Mar 20, 2017

The year was 2013. The design research practice we shared the Gurgaon house with, was moving out to a roomier, better place in Lado Sarai. They had moved down to the basement with more people joining, and had now realised it was time to abandon the plumbing nightmare altogether. In the course of our staying together, I had taken to an IKEA folding chair despite the studio’s insistence on the new, ergonomically better made, swivel ones. Depending on who was looking at it (and sitting on it), the IKEA one wasn’t that pleasing to look at, as far as chairs went. I had a little yellow band taped onto one of its legs, to tell it apart from the other three identical ones, and had started calling it Tinku. It was made of perforated steel and the name made no sense (It sounds silly in hindsight. In my defence, I called my WiFi network Nebuchadnezzar.), but ‘Tin-ku’ had a ring to it welded to bits of irony. The research practice had bought it on one of their tours abroad. (It is a curious breed of people, who bring otherwise insignificant pieces of furniture home after a trip in the vilayats. And I approve of that breed.)

The IKEA one was a perfectly ordinary chair, light enough to move at the least of persuasion. Coupled with the faulty wiring at the studio, it could keep me awake with unexpected electric shocks when the aluminiuminimal laptop was hooked up to power. It brought back memories of the green folding chairs, painted the kind of peacock green peacocks were never told they were in possession of, chairs we stacked in bunches of two, and then sat on, at weddings and house-warming feasts back home. The chair was part nostalgia wrapped in practicality sprinkled with a touch of leftover chill on summer mornings.

At the place I was renting, after I had the friendly neighbourhood carpenter build me the perfect table, I went hunting for the perfect chair to go with it. I was reading too much Yves Behar and decided on a red-backed swivel chair. And regretted it the day it arrived. (It did, in fact, not arrive. I wheeled it in myself, the shop only half a block from where I stayed.) At the showroom, among the fairly grotesque ones on display, this one had looked like it belonged in the Vignelli Canon. Now that it was on its own, I could no longer stand its sorry attempt at sophistication. It kept me awake on nights as I chased deadlines though, and the cat I was living with seemed to find the slow swivel amusing. She would sit on it and look at me read in the bed, waiting for the chair to be turned in mellow circles. Some chairs are cat chairs. I remember the two grass-woven ones I had kept in the garage-turned-room outside, in anticipation of guests who would never arrive. Once in a while, out of a sense of duty, I would sit on one and read the newspaper, the cat napping on the other in a perfect arc. We would find peace and she would turn it into a scratch-post afterwards.

During college, I got to sit on Nakashimas, Van-Der-Rohes (an imitation Barcelona chair), Chinese knockoffs of Ovalia Eggs at an upscale cafe, various Eamses and a whole bunch of prototypes from the furniture department, never making a connection. Some were admirable from a distance, most were ergonomically perfect and some legends on their own right. They did not need people sat on them to be whole. (Would the imitations have filled me with a sense of accomplishment if I hadn’t known they were? Would I have reveled in the feeling had I not known the pedigree?) The ones I fell for were humble GU chairs (after Gajanan Upadhyay) in the canteen, resembling multicoloured buttons stacked on top of each other. They were solid, unassuming, made us variously lean forward, stretch out and even do the wheelie equivalent one does on those chairs one knows will be more accomodating of the lack of exercise and too much Bun-Maska in the mornings. They never judged us like the plastic ones did. What they lacked in playing at new-ness, they more than made up in empathy. Later, we would find a mezzanine floor at the Paldi City Museum dedicated to these chairs in their unscratched glory, waiting in silence to reward people weird enough to climb the stairs tucked into a corner, away from the kites and multicolour distractions on the ground floor.

Image: GU Chair (From the Gajanan Upadhyay monograph)

Two years after the IKEA chair incident, I left the ‘confines’ of my regular, paying job to focus on two-digit bank balances, and decided to set up a workplace down south, close to the sea, making up for all those years away from the unapologetic geography. We (M, B and I) needed chairs and our pockets were unwilling. We scouted around in high-end furniture shops, drooled over more from Yves Behar, and settled on second-hand chairs in need of their major miracle. M, the product-designer, had a painter friend with attention to detail that matched M’s own, spend weeks on the old chairs (“They have good bones,” said the friend.) and manage to make them work better than they ever did. Once restored, hours passed (being fresh out of work helped) with us debating what colour to paint the backrests in, before deciding on white. The day we moved into the space, and sat ourselves down on these time-sinks, I knew I had fallen in love again. These were vanilla-ice cream chairs, quite like the IKEA ones from work in their bare bones approach to function. Something deliberate about the exposed wood-grain and the joinery. We called them ‘Seems’ chairs after the legend’s own. When we had friends over, we sat on them facing the wrong way.

Image: The Seems Chair at KL11

For the research studio people from Gurgaon, it was time to pack up and leave with their chairs. I decide to save myself the minor heartbreak watching it carried off to a truck, and leave early. I reach the studio the day after and settle down on one of the swivel chairs, trying to not feel a phantom limb off the perforated metal frame by accident. After 11, Mr. D (teacher, mentor, also runs the studio) arrives with the extended family, and goes to the lawn out back. The lawn doubled up as our official open-air conference room overlooking consistently annoyed neighbours in twin towers of the Gurgaon kind. We have a conversation over chai, on how to spread out to the rest of the ground floor now that it is empty, what will we eat now the cook has moved out with the moving out party, and so on. (In Gurgaon back then, unlike in other metropolises, one didn’t panic at the possibility of empty space.) As we walk back in, Mr. D stops by the cabinet of magazines and packaging we couldn’t make ourselves throw away, and pulls out Tinku with no trace of a flourish. I freeze in my tracks as Mrs. M retells how they had slipped it into the cabinet after I left and had hoped the movers wouldn’t notice one piece missing. I went on sitting on it till I left two years later, never once looking back at the swivel-ones again.

Image: The IKEA chair (From IKEA)

At IDC, three semesters and an unforgiving P3 schedule later, I find another. (After all the excitement around the reclining, rocking chair [Prof. Munshi’s] in the third floor VC studio. Each encounter with it an exercise in surprise, delight.) We had hauled two of these light-weight Prismas from CONF-ROOM-1 for an overpopulated course and held on to them. On Saturdays when the department is sleepy and everyone (including Taxi) decides it isn’t worth looking up to my increasingly weird summonses, I sit on it facing the other way and wonder what it could mean to be on a quest to perfect the idea of a chair. I have seen people do that in the wood workshop. I think over my relationships with chairs. Getting to know them have often felt romantic. Some leave deep, painful impressions as I leave, only to heal too soon with a memory of once having been around. The swivel ones are too jumpy and turn away before I have a chance at long walks on the beach and so on. 

Then I doze off. A chair is a chair only when someone is sat on it. Then it isn’t anymore.

Image: The Prisma Chair at IDC (From a Modelco catalog)

There are chairs I look forward to seeing in person, someday. One is the Mae West Lips Sofa Salvador Dali shaped after the actress Mae West’s lips. And then, I will settle for an undisturbed hour looking at the 1917 De Stijl chair. I am not sure I will last that long on it, though. For Gerrit Rietveld, sitting was a verb (“zitten is een werkwoord”).

What are the chairs you remember?

*

Wrote this for an online magazine. I haven’t heard back from them.

Mar 17, 2017

It is still early in the afternoon; the sunlight warm, shards of it leaving one corner of the bed in relative comfort. I am reading Banana Yoshimoto on the e-Reader and it shows 26% on the bottom left. I tap-tap-tap to hide it. I mean to read up to a 50 and then leave for the studio. The lunch was pleasant and unsurprising (and therefore, pleasant) and the paper didn’t seem to mind being left alone for another hour. Its appropriately academic-sounding prose has already started to show signs of promise despite a general lack of confidence and what any reviewer worth her salt would see is a typical case of inexperience. It simply didn’t belong, yet.

The afternoon, balmy, is like a day-old factory siren, only that it binds one to the bed tighter. It is melting caramel, lulling one into a slow, sweet suspension of time and worries. Once inside, everything is distorted and one starts to believe in insignificant miracles again. It is ironic, almost tee-shirt worthily so, how sirens make one feel after teenage years spent waking up to a sorry excuse for one of those on winter mornings.

The screen catches light at a diagonal over the screen, as if in a freshly rendered advertisement while the dust, illuminated, does its dance as one moves into the comfier, corner-of-the-bed existence among the stuff that wouldn’t belong there, had the bed itself belonged to someone else with some sense of shame. 

It is three thirty and the book is, suddenly, over. I scroll ahead to see if the blank pages are some anomaly, and then backwards to make sure I haven’t glossed over entire chapters. I read passages again as they resonate the right amount of déjà vu. The book doesn’t feel real enough. It is as if I am being shortchanged. It isn’t the story. I hadn’t gone into it expecting a fairy-tale ending either. It is how the 100% mark creeps up unannounced. Maybe what it loses in translation from ink on paper to pixels off it is this sense of time. A sense that somehow cooks you up at a simmer for that last paragraph. e-Reading in that sense is no different from fast food. Or an electric shock.

Karl Ove Knausgaard talks about writng, life, etc. There is something about this man that reminds me of Alan Moore in Mindscape. It is either the intensity or the almost-dreadlocks. This guy suggested I read a volume off Min Kamp and see if the rest need to eat into the little green paper pieces I have hoarded.

Mar 10, 2017

The computer only does; it doesn’t know. You can confuse it and it can turn on you. It’s up to you to get along with it. Still, the computer can go crazy and do odd and strange things. It catches viruses, gets shorts, bombs out, etc. Somehow, tonight, I feel that the less said about the computer, the better.


—Charles Bukowski, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship

Feb 26, 2017

The memory of a photograph not taken.

Feb 8, 2017

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Some pictures for an exhibition.

Feb 6, 2017

Dust

A particularly entertaining sense of ennui and a general one of ungiven fucks metastasise into the entire week, creeping up from the Friday afternoons with a hint of breeze and plenty of leftover sleeplessness in the air. Legs propped up against a stolen quote off Bukowski on the windowpane (taped among other neatly aligned bits of paper and rescued remains of stickers and knick-knacks catching, and then releasing shards of the fading light into the otherwise unmoving insides of the studio) and sponsor-logoed cups in various stages of growing moulds over leftover tea, one leaning adventurously over the sill onto the stack of ungodly coffee-shop-issue-sachets of sugar and dairy powder, as if to say “any day now,” one silently thinks up variations of “HOW I WON OVER THE FADING LIGHT OF THE DAY AND FOUND JOY IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS” and several impossible ways of syndicating it to the three or four websites still not strong on their title games. I mentally edit out the JOY and look for a catchier word to take its place.

HAPPINESS would do. Or maybe, DUST.

On the Railway Line, Rats

The train is empty on the inside, bustling with life at the doors. I find a soon-to-be-window seat at the far end of the compartment, opposite a visibly annoyed specimen (who had to relieve my seat of his own propped legs) and someone who looks like a very responsible father to college-going children. I see he is worried. I feel like starting a conversation then remember I don’t really feel like it. I bury my head in the Kindle and instantly regret looking at the letters too closely. I had cheaped out and bought the one that made them look like they ran out of curves. After four (five-ish) stations, the window-seat is mine and the specimen is happy again, I lean my face onto the muddied pane and look at healthy rats run around the tracks at Sion. It makes me think of the last time I went to a barber shop, eleven or so years into the past. I had always picked the one on the slope up, right before the Co-operative Bank on the left and assorted Ayurvedic medicine shops on the right, tucked right behind the unofficial parking for buses ferrying the few who still wanted to head to Sivapuram. The inside half of the shop always had heaps of cut hair in neat, undulating piles. One could tell each person’s hair apart, as if it retained a memory of who it came from and clung together in a final act of beauty. 

I look up at a train unload its burden onto the platform on the other side, moving on before stolen glances allow themselves to turn into something beyond punctuations around bending over pieces of light in their hands. All the love stories that could have been theirs, depress people leaning out of the compartments. Some find love on the tracks, never meeting because a geometry lesson tells them so. Most glance up from their lives backlit on endless loops and miss the tracks. 

Flannels

It is between cringing at the type-size in the Jonathan Franzen Purity paperback and fruitlessly hunting for an unwrapped copy of Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom, that the flannel-clad girl moves out from beyond the Indian Literary Fiction shelves. Given my truckloads of inexperience with the ladies and the double barrelled confusion that had presented itself in the last sentence, I fail to react to her presence at first, take two steps back onto the Jeffrey Archer-JRR Tolkien stack. I look up from the barren colophon page and into her eyes, for the briefest of moments. They are black, everyday eyes, but something about the spectacles framing them makes one think of old magazine ads for detergent powder. I follow the tips of her fingers as she reaches out for a white paperback edition of In Custody. I wonder if she properly punctuated her text messages. I wonder if I should find out. I put the Franzen back where it came from and nod to the person calling out THE SHOP WILL CLOSE NOW. It is far too early. It is always far too early. I get out into the footpath and break through a stream of people heading for the station. I find the chaiwallah two pillars from the shop, and take in the cool wind. It is raining somewhere else. 

I reach the end of the cup, squinting at the dregs, and it smells of detergent. It occurs to me I should look up.

Jan 26, 2017

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2016

Jan 25, 2017

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Jan 24, 2017

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Congratulations! It is a 2COffset!

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A Kochi extended, imagined. Biennale, 2017.

Jan 10, 2017

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“Our Chief Design Evangelist will meet you now.”

Dec 4, 2016

Shadow of The Wind. Like a spilled bottle of Gentian-Violet over fresh toilet paper. Or the other way around. 

Here is a little list of things so far, this year. Now I can’t sop worrying whether that first semicolon was egregious.

Nov 26, 2016

A new project, on the Dandi Salt March, is up at keyaar.in/salt

This is an interactive data visualisation of the Salt March. While it resizes somewhat awkwardly on a narrow screen, I wouldn’t recommend it. (My biggest gripe still, is the absence of a sensible way to input proper apostrophes and dashes in Windows. Bear with me on this, I am as horrified as you are.)

Thanks to Prof. Venkatesh, Arihant (code-ninja), Prof. Greg Polk and Shri Sethu Das Ji, and their help and support, I only worked on this for five months and not a decade and a half.

Nov 17, 2016

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