Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Documenting Delhi

Author Tarquin Hall introduced me to an unusual Delhi slum in The Case of the Man who Died Laughing (2010):
The slum, one of Delhi's largest, was inhabited almost entirely by street entertainers: puppeteers, snake charmers, bear handlers, musicians, acrobats, troupes of actors who performed plays with social messages, the odd story-teller, and jadoo wallahs. But the view through the scratched, convex windshield was depressingly familiar: a sooty ghetto of ramshackle brick houses smothered in cow dung patties. Plastic sheeting, chunks of concrete, and twisted scrap metal were draped over roofs. Canvas tents were pitched amidst heaps of garbage where filthy, half-clad children defecated and played.
Hall went on to describe the incident in such vivid detail that it was a clear, crisp movie playing in my mind- in fact, when trying to recall where I had previously come across the slum, I had to discard the idea of a movie/ video, it seemed that real. Anyways, and again, credit to Tarquin Hall, I was so enthralled by the book that I forgot my intention to google the slum: he never even mentioned its name, only that it's in Shadipur.

It's called the Kathputli Colony, where wandering magicians and entertainers settled sometime in the 1950s, on public land which was then barren, but now prime property, courtesy of the Metro.

The name seems familiar-ish now that I know what it is, as if it was always on the edges of my consciousness. I'm sure I've come across it before.

This post was prompted by this brilliant trailer (and appeal) for Tomorrow We Disappear, a documentary by American filmmakers Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber.

The slum land now belongs to a private developer, so it's most probably in its last days, soon to become another entry in the long list of lost traditions and quirks that made Delhi Delhi. I'm not saying that slums are good, and need to be conserved. But I certainly think that the art and culture of this particular slum needs to be saved- or at least, remembered.

Jim and Adam are attempting to do exactly that- their movie will document Kathputli Colony as it is today. (As far as I know, it does not aim at stopping the eviction.)

The clips they have are beautiful. Also, I love the music they chose.

This project is similar to HandpaintedType, by which graphic designer Hanif Kureshi is attempting to preserve the tradition of street-painting. You know, the painters who sit on roadsides and make posters/ banners/ car number plates. Before watching this video I never fully appreciated their skill. All I had were semi-curious half thoughts about how exactly they do it (especially since I've been required to draw guidelines for my text) - do they draw guides, do they use rulers, do they make a first draft, do they outline and and then fill-in later? Now I know, some-what.

Painter Kureshi from hanif kureshi on Vimeo.
Came across Tomorrow We Disappear on Kickstarter, which is an awesomely brilliant platform where creative-types can get funding for their ideas and projects. (In a seemingly-random-but-obviously-preordained coincidence, Kickstarter was mentioned in three of the blogs I follow, all on the same day. Crazy.) Discovered so many interesting and quirky and intelligent and crazy (good and bad) and so-obvious-why-didn't-someone-think-of-it-before ideas! Here are some of my favourites:

  1. Ruler Pencils, rulers on pencils (product design) (!)
  2. The Present, an annual clock (product design)
  3. Typographic wall calender (graphic design)
  4. The Montserrat typeface (typography) (another attempt at documenting the intangible culture of a place before it's lost)
  5. Romo, the smartphone robot (technology) (so crazy and cute!)
How is it that expats/ foreigners/ tourists sometimes (often) know your city better than you do? Tarquin Hall is a British journalist, Jim and Adam are American, and recently I (with Delhi Dallying and friends) participated in a surprisingly tough Delhi quiz hosted by another British journalist, Sam Miller, and which was (surprise!) won by other foreigners (of unknown nationality).
Also, Happy Diwali!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ek Anek Ekta

Via Jabberwock and then Anita and Amit Vachharajani:

Ek Anek Ekta, 1974, animated short film for Doordarshan 

How BRILLIANT is this short? I love, LOVE it. The narrative flows so well, and there are so many small instances which make the movie for me: the boy struggling to pick the mangoes in the beginning, the innocent voices, the secular, let's-all-unite! message, how the white people become colourful, the mala metaphor, my mom remembering the song and singing along!

Wonderful how small things can make you so happy.
In their blog Amit (illustrator/film assistant) and Anita (author) Vachharajani talk about an eclectic mix of thing- but most interestingly about old, retro Indian memorabilia- comics, magazines, TV. I would never have known that Amitabh Bachchan starred in his very own superhero comic! His alter-ego: the Supremo, helped by his loyal side-kicks, Vijay and Anthony. You can read about the Vachharajani's adventures with Supremo here and here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

...someone in China or India can do your work more cheaply than you can.

I'm currently reading A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World (Daniel Pink, 2005), and it's both nice and fucking-annoying at the same time. Pink (imagine having that as your surname) is basically saying that the world is a-changing, that previously looked-down-on 'right-brain' skills (such as creativity, looking-at-the-big-picture, empathy) are going to be more valuable than the traditionally admired 'left-brain' skills (such as logic and sequential thinking). To survive in this scary, topsy-turvy world where design, for example, is a better career option than engineering, law or medicine, we need to apply both sides of our brain- basically, a 'whole' new mind. While I love the title (and the cover, it's neon!), I'm not sure about the book itself.

First of all, my version has a ton of typos and grammatical errors, which I just don't understand. I mean, how could the editors/ proof readers/ whoever let this happen? This is a minor concern, though, and the main reason for my annoyance is quite different.

Pink (I just love using his surname) says -and I guess I agree- that the main reasons for the fall of the left-brainers are Abundance, Asia and Automation. Abundance, because there's so much wealth and so many products that the only things which differentiate one offering from the other is design or marketing or story-telling, and not the function of the product itself. Asia and Automation because, well, now either machines or low-paid workers in India can do the technical boring bits for much less money. So, the only way to survive in such an economy is to adapt and offer services which can't be done by the machines or the low-paid Indian workers.

I started getting annoyed pretty early on, because I kept feeling that Dan was saying (though not stating) that Asian workers were not capable of doing such creative work, that America, UK and Canada were somehow more evolved countries which had already made the shift from the Information Age to the "Conceptual Age". Somewhat irrational, I know, but I just hate the American arrogance or whatever which makes it seem that now the menial and routine work can be outsourced, and whole-brained people must "rise" in the first world for it to maintain its supremacy. This theme recurs throughout the book (I've read till page 183 of 247) and makes me gnaw my teeth every time. I mean, first you promote globalization, because you want a wider market for your products, and then, when globalization also means that you have to compete in the global market for work, then it's a bad thing?

But Pink doesn't really say that. What he's saying is that "we" need to deal with it, and adapt ourselves. Yes, I know, I'm not making much sense, even to myself, and I also know that this book was written in 2005 by an American for Americans and I've already said that I know I'm being irrational. But I really, really hate how Pink goes on and on about Asians (especially Indians) now doing the routine left-brain work. I feel like he's constantly deriding their right-brain capabilities by assuming that Americans are in competition with Asians only for left-brain jobs. This, when everyday I come across so many examples of amazing design work done by Indians, when I hear that the science stream topper from my brother's school is studying design at NID. This is my issue with the book: I think that the whole world is waking up to the power of right-brain thinking, and not just the western, "advanced" world.

By some weird quirk of fate (ha) I came across this article the same day I was feeling all pissed about the book, and the author made me feel better about Americans in general. The author says:
When you say of the Indians, “evidently, the quality is good enough,” I can tell you that yes, it is, and often it is better. There is a lot of design talent beyond our borders — educated, clear thinking, visionary, with great enthusiasm and a tremendous work ethic. To us insular Americans, this may be shockingGet unshocked, and get ready to play. It’s a good thing. 
and this is the attitude I was looking for, not the let's-develop-new-skills-that-the-Indians-don't-have-so-we-can-maintain-our-domination. Argh, I feel as if I'm being excessively critical again, but I can't help it. And I have to say that in spite of all this, I do think that the book is pretty good, it does talk a lot of sense, and it offers some much-needed advice. I may not love it, but I do like it.

On an aside, Before and After Magazine's "design talks" are pretty interesting. They have some nice free stuff to download/ watch too.
Also, came across this neat illustration when image-searching for the book cover:
The artist's "visual notes" for the book.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Designing the life and death of

How the Newsweeklies Covered (and Designed) the Death of Steve Jobs - Grids - SPD.ORG - Grids:

'via Blog this'

Amazing article on what went on behind-the-scenes at Time, Bloomberg Businessweek and Newsweek. Reading about the sheer energy and the commitment driving each team-member as they worked towards the absolutely brilliant covers and spreads is exhilarating. And since the decision to go with special issues focusing entirely on Jobs was so last-minute (for obvious reasons) the office environment doesn't seem much different from an all-nighter the day before the final for a group project. When you're just so crazily focused on making the deadline, it's like a major case of tunnel vision. Seriously, you have to live it to believe it. Rohan, Varun and I got the crazies while trying to finish ANDC: I reached home at 3 in the night, no lunch, no dinner, but many phone calls and lets-abuse-the-battery-backup-limitations-of-our-laptops sessions and even more place hopping later. We went from Ghaziabad to Indirapuram to hostel to New Friends to Julena to ITO to hostel to Julena, all in the course of some 7-8 hours, in the pursuit of a working plotting machine.

I want to own all the three magazines. Time and Newsweek for the brilliant cover-photographs, but especially Bloomberg Businessweek because the cover-back spread is printed on a metallic silver base. Gah.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Art is for everyone

From Art Direction Explained, At Last!, an imaginary (but well researched) conversation between legendary graphic designer Pierre Bernard and maverick adman Pascal Gregoire:

GREGOIRE: Wait a minute! Weren't you also mixing codes with your Louvre logo? You used a black-and-white photograph of a cloud as the background for the word LOUVRE, spelled out in all caps. The letters look like they have been carved out of marble, yet they float in space. It makes no sense.
BERNARD: I was trying to convey the idea of grandeur, something associated with the Louvre institution, but also with the concept of public space and the democratic values attached to it. Originally, I had proposed a logo inspired by I.M. Pei's pyramid, but he vetoed it. It was written in his contract that the only triangle would be his triangle. So I decided to evoke the presence of the glass pyramid by integrating in the design of the logo a photograph of the cloudy Parisian sky as seen through Pei's iconographic skylight. 
I learnt many things from this anecdote. One of which is: I.M. Pei has a hell of an ego. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


As part of my course, we need to spend our 8th semester (starting January 2012) getting work experience and training at an architecture firm/wherever-the-hell-you-get-an-internship.

This is what I've come up with:

Would love some feedback! And if you spot a typo please tell me about it, I might still be able to correct it. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

God knows. Or does he?

This flow of creation, from where did it arise,
Whether it was ordered or was not,
He, the Observer, in the highest heaven,
He alone knows, unless... He know it not.
From the Hymn to Creation, the Nasadiya Sukta, in the Rig Veda.

So, there's no answer. How... quirky.

I'm currently reading Introducing Hinduism: A Graphic Guide. So you can blame it for my sudden philosophical slant.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Words divide, pictures unite.
Words are pictures too.

Ideograms and ideographs convey ideas without explicitly stating them.
From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
late 14c., "archetype of a thing in the mind of God; Platonic `idea,'" from L. idea "idea," and in Platonic philosophy "archetype," from Gk. idea "ideal prototype," lit. "the look of a thing (as opposed to the reality); form; kind, sort, nature," from idein "to see," from PIE *wid-es-ya-, suffixed form of base *weid- "to see" (see vision). Sense of "result of thinking" first recorded 1640s.
From V for Vendetta (2006):
But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I've witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I've seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them... but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it... ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love... And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man... A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.
Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.
From the V for Vendetta graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd