An Ode to Indian Diversity
Throughout the whole of last week, the corridors of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad’s new campus were buzzing with colourful people – colourful clothes, colourful hair and colourful personalities. Creatives from all over the country had arrived to become a part of the 2019-2020 batch Creative & Cultural Business Programme. A self-explanatory title has been given to the programme, I believe. We were this year’s cohort.
Cohort: a group of people with a shared characteristic. (Oxford dictionary)
That definition is close, but at the same time, very far from the truth that was in front of me. This was a class full of fashion designers, crafts-persons, performance artists, architects (and quite a few non-practicing architects – it’s a common thing now, I believe, which deserves a whole other blog post to ponder upon), product designers, graphic designers, coffee-connoisseurs, e-commerce owners, journalists, and experienced business-persons now embarking on a creative journey. So while some belonged to professionals typically identified as creative, the others were experienced business-persons looking to infuse creative-thinking into their brainchildren. Some of us came with just the seed of an idea, while some had businesses and shops up-and-running. We came from different parts of the country, and did not really speak the exact same set of languages. We differed in our opinions and in the ways we expressed them.
There seemed to be no real similarity at all.
We were all going through incredibly strenuous cycles of lectures, self-study, very little sleep, meals. For a while, lack of sleep seemed to be the only thing I could count as a shared characteristic between all 33 of us. However, as days went by, we discovered each other’s work and thoughts in more detail. The intense week culminated in a 12-hour long jury session where all of us spoke about our work individually, trying to get the left and right sides of our brain to work in a coordinated manner.
Day 7 is when it all came together in front of my eyes for the first time.
It is only after the week ended, intensity wore down and sleeplessness gave way to conscious thinking, that I started seeing that, though individually, we are all on the journey of defining the Indian identity. Or rather, the many parts of what could come together to define a part of the Indian identity. We are using our own individual work as a medium and we are, at the same time, happy to be a part of each other's journey and support the movement in whatever way possible.
We are looking at the past.
The crafts, the materials, the visuals. From the longpi pottery of Manipur and papier-mache from Kashmir, to Kutch weaving and Worli art, and the nostalgia of our own childhoods.
We are understanding our present.
The pressing need for sustainability, the aspirations of contemporary Indians who are part of a global community, the love for coffee and conversations, the changing perceptions of self-confidence and beauty, and the need to be simply be more compassionate.
We are, at the end of it, designing our future.
Almost 12 hours went by on the 24th of August, as each one of us presented our own take on what we believed to be our response to the India that we live in and experience today. As creatives, while it is almost mandatory for us to make things that are high on a certain “aesthetic”, it is even more of a necessity to respond to the times that we live in. What is the “Indian identity”? Is it one that is based on “nostalgia” or is it one based on a sense of the “future”? Personally, I would like to believe that I am trying to hold onto an identity which is not just romantic and beautifully historic, but which is relevant for the future that we want to create & live in. Whether it is the clothes we wear, the products we use, the lifestyle we adhere to or the corporate identity we adopt – there is no ONE thing that “looks” Indian. I have come to believe that creating something “Indian” is about feeling connected to our history, not for romanticism, but for the fact that in today’s ubiquitous world, it is our historic identity that makes us unique. Creating something “Indian” would mean that I try my best to respond to what India needs today and would need in the future. A future that still feels like home. India is a land of diversity, and in a place like this, when there is not ONE face that can define the “Indian face” among people, then how can there be ONE design aesthetic which is strictly Indian?
As Anchal said, you have to discover “your own unique Indian-ness”. It is not something that you’ll find on magazine covers, it’s what you will find within. It is only your own Indian-ness that will make sense for the work that you do.
Harshit wrote a few lines about his “muse”, that have stayed with me ever since. While it was written from his personal point of view, it gave me goose bumps because of how much it allowed me to identify with it, and put the jumble of my ideas into a crisp thought.