburne International to meet with some of the agents who help us recruit students for Swinburne. It was interesting to see (1) how we pitch Swinburne to international students, (2) the process that these potential students go through with the agents, and (3) what are the current trends in overseas applications. Swinburne is promoted mostly through word of mouth of former graduates and their families. The agents work mostly with undergraduate applications as the PhD process is more self-directed. The trends are IT and biotechnology, especially at the postgraduate levels. PhDs are on the rise.

After visiting two agents, I went to the hotel to get my things and head to the airport for Jaipur.


Ahmedabad: Day 03 (Heritage Walk)

Sudhir, Ira, and I met early at the business lounge as Ira had to get to school and we had to be at the Heritage Walk site by 7:30-8:00am. It was lovely to watch the sun rise over the river as well left for the old town by electronic rickshaw. Ahmedabad is less noticeably smoggy than Pune and definitely Mumbai.


The markets of the old city do not open up until 10:30am, so the streets were just waking up with some small vegetable sellers, early shopping housewives, packs of dogs, and morning worshippers as some of the many temples.

Sudhir and I arrived arrived at the starting part of the 1.5 Km tour through the Old City. The Old City is of course much larger than that. It was first established in the 10th Century by Ahmed Shah.  Sudhir paid our entrance fees. As a foreigner, my fee was 50 rupees while his was 10 rupees. Unlike others, I never consider this foreign tax unjust considering the global economic structure that makes $1 AUD equal to 50 rupees.

At 8:00am, there was a small group today of about eight people plus our guide: Sudhir and I, a trio of overseas Indians from Chicago and their local sister, an Indian/Turkish couple (the Turkish female was an architectural student based on her sketches), another Indian couple, and the guide. I looked at the log and the day before they had 17 visitors, the day before 20. The guide told us that a couple of weeks back she had a group of 150. They showed us a slide show of the history of Old Ahmedabad and its changes through the centuries. Then we went to the first site of the tour, the temple across the street from the office.

We had 10 minutes to look around the temple, which was crowded because prayers had just started. Women and men entered into different compartments, with men in the front closest to the Gods, and women behind them. Men rang the bell to alert the Gods to their presence. Most women could not reach the bell to ring it

I do not have pictures of the women performing sutras as I thought it is disrespectful. But the temple was filled with young and old. Groups of middle-aged women in colorful saris gossiped in the back patio of the temple. Young women in jeans and tunics moved towards the front. Old women in white sat on the ground with their prayer books. 

We were quickly corralled to move into next site of the tour. The memorial dedicated to Kavishwar Dalpatram Dahyabhai, a famous Gujurati poet of the old city. They just had the façade of his home and a statue honoring him. Our guide who was a volunteer recited some of his poetry which every student learns in school.


We then moved to our first of many pols. Pols are the main subdivisions of the old city. Basically they are urban villages. Each pol had its own locked gate, guardhouse, water well, temple or small mosque, gathering square, which was lined with three to four story town houses.


Ahmedabad is famous for its birdhouses, which are called chabutara. Carved intricately in wood, the guide told us that the residents of the city built them to show compassion for the birds whose trees they had displaced in when building the city. The residents are responsible for providing water and food to the birds each day and evening. Some of them are over 200 years old.


The guide told us that they are built high so that the cats cannot reach the birds and that women who carried water could rest the jugs on the ledge.

What strikes me about India is the extent to which there is so much diversity and religious intermixture. The guide took us to one pol in which one house was of the British style (determined by the brickwork and shape of the arches, one of Mugal style (determined by the portraiture on the door entrances and arches), and one Persian style (determined by the grapevine motifs).



We continued the tour through the narrow passageways, some of which were secret passageways.


On the main streets were shops of everything one could imagine. There were streets devoted to books and paper. Streets devoted to clothing for the Gods, which are changed everyday. Streets devoted to jewelry, etc.  


Of course, one must have the ubiquitous photo of the colorful spices organized in the market staff. So to not disappoint here it is.


Quickly we arrived at the end of the tour, Juma Mosque. The Mosque is the other place where you see Indian diversity and religious intermixture. According to the guides, there were Jain, Hindu as well as Moslem motifs. There are the tree of life and lotus patterns of Hindu temples.



The Mosque is beautiful. Women are not allowed in during prayer, so we (women) were lucky to get to see it.


After visiting the Mosque, Sudhir and I got back into another rickshaw to go to Subrata Bhowmick’s studio. Sudhir had a business meeting about Pool Magazine with Kamal Khokhani, the publisher of InSite Magazine, the official B2B magazine of the Indian Interior Designers Association. Subrata wanted me to visit with some of the textile artisans not far from his office. Subrata introduced me to Payal Nanavati the main graphic designer in his design company. They specialize in advertising for the textile industry, in particular wedding saris. I received from Subrata the most amazing gift: one of his limited edition prints based on 17th century Rajanstani paintings. He asked me if I preferred Krishna or Ganesh. I think in the past I was more into the playboy Krishna types, but as I get older I appreciate the seriousness of Ganesh types. He gave me a Krishna print beautifully wrapped in handmade paper and dyed ribbon. 

After masala tea, we went to the office of Kamal Khokhani. On the way we ran into a wedding party. A uniformed band, giant mobile music system, and dancing party of relatives lead the groom, on his white horse, to the home of his bride, whom he will take back to the wedding site. The music and dancing is infectious, although I did not dance as Subrata would have liked me to do. During the rest of the day and night, I saw a lot more wedding parties as it is the height of the wedding season.



While Sudhir had his meeting, Payal, Khokhani's daughter and I went to visit print artisans. I got to see a demonstration of the block printing technique done to make bedsheets. The uniform precision of the manual technique is really amazing. They used to use more vegetable dies, but now they use chemical dies.


Traditionally, they specialised in block and hand printing of religions stories for temples. They continue to do that work, but suppliment it now with making beddings and curtains.


We next visited a master printer, but he could not show us any of his work because all his stock was taken to the big textile fair that was held at the end of January.

We then returned to the office to go to lunch at Swati, a resturant that serves traditional Gujurati food, but also a variety of other Indian regional foods. Subrata pointed out how the owners had used copies of his yellow plate design. The food was wonderful, of course.


After lunch, we left to prepare for my lecture and tour of the National Institute of Design.

Ahmedabad: Day 02 (United World Institute, Step Well, and Gandhi's Ashram)

Sudhir, Ira, and I got back very late from visiting, which was tough on Ira who had a 9:00am class the next morning.

UnitedWorld Institute of Design

Sudhir and I had to leave later to the UnitedWorld Institute of Design, a new design college on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, where I was to give a lecture on Cultures-Based Innovation. The UID was established by former instructors from National Institute of Design. NID has a rule that you have to retire after the age of 60 years, so these former teachers decided to partner with United Group and other industry advisors to start a new college. It is really new in terms of just welcoming its first cohort of 60 students and the buildings themselves, which have been built, but not painted. 


UID students waiting for class



Sudhir, some staff and students, and myself in the courtyard of UID


The lead Mentors and Principle Faculty whom I met at UID are Prof. Pankaj Patel, Prof. Pradeep Choksi, and Prof. J.G. Sevak. I also met some of the younger faculty such as Ms. Kakoli Biswas, a textile designer. The lecture went very well, except for some minor technical difficulties because I did not use my laptop originally. The Q&A was good, with some insightful questions about India, design, and culture. Based on the tradition at NID, the UID curriculum includes a short project in which students have to work with an Indian village. So as I noted to the, they are doing Cultures-Based Innovation, my role is to provide a common term and show what projects are happening in other places in the world. They liked that message.

Sudhir then did a long discussion, with me chiming in, about being a designer and what it takes to be a successful professional designer. It was disheartening for me to hear that they students had chosen design because they did not like to study, or mathematics, or because they have more freedom, etc. I mean those of valid reasons, but it contributes to the idea that design is not an intellectual activity. The students were not able to articulate what was design's "super power" compared to other fields. But then again, most professional designers cannot define that as well.

Adalaj StepWell (check out the Wikipedia entry)

One of the most impressive features of the places in India that I have seen is its architectural heritage. The Adalaj StepWell is another one of these amazing structures that demonstrate how the Indian people got sustainability before it became a buzzword. The temperature drops as you descend down the five stories of intricately carved figures, reliefs, and columns. Really, it is best to just post photos, as writing about it does not do the place justice and besides from the info from the wikipedia entry, I don't really know that much about it.


Beautiful detail work of the StepWell



Looking up to see all the floors



Looking down into the well



Just to show there were some people there, include Sudhir.

Gandhi's Ashram

The last trip for the day was a visit to the Ashram that Gandhi founded and stayed in from 1917 to 1930. The Ashram is a museum but also a place for reflection. It is located on the banks of the Sabarmati River, with tranquil views. Once you enter, the first thing you see is the museum and Gandhi interpretation centre on the left and the buildings where Gandhi and his followers stayed on the right. Sudhir who used to come here when a student at NID, said that the museum was new. The rules of the Ashram are wonderful guides to life and I can see how they have influenced the thinking of the older designers whom I have met, especially the one about using local products. These are listed from the organisation's website (

1. Truth:

Truth is not fulfilled by mere abstinence from telling or practising an untruth in ordinary relations with fellow-men. But Truth is God, the one and only Reality. All other observances take their rise from the quest for, and the worship of, Truth. Worshippers of Truth must not resort to untruth, even for what they may believe to be the food of the country, and they may be required, like Prahlad, civilly to disobey the orders even of parents and elders in virtue of their paramount loyalty to Truth.

2. Non-Violence:

Mere not-killing (the animals) is not enough (for this observance). The active part of non-violence is Love. The law of Love requires equal consideration for all life from the tiniest insect to the highest man. One who follows this law must not be angry even with the perpetrator of the greatest imaginable wrong, but must love him, wish him well and serve him. Although he must thus love the wrong does, he must never submit to his wrong or his injustice, but must oppose it with all his might, and must patiently and without resentment suffer all the hardships to which the wrong doer may subject him in punishment for his opposition.

3. Chastity (Brahmacharya)

Observance of the foregoing principles is impossible without the observance of celibacy. It is not enough that one should not look upon any woman or man with a lustful eye; animal passion must be so controlled as to be excluded even from the mind. If married, one must not have a carnal mind regarding one’s wife or husband, but consider her or him as one’s lifelong friends, and establish relationship of perfect purity. A sinful touch, gesture or word is a direct breach of this principle.

4. Control of the Palate

The observance of Brahmacharya has been found, from experience, to be extremely difficult so long as one has not acquired mastery over taste. Control of the palate has therefore been placed as a principle by itself. Eating is necessary only for sustaining the body and keeping it a fit instrument for service, and must never be practised for self-indulgence. Food must therefore be taken, like medicine, under proper restraint. In pursuance of this principle on must eschew exciting foods, such as spices and condiments. Meat, liquor, tobacco, bhang, etc are excluded from the Ashram. This principle requires abstinence from feasts or dinners which has pleasure as their object.

5. Non-Stealing

It is not enough not to take another’s property without his permission. One becomes guilty of theft even by using differently anything which one has received in trust for use in a particular way, as well as by using a thing longer than the period for which it has been lent. It is also theft if one receives anything which he does not really need. The fine truth at the bottom of this principle is that Nature provides just enough, and no more, for out daily need. Hence it is also a theft to possess anything more than one’s minimum requirement.

6. Non-Possession or Poverty

This principle is really a part of (5). Just as one must not receive, so must one not possess anything whish one does not really need. It would be a breach of this principle to possess unnecessary foodstuffs, clothing or furniture. For instance, one must not keep a chair if can do without it. In observing this principle one is led to a progressive simplification of one’s own life. 

7. Swadeshi

Man is not omnipotent. He therefore serves the world best by serving his neighbour. This is swadeshi, a principle which is broken with one professes to serve those who are more remote in preference to those who are near. Observance of swadeshi makes for order in the world; the breach of it leads to chaos. Following this principle, one must as far as possible purchase one’s requirements locally and not buy things imported from foreign lands, which can easily be manufactured in the country. There is no place for self interest in Swadeshi, which enjoins the sacrifice of oneself for the family, of the family for the village, and of the country for humanity.

8. Fearlessness

One cannot follow Truth of Love so long as one is subject to fear. As there is at present a reign of fear in the country, meditation on and cultivation of fearlessness have a particular importance. Hence its separate mention as an observance. A seeker after truth must give up the fear of caste, government, robbers etc and he must not be frightened by poverty or death.

9. Removal of Untouchability

Untouchability, which has taken such deep root in Hinduism, is altogether irreligious. Its removal has therefore been treated as an independent principle. The so-called untouchables have equal place in the Ashram with other classes.

10. Varnashtama Dharma

In the Ashram caste distinction has no place. It is believed that caste distinction has caused harm to the Hindu dharma. The ideas of the superior and inferior status and pollution by contact implied in cast distinction serves to destroy the dharma of non-violence. However, the Ashram does believe in Varna and the Ashram dharma. The division of Varna is based upon occupation. One who follows that division lives by his parents’ occupation, not inconsistent with larger dharma, and spends his spare time in acquiring and advancing true knowledge as well as performing service.
The Ashram believes, as in the Varna, so in the four Ashrams of the Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha, and Sanyasa. But the Ashram does not believe that life of renunciation can be lived in a forest only or by giving up performance of one’s duties. The Ashram believes that dharma of renunciation can be and should be observed while leading a normal life and that it alone is true renunciation.

11. Tolerance

The Ashram believes that the principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect men, they have been affected by imperfections and allowed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the some respect for the religious faiths of others as one accords to one’s own.

12. Physical Labour (this was added afterwards by Gandhi)

Man can be saved from injuring society, as well as himself, only if he sustains his physical existence by physical labour. Able-bodied adults should do all their personal work themselves, and should not be served by others, except for proper reasons. But they should, at the some time, remember, that service of children, as well as of the disabled, the old and the sick, is a duty incumbent on every person who has the required strength. Keeping in view this object, no labourers are employed in the Ashram, and if at all they are inevitably employed, the dealing with them would not be of an employer-employee.

Images from Gandhi's Ashram:


The Museum and Interpretation Center (look at Gandhi's handwriting)


Gandhi's room


Image of the compound


View of the river from the compound


Design Gurus in Ahmedabad: Day 01

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.

Pune Part Two

My second day in Pune was about exploring the different aspects of Pune city (the old and the new) with Sudhir Sharma and Marianna Kornilenko.

Pune Heritage


We started with the old by visiting the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in the old city. Having received the Pune Guide book put together by Indi Design and the Pune Chamber of Commerce, I was more familiar with the city and its history. Indi design has had a long standing project with the Raja Dinkar Kelker Museum helping it transition from a small local family "collection" to a well-known museum for "everyday Indian art objects." Marianna is the manager of the project, responsible for helping the museum with branding and marketing. So she was graciously my official guide to the museum.

According to the museum's website:

The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is the one-man collection of Padmashree Late Dr. D.G. Kelkar (1896 -1990). 'Kaka', as Dr. Kelkar was affectionately known, dedicated his collection to the memory of his only son `Raja’ who died an untimely tragic death. It is a collection about 21,000 priceless artifacts which mirror the everyday life of India

Only about .5% of that is shown in the actual museum. Everyday life in India is represented by the arranged of display cases arranged by purpose and materials such as cooking utensils, beauty implements like combs, mirrors, and make-up boxes, doors, birdfeeders, statues of the Gods and Goddesses, farming implements, vases, etc. Different sponsors take responsibility for the exhibiting of certain display cases. Some have extensive lables and illustrations providing a context of use, others do not as it has proven to be difficult to track the origins of many items in the collection. Most of the items in the collection are from another state, Gujurat, which has a rich tradition of intricate design.

The museum was full of school children who greeting Marianna and I with shy "hellos" to practice their English. It is great that they are being exposed to their rich heritage. There seems to be a great opportunity loss by the fact that none of the local universities are involved with the museum. Perhaps that is something Sudhir can help with in the future.

Pataleshwar Cave Temple

Our next destination is the Pataleshwar Cave Temple in the city. This is a temple carved from a single rock around 8th century C.E. Because it is near University campuses, there were lots of students city outside the temple talking and having lunch. This is where the connection between India and Ethiopia become very apparent to me. The temple reminded me of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Again, this is not surprising because Indian artisans were brought to Ethiopia to work on the churches. But it explains why to me, Pune and other places feel more familiar than strange because it "feels" very similar to Ethiopia, where I lived for almost two years.



The Temple as explained by Sudhir is to evoke all of the senses. Incense is burned to evoke smell. There is a bell than one rings before one stands before the Gods, in this case Lord Shiva and his consort Durga, and Nandi his bull. In fact, when you first enter the compound you are greeted by Nandi.


Feeling  (touch) is emphasised by the cool temperture of the cave, especially the rock on your bare feet. Sight is enhanced by the beautification of the Gods, garlanded with flowers and precious stones. According to Sudhir, this cave as a heritage site has minimal gold and other "bling" because no one is allowed to change anything. Sight is also enhanced by the carvings on the walls and floors. Most of these carvings are incomplete. Taste is connected to smell, but also the offerings given to the Gods.


Traditional Gujurati Lunch and Phoenix Mall

After the Temple, we went to lunch at Hotel Shreyas, which serves traditional Maharashtrian foods., food, and India. As a vegetarian, India is food paradise for me. I have always loved Indian food, so every meal that I have causes an explosion of joy. This will be one of the rare overseas trips where I am concerned with gaining weight. I unfortuately keep forgetting to take photos of the food before I eat. But here is the link to the hotel services page that has an image of the thali's we ate. Here is a link to a description of traditional Maharashtrian thali. All I have to say is that it was soooooo delicious.

Following lunch, we went to the Phoenix Mall for clothes shopping and to see a Bollywood film. The Phoenix Mall is like any mall that you can see anywhere in the world. Many of the shops are "Western" brands such as Polo, Blackberry store, Adidas, Gloria Jean coffee, but there are Indian shops as well.


We first went to a shop that was kinda K-martish but only clothing. Looking for a Salwar Kameez, I did not find anything I wanted there. The next store we went to was a store called Ethnicity, in which I bought three salwar kameez's, which I have been wearing since. They are very comfortable for the weather and sense of modesty.

We then went to see the film Special 26, which was based on true events in the 1980s, when these con men pretending to be Indian Bureau of Investigation employees swindered corrupt business men and politicians of their "black market" monies. It was a very good film, reminding me of Spike Lee's The Inside Man. It was not what I expected as a Bollywood film because there was only one dance scene ( a very realistic wedding scene) and one romantic song scene, but it represented probably the urban Middle-class cinematic sensibility.

After the movie, which ran 3 hours, we dropped Marianna off and the hotel, me back at the hotel, and Sudhir went home. Sleep was needed to prepare for our next adventure in Ahmedabad.



Blogging catch up

I am a couple of days behind on posting. My schedule has gotten pretty busy with early mornings and late nights. But I am devoting today to catch up on posts:

  1. Pune Part Two
  2. Ahmedabad: Day 01 (Indian Design Gurus)
  3. Ahmedabad: Day 02 (United World Institute, Step Well, and Gandhi's Ashram)
  4. Ahmedabad: Day 03 (Heritage Walk, NID)

Each post has been about 1000 words, so we see if I can get through them all today.

The first day of adventures in Pune, India

So I have spent about 48 hours in Pune, so all disclaimers about not knowing anything about Pune and India apply.

Entering the city

Pune is a city of about 6 million people that was established at the intersection of the Mutha and Mula rivers. Similar to Mumbai, it is a city under constant construction as roads, mid-rise residential complexes, and high rise offices being built on the parameters of the town and in-filled. Yet it is not "over built" in the way one thinks of Beijing. For example, the acres of mid-rise residential buildings are only renderings on developer's advertisments instead of being dotted on the landscape.


Arrived from Pune airport where we walked directly off the plane into the airport. This was a bit of a shock only because it would never happen in the US at such a fairly major airport because of fear of law suits. I knew now to catch the pre-paid taxi. There was a bit of a worry when the tout outside took my information and told me to wait while he hopped on a motorbike to get the cab. But after rejecting other taxi suitors, I got into the taxi and was droven to the Vivanta Hotel, owned by the Blue Taj group.

Luxury at the Vivanta

The Vivanta is a five-star hotel although not international five star because the bathroom and the toilet are not separate rooms. It is definitely five-star service. After passing through security (the car being examined and then a walk through of a metal detector), no more than five people were set to help me check in. The first was the lady at the counter, the second was porter who took my bag, the third was the man who brought me fresh mango juice (yummy), the fourth was the concierge who asked me to let him know if I needed anything during my stay, and the fifth was the young woman who chit chated with me, escorted me to my room, and explained how everything works in the hotel. It is moments like this where I realise I am not a five-star hotel type of girl in the sense that I feel nervous and frankly embarrassed by having five people catering to my needs within a span of 1 minute of meeting me. I keep thinking that I will get used to it, but I never do.


The hotel is beautiful and overlooks a park. It is a lovely stay.

Indi Design

But the point of coming all the way to Pune is to see Sudhir Sharma and catch up on how he is doing. Neha, a lovely young woman, who works for Indi Design meets me at the hotel. She is very smart. We chat about her experiences with the Masters of Design Ethnography program at University of Dundee and living in Scotland versus London. In her estimate Scotland is more like Pune, London is a place of culture shock. I realise now that I should have taken a photo of her. I am such a terrible visual documentarian.

We cross to the other side of town and arrive at Sudhir's office. The office has a warm and creative feel to it. The staff range in ages but seem to be mostly young people maybe five years out of university. There are four main spaces that I can see upstairs and then a large gathering room/presentation room in floor below.

Sudhir with the Business Modeling framework that he uses with clients

After greeting Sudhir and chatting a bit, the entire office comes downstairs for me to be interviewed. I mostly talk about my history, what is design anthropology, what is Cultures-based Innovation (giving away a lot of my talk), and then had an interesting discussion about the biggest challenges facing the work that Indi Design does in Pune.

The first answer given was about the lack of money that people have to spend on products, services, and brands. Another person said it was not the lack of money, but a lack of understanding about the value of buying certain things. How as a company Indi Design needs to better communicate the value of buying things. Then the discussion shifted to corruption being a challenge. Here I'm afraid a launched into a mini-lecture about how there is corruption everywhere; the challenge is finding out how to reduce the negative impact of the corruption on everyday people's lives. The conversation evolved in terms of what Sudhir mentioned as people's awarness of small corruptions (paying a bribe to the police to get out of a speeding ticket or to the post man to get your holiday letters) versus big corruptions (real estate deals and public policy) and that the small corruptions are considered part of tradition. I posed the question of what if it is not seen as corruption but rather part of expected service culture. For example, I am expected to pay a tip to the porter who takes my bag or the taxi driver because of the personal service they have provided. If one cna change the perspective on this "service tradition," then one may come up with different solutions on how to address it. One maintains one's critique because it gets at issues of fairness, but then by seeing it as something to be mediated as opposed to destroyed (unrealistically, one might add), then one can put structures in place to make the practice more fair. We speculated on what that would be. The conversation ended with a discussion of what is Indian-ness. Sudhir's clients want to be global players, but they want their brands to convey a sense of being Indian. In a country with as much diversity, how do you define what is Indian? This is where I think the Cultures-Based Innovation focus on values, not motifs are important. You can have multiple expressions of a value, but the value is what is shared among all.

After more in depth discussion about Indian cultures, we had to leave for my talk. Luckily, in the car, Sudhir had raised some interesting questions about Cultures-Based Innovation. What does it mean to India as another Western term? What is it trying to achieve? This allowed me to pitch the talk to the audience. (I will post the talk later, once I have finished the tour.) But the talk was about in a nutshell:

Innovation should not require that you break from the past or innovate as an individual or organisation. That old ways of knowing can and are a powerful driver of innovation. The CBI seeks to provide a language to talk about these kinds of innovation that are already taking place around the world, but are not recognised by governments and organisations. Then I walk everyone through the Smart Art project as an example of CBI. The talk went over very well I think. There were lots of head nodding in agreement, and we had a nice exchange of ideas in the discussion. We got back late from the talk. I ordered room service, Chinese this time, and went to bed.

Okay, I've run out of time...I will continue the rest this evening in Ahmedibad.