Posts tagged with “Text”

Jun 24, 2017

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Found this cleaning bookshelves. The corrections are by M or D, I can’t remember now. Fun times; I used to think tiny type was what set the pros apart.

Apr 7, 2017

H and G enter a clearing in the woods. They see the daal-chaaval house at the far edge. The children are hungry and the house a promise of a full belly. They approach the door, chained and padlocked. The doorkeeper wouldn’t let them in until they tell him their most sacred secrets, most treasured stories. Tthey are baffled by the request. Hungry and out of their depth, they bare their hearts and think nothing of it. The doorkeeper collects their stories in two glass jars, ties a piece of cloth around H’s, corks G’s.

H and G enter the first room and see other children leave breadcrumbs everywhere as they walk around. The doorkeeper and his friends tread on them, now and then. The children’s stories ooze out from the crumbs and fill the room with their scent and wetness. The children look starved, holding on to the perfect golden loaves of bread in their hands. An invisible hand gives H and G two whole loaves soaked in the tales they parted with at the door. As they tear into the perfect golden crust, the invisible hand guides the pieces away from their mouths and onto the ground. Being children, they think nothing of this. Their hunger is now unbearable.

H and G enter the second room. It is wider and the walls are painted a blinding white. The ceiling, set too high to be inside the house they thought they had gotten into, is set high, at-least a hundred leaps into the metric system. They are asked to prove their H-ness and G-ness. Their loaves of bread are now almost all gone, crumbs outlining the paths they walked, leaving only the faintest aroma of the secrets they once held. The children have already forgotten half their stories. An hour or so of fiddling with the leftover pieces later, they are nodded at and declared worthy of staying in the second room. Along the high walls, they now see windows; some open, some not. Squinting, G manages to catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes behind one of the open, veiled windows. A falling loaf of bread distracts her. She may have imagined the eyes. (Nobody would build a daal-chaval house only to spy on the children, would they?)

The children think nothing of it all. Their hunger is now complete.

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 moved down to the basement with more people joining, and now realised it was time to abandon the plumbing nightmare altogether. While we were staying together, I had taken to an IKEA folding chair despite the studio’s insistence on the new, ergonomically 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 to one of its legs, to tell it apart from the other three identical ones. And I had started calling it Tinku. It was a perforated steel chair and the name made no sense (It sounds silly in hindsight. In my defence, I called the 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 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 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 those 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.

For 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 not, in fact, 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 bed, waiting for the chair to be turned in mellow circles. Some chairs are cat chairs. I remember the two grass-woven moodas 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 chairs. They made us variously lean forward, stretch out and even do the wheelie equivalent on chairs. They were accomodating of our lack of exercise and too much Bun-Maska in the mornings. They didn’t judge us like the plastic ones. 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 the GU 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 studio 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. 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, 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 legends’ 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 decided to save myself the minor heartbreak watching it carried off to a truck, and leave early. I reached the studio the day after and settled 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) arrived with the extended family, and went 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 had 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 walked back in, Mr. D stopped by the cabinet of magazines and packaging we couldn’t make ourselves throw away, and pulled out Tinku with no trace of a flourish. I froze in my tracks as Mrs. M retold 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 and 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 the Prisma (Patent Pending) 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 up close, 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”) afterall.

What are the chairs you remember?

*

Wrote this for the IDC online magazine. (Updated on March 3, 2017.)

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.

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.

Oct 30, 2016

I like longwinded reserved-in-advance-because-not-hardcore-enough train journeys for the environmental bragging rights as much as the flooded toilets and miniaturised trashcans. I was told IRCTC has started mentioning these in the second page (or third, I don’t want to remember) of the totally multipage PrintEticket.pdf, right under the multicolour ad for a hotel cheaper than a half-decent print-out of the PrintEticket.pdf. I have this thing of printing out colour PDFs in colour and the black and white ones at half the size. Don’t ask. Then I started looking for the “agree to terms and policy while we remove your left kidney and replace it with a life-size nendran banana ripened with Sulfur and whatnot” and failed after the third try. I wish they did the same thing to SMS confirmations and sent a minor Murakami novel sized text along after each booking, and employed unemployed graphic/interaction designers to slyly infiltrate them with links to paid porn sites and whatnot. 

The four old ladies, Gujarati and clad in overflowing headdresses and unapologetic laughter and keeping the lights on till midnight lent an unmistakable AnjaliMenon vibe to the whole journey. I climbed up to my sideupper and waited for the coach to go up in purple Dakshin-Railway smoke and a bubbly vatful of stuff of questionable pedigree to appear any minute while the last of the MealsOnWheels guys peddled leftover dinners and overpriced tapwater in classy plastic bottles. I couldn’t tell when my disappointment segued into much undeserved sleep and it was morning already and the toilets were appropriately flooded and the miniaturised trashcannots. 

The old ladies retained their highvolume laughter and what appeared to be inside jokes from the outside and mercilessly ignored yourstruly all the way till Panvel where two of them get down and the third go wait at the door for an illicit stop at Diva. Then the last of them tell me they are old schoolmates and Kalupur has a shrine where they go once in a while and I should get married and they do these trips often and have been to places I have not been to and why am I not settled yet and they had gone to Munnar and the weather was nice and sorry for laughing so loud all the way and especially inside tunnels and I should probably go wait at the door for the stop at Thane because the crowd is insane and one should not jump off moving trains on account of old ladies apologising for laughter and having a good time. 

I tell her it is hard to imagine myself doing the things they are doing at their age and she smiles that comment away and laughs and looks out the window into the sunset behind tall buildings and flyovers and hoardings for jet black phones and unlimited storage space for all your memories at very low EMIs.

Apr 23, 2016

We were sat in the second floor of your typical Mumbai office building—not one of the IKEA-perfect new ones, but an old one that leaked and the elevators refused to run up and the dogs slept on landings along the staircases. We were discussing openness in the comfort of an air-conditioner drowned in cups of masala tea. I was quoting Doctorov and Siddhartha Lal and the mechanic at the RE dealership in Kozhikode in an attempt to flip their buttered-side-down views on confidentiality and trust. The stories I told were probably too balmy and rounded-edged, but it managed to refill my own faith in businesses and people. I left happy they may probably not be hiring KL11 for this project. These are very good people to have known; building this product from a private, commendable vision up.

In the evening, I cycle downhill to the theatre, hoping to be on time for Leela. One realises it isn’t a theatre anymore, but something lesser, sinister, lodged in the slowly moving parts of the city not unlike cheap 2T oil. One realises it is wrong to expect theatre-ey feelings from something that clearly isn’t. The multiplex is housed on the third floor, a Maslow’s tomb of fastfood, clothing, beauty parlours and coaching centres. The gate is closed and the security, bored and sunburnt. He shooes me away, with a “cycles aren’t allowed” and I protest, “this is a vehicle too,” holding the bike in between us and putting the weight of my words onto it. I secretly wish for a moment it grows a heart of internal combustion and a couple of whiskers. That it envelops me in petrol fumes and makes the afternoon sun shine through, silhouetting me against a firework of colours. He wouldn’t have any of it, flips the table, and walks away. While I had planned ahead for some sufffering at the ATM, this humiliation was not prepaid for, after a sweaty ride allover campus and down JVLR. The logical thing would be to dump the bike along the road, hoping it doesn’t get resource-shared while I look away from the popcorn stand. Instead, I mount the less-than-vehicle and ride all the way back in silence.

The city smartens up, giving the Chinese a run for their oxygen masks. The online ticket-machine wants you to ride a bicycle down to the movies. It is cute. The metropolis is saying it is my fault being single and riding a non-vehicle in summer. Maybe it will open up if one burns some petrol at its altars. I catch myself wondering what it will take for us to pause and revel at the screwed up visions of tomorrow in our waking dreams. What it will take for the Decathlon crowd to realise the lines over at their Strava account are only smaller, less significant versions of the lines they could draw over a city of traffic jams and cowdung and potholes and beautiful strangers in brightly coloured polyester.

I feel like the city has rejected me for something I believed was an act of deliberation, made to feel much less than welcome for something I thought was an act not less than a stolen kiss. Don’t get me wrong. I think spark-plugs are wondrous things, like fireflies or stars over a Gurgaon sky. I just want us to remember two-wheels and pedalling can be beautiful too. Till then, you can take the user experience of that bicycle icon and shelve it up places unkissed by the summer sun.

Apr 17, 2016

One could say the bus driver had a weird taste in music. One could say that about almost everybody else also. He loved old numbers with hard-to-follow lyrics and peppy beats. The kind one always recalls hearing the day before and spends the rest of the day humming to its imaginary beat, putting ill-fitting words onto its sick jigsaw puzzling joke of a words’ nest until it is too late to even give up.

His favourite in the mornings was Raat Baaki. As the bus exited Gita Mandir bus-adda and entered Sardar Bridge, he would start thumping the horn to the song’s beat, and as he passed the flower market abuzz with predawn sales, he would reach the second stanza. On low-traffic days, he would just skip to it anyway. Tea-and-biscuit-wallahs join him on the bridge, their cycle bells and chains on freewheels texturing the not-yet-morning into the tempest off the insides of a young one in love—not disillusioned enough, not cynical enough, not yet.

Then the wind carries the song over to Ellisbridge, onto Jamalpur and beyond, waking everything up into its embrace. The city wakes up in love, longing for the night to fall again.

Jan 5, 2016

Aeon shares an awe-inspiring video portrait of Dr. Mahabir Pun, the Nepali educationist and social entrepreneur who runs the Himanchal Education Foundation in Nangi.

Dec 5, 2015

Craig Mod writes of pixels and ink; reading books on a screen and eventually on paper. Then Hugh McGuire says we can’t, anymore.

Nov 5, 2015

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The book in its full-blown, glorious, pentacolour, corner-curling, PDF snarkiness can be downloaded here.

Answers is a response to Prof. Girish Dalvi’s prompts during the DW1 module; it is a sort of design manifesto masquerading as a type-setting assignment. It is a ‘meta-book’ not unlike Dekho, in that it self references too often, and is aware of itself as an object throughout the content. To me, this is an interesting way of addressing the concepts of value, and (to my 26 year old self) there is nothing else that screams it out louder than sneaked in references. 

Sep 19, 2015

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Aug 20, 2015

Never meet your idols in the flesh.

Painful to see the thin layer of sophistication and austerity melt over the cup of tea and few words.

Aug 10, 2015

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It is in another ceramic studio, nine hours from Paldi, that Mr.D’s message arrives, bringing with it the news of MP Ranjan’s untimely demise. The message is an austere single sentence; one could see Mr.D struggling to type it out.

MPR took us through DCC at NID when we were unformed, idealistic teenagers nibbling at this alien, amorphous thing called design, while his contagious passion for a people-centred design practice was almost palpable, like the hot, humid Amdavadi air in the summer. Three and a half years later, I would interview him for my graduation project, and he would talk me through the enormous volume of grainy, digitised photographs from his early days as a student of design, his toy-factory years, the beginnings of DCC, Katlamara and Jawaja projects; images of an Indian design identity being shaped as if in a slow-turning lathe. It is this hands-on-designer in MPR that surprisingly finds scant mention in most media. Among the photographs were moments from field trips across India, making one long for times of simpler, more meaningful things, times when building these things was of greater value than the pedestals they were put on. His insistence on this greater purpose of design as a profession continues to be relevant even after five decades of Charles Eames’ ‘cardboard-computer’ vision for indigenous design.

His spirit will continue to inspire generations of people to look at design as a powerful tool shaping societies and livelihoods.

Anupam Purty shot the portrait for Dekho. The image on the right is from MPR’s archive. 
Notes: DCC is Design Concepts and Concerns, the course helmed by MPR at NID. The Eames’ cardboard reference is from An Eames Primer, Eames Demetrios. See page 227 here.

Aug 4, 2015

It is by accident the first bittersweet glass of Sulaimani finds someone new to a city. 

The ten-past-midnight cafe has a boarded up half-counter and a furlong-long menu up front, yellow ketchup bottles allover tabletopia and a dog or two writhing scripts on the floor, taking well punctuated turns. It is the kind of place where you find a stray grain off someone’s chicken-fried-rice on your plate of very honest chicken, or aloo paranthas wrapped around more aloo, and keep not looking at it with such exhausting deliberation you end up ordering another premature dish and drown it in nimboo paani. Then one goes up to the half-counter to ‘askforyourmenu’ and lets the shopkeeper concoct an acceptable version of the lemony beverage. One finds out the ‘tea’ part is the kind of affair wrapped in paper-bags, and continues to hold on to the glass until it gets awkward.

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