Friday, July 23, 2021

The Dignity


      Photo by P M Dalwade

It was about five decades ago.

I came to Ahmedabad and NID.

I met Giraben, the then executive director.

I found her formidable.

It wasn't because she was a minimalist talker.

She was very simple.

Short and frail.

Nothing to indicate that she was a great lady.

That she was an architect who worked under the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.

That she belongs to India's giant textile industry family.

That she played a key role in establishing NID.

That she was the founder of the world's finest textile museum.

Ignorance on my part. 

Quiet dignity on her part.

Two factors made me carry highest respect for her.

One is the Calico museum.

The meticulous care and detailing where no one can equal her.

The other is the following incident.

Narrated to me by Dasharath Patel. Here it is in my words. 


In the late sixties, NID undertook a historic 'Nehru exhibition ' project.

The prime minister's direct interest.

World's well known designer Charles Eames was brought to NID to lead.

The whole project team worked in one spacious hall.

It was an open office system.

Every morning Eames used to go to each member to check the work.

That particular day he went to a new recruit draftsman.

The young fellow could not follow what was said to him.

Eames explained again and again but no avail.

Finally Eames lost his cool and scolded him.

Rather harshly and loudly.

The young fellow was in tears as it was a public humiliation.

Eames left the hall in a huff.

The news reached Giraben who was resting at home.

Her health was often delicate.

She phoned Eames and asked if the news was true.

When it was confirmed, she asked him to apologize. 

She knew Eames' stature as the world’s greatest designer.

He was prime minister's guest.

The young draftsman on the other hand was insignificant.

But, is that the point?

The point is dignity.

"If not..." she continued softly, politely but firmly.

"We thank you for your kind service so far. Now, I am afraid, we may have to do the exhibition ourselves, poorly perhaps.  Your accounts will be settled immediately and your return passage to U.S.A. will be arranged. My due respects. So long." 


That afternoon when the project studio opened, it was a touching scene.

Charles Eames entered the studio with a bouquet of flowers.

He went straight to the young draftsman whom he scolded earlier.

"I am sorry for my misbehaviour in the morning.

Will you please accept these flowers as a mark of friendship and forgiveness?"

The young fellow was in tears. For a different reason now!


Giraben passed away few days ago.

But our reverence for her lives on.


S Balaram 20.7.2021

Friday, July 2, 2021

In Praise of: Wasting Time, Working Less, Being Slow and Fooling Around


Any one you talk to today will say that he/she is very busy and packed with work. Let us leave aside those who say it as fashion or as a result of inner insecurity or work holism. It is a fact that all of us rush breathlessly from one task to another, often multi-tasking and constantly under pressure. We feel ashamed to say “I am doing nothing”, which is work-shaming. We also constantly feel sorry that we have not achieved much.

Is it really necessary?!

What is achievement? Is it worth burning yourself up fast?

If you do one thing at a time and if you do it slowly, you can enjoy it. Life is not a running marathon. When you eat your food slowly; not distracted by TV or cell phone or any other thing, concentrating on the taste, noticing the colour and texture of the food, the aroma and the warmth/cold, you will relish it. Gobbling up hurriedly is just filling stomach without any pleasure.

If one gobbles up an ice cream in a hurry or drinks wine in one gulp, there is no joy of eating or drinking. The real pleasure is in having them in small sips/bites, leisurely; taking as much time as you can.

In the act of love making, the longer you make it last, more you delay the climax, better the (orgasmic) pleasure. A soft, gentle speaking will appeal to the heart better than a fast blast.

If you do few things; calmly, chances are that you will do them well.

Zen way is doing work slowly. The world famous Tea ceremony of Japan is to prepare tea very very leisurely which gives the practitioners spiritual benefit.

From slowness to few things and from few things to nothing. You must have a break from the “busyness”. That break should not be having vacation travel or booze party or taking drugs. That is nothing but another kind of busy life and another kind of tension leading to addiction.  That break should be doing absolutely nothing. Not even thinking.

Some may call it meditation. You may call it whatever you like but it should be totally different. No talk, no work, no thought. Don’t be afraid of “Doing nothing” or just sleeping or just eating. Work shaming is as bad as body shaming. Is meditation waste of time?

Faster breathing or faster doing leads to shorter life span. Recent research states that stress is one of the main causes for decreasing your immunity and making your body susceptible to all forms of virus. Yoga practice always calls for slow and deep breathing which improves health and longevity.

Modern Science proved the strong influence mind has on body. Extreme fear causes sweating, sexual thoughts cause erection; and sight or thought of your favourite food causes mouth-watering. The well known placebo effect cures incurable diseases. According to famous psychologist Carl Jung; “thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”. If only you resist the urge to judge, you can be calm enough to think.

Modern medicine says that sleep is the food for the mind and increasing insomnia (sleeplessness) is the cause of many illnesses. Natural sleep is essential for recharging our brain cells.

It is natural to smile when one is happy because of a real live event or recollection or anticipation of a happy event. Modern behavioural science states that the reverse phenomenon also happens. Mind follows body too. A smile even forced, will create pleasant sensations in the person. Laughing clubs are based on this principle and their popularity proves this fact. Great British Economist E.F.Schumaker said: small is beautiful. I say smile is beautiful.

Creativity thrives on fooling around playfully and tinkering with things. Life is not worth living if you do not smile, laugh and not fool around playfully.

To sum up: I want you to be happy and mentally sober. I ask you to be slow, work less, waste time, say hell with achievement and fool around.

I am dead serious about it. By constantly thinking of past or fearing the future, we contaminate the present. For many, past is a pest of bad memories and future is a torture of fears. If you think of happy memories only of past, imagine a hopeful future and treat present as present from god; try to change what you can and accept gracefully what you can’t; we will have no mental tension at all.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Golden Eyes and Silver Feet


Balaram was born in a farmer’s family in a small village Gunnathota Valasa near Bobbili town in Andhra Pradesh.

 The first son, in fact the first child in the family, he was named Balarama for the plough-bearing older brother of Lord Krishna. The second child, also a son was named Krishna and the third, a daughter, was inevitably Subhadra. The day when his mother went into labor and Subhadra was born, his father collapsed in the fields and was brought home dead. Later, the village elders pronounced that it was the impudence of naming the children after the divine siblings which brought about the father’s end.

As it was a custom in the south, the first  delivery child, Balarama was born in the maternal grand parents’ home in Jakkuva, another village. As a baby, he was fair and attractive and the entire village wanted to carry him and play with him.  It was summer, the month when the village worshiped their village goddess Daadi Thalli. In this nine-week festival, the goddess, in the form of a garlanded brass pot, is carried round the village in a procession every night and every household makes offerings of rice, sweets and fruit. Women compete for the honour of carrying the goddess on head; babies are laid on the procession’s path to receive the goddess’s blessing as the women walk over them. Balarama, beautiful child that he was, enjoyed being carried round the festivities and fed sweets and fruit. 

One evening during the procession and celebrations, moving from one villager’s shoulders to the other, the baby suddenly balled his fists, drew rigid and had a seizure. The villager’s rushed him home and everything was tried to revive the baby in vain. The body grew cold. Someone suggested that branding the baby would revive him. So this was done and a hot iron was placed on his wrists and knees and forehead. Still, no life. The women began wailing. It was past mid-night, the goddess had been returned to her shrine outside the village. 

The village Brahmin, and the village considered itself lucky to have at least one, was slightly knowledgeable in herbs. Hearing of the wailing and the death of the child, he arrived. After an examination of the body, he pronounced that there was still some flicker of life which perhaps could be rekindled with a kashayam of three wild root herbs; Verri, Veysari and Kaaru samba. Immediately, the villagers dispersed into the surrounding area with hurricane lanterns. An hour later they were back without being able to find the herbs. It was pitch dark and these were wild shrubs. By now, everyone had given up and the body was moved outside the home, to be buried in the morning. 

Balarama’s grandmother could not give up. How could she? This was her daughter’s firstborn and a male child in the family after years. She called a farmhand and rushed herself to the Daadithalli shrine outside the village, braving the snakes and wolves. 

Prostrating herself before the goddess, the old woman wept, swearing that if this baby was saved, she would lay him at the feet of the Goddess during the procession and offer her golden eyes and silver feet. She wiped her tears and turned back. The farmhand shone the lantern so the despondent old woman could walk the uneven path home. Then, in the light, in the enclosure within which the shrine lay, the astonished farmhand sighted the first of the three herbs. Then, a few steps away the second. And nearby, just ahead, the third. These three herbs, never sighted together, were found right there near the goddess. They both rushed home, the kashayam was made, the baby’s rigid jaws forced upon and the mixture poured down the throat. And Balarama (now Balaram) lived to tell this story. 

In the next day’s procession he was laid in the goddess’s path to receive her blessings. Balaram even today has the brand marks, a deep scar in the middle of his forehead and stains on his wrists and knees. And in his maternal grandmother’s village, Daadi Thalli has shining golden eyes and silver feet.

(I am grateful to Suchitra Balasubramaniyam who wrote this piece impromptu when I casually mentioned this fact of my life.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Genesis of Design Education in India and 5 Institutions of My involvement


1) How NID Ahmedabad started:

1950s were post independence days and hectic rebuilding of India under Prime Minister Nehru's leadership was taking place.

At the 'Textiles of India' Exhibition in New York, Pupul Jayakar met Charles Eames, a world known designer. Pupul Jayakar was a doyen of Indian culture and close associate of Indira Gandhi, the would-be prime minister. She envisioned Design as an essential component for India’s Development. She had influenced the Indian government to invite Eames to India to advise us how design can help India's development goals and how to go about it.

In 1958, Charles and Ray Eames visited major Craft centres in India and presented their 'India Report'. The report was very evocative and general and the interpretation in terms of specific physical plan / finance was left out..

Based on that report, NID was established in 1961. The government considered 3 Indian craft centres for locating the institute – Hyderabad, Muradabad and Ahmedabad.


 The illustrious Sarabhai family which owned the country’s prominent textile industry, Calico mills, had exceptional foresight, took keen interest in establishing NID in Ahmedabad and offered free land. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian space science, belonged to the family.


It was the time of Cold war in world politics and the Nehru cabinet adopted nonalignment policy for India. Thus, Ford Foundation became major fund provider in India. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York had sent their “well designed objects” travelling exhibition to India. The exhibition was sent to Hyderabad, Muradabad and Ahmedabad and finally the entire collection was donated to NID.


Gautam Sarabhai, the owner of Calico mills, was its first chairman and Gira Sarabhai, the Founder of Calico Museum of Textiles, was the first Executive Director.


Finding of design faculty and design students for this unknown domain of education was the biggest challenge.


Three innovative strategies were adopted by the management.

1. To invite top designers from abroad to visit NID to work on National level Projects. The Indian students would learn from them as trainee apprentices.

2. To invite best teachers from abroad as visiting faculty to teach at NID for short periods. Some of the best design schools such as Ulm, Royal college of Art were contacted.

3. To start stipendiary post-graduate programs in different disciplines for creating teachers.


For this, graduates from related fields such as architecture, Fine arts and engineering were invited. .After completion of the PG program, the best among them were sent to great world design schools for advanced studies.


The Industrial Design Program at NID started in 1965- 66 with 12 students, (engineering /architecture backgrounds) and Kumar Vyas was their only full time teacher.  Sudha Nadkarni after his studies at HFG Ulm, joined as second teacher in 1967.

The other disciplines were: Communication Design program and Ceramic Design program led by Dasarath Patel, Textile Design program led by Helena Perheentupa (Finland) who decided to stay permanently in India. The Dean was Prabhakar Bhagwat, landscape architect.


Gautam Sarabhai envisioned the NID building to speak for itself and reflect the innovative nature of Design. He appointed N.S.Ramaswamy, Director of I.I.T Rourkee as structural consultant. It was an experimental building with non-reinforced brick domes, column structure and rose-wood panels. While the building was under construction, the education and consultancy work commenced under the hired first floor of ‘Sanskar Kendra’ museum designed by the world famous French architect, Le Corbusier.

On the advice of eminent educationists such as Yash Pal, NID chose to award only UG/PG level diplomas in order not to compromise its quality standards.



2) How IDC Mumbai started:

 IIT Bombay was also established in the sixties but never considered Design had a place in an institute of technology. Design was considered belonging to the Arts field rather than technology field. V.N.Adarkar was then advisor to IIT by the virtue of his brother R.N.Adarkar being the Reserve Bank of India governor, a very high position in the government.

 Adarkar's background was Art and it was his idea to establish Design as a department in IIT. 

He was shrewd enough to foresee the uniqueness of design and felt that Bombay, India's commercial hub should get such a unique privilege than Ahmedabad.  He prevailed upon Brigadier Bose, who was then Director of IIT to start Industrial design Centre as part of IIT. 


In 1968, a team of experts led by Adarkar, visited NID to check the Industrial design program there. I personally answered the queries of the group about the program which we were undergoing then. (A G Rao clearly remembers this.) Subsequently, in 1969 Adarkar invited S.Nadkarni, with A.G.Rao, and Maniram Cattopadhyay from NID to start ‘Industrial Design Center (IDC)’ at IIT-B. By that time we all have completed our PG level studies at NID. Uday Athvankar, a graduate of architecture, after his advanced studies abroad, was also taken as faculty of IDC.

Those were the only design faculty.

The other technology/ science graduates were appointed to staff their workshops/ studios or to teach non-design subjects such as Ergonomics, Science and Liberal arts, production engineering, Ceramic technology etc.

IDC started only with Industrial design discipline at PG level initially. Other branches were added much later.

IIT being a premier institution, its graduates were automatically awarded degrees.



3) How CDI (Craft Development Institute), Srinagar started:

In 2000 June, the development commissioner, Handicrafts, Tinoo Joshi commissioned NID to look into the various problems faced by Kashmiri Craftspeople and how Design may help the people who are suffering due to economic depression caused mainly due to frequent terrorist activities in the J&K state.


NID formed a senior designer project team as below for the task. I volunteered to lead the team because i was moved by the plight of people of Kashmir. I always wanted to do something in this vital area.

S.Balaram...Principal Designer. (Project head)

Aditi Ranjan...Principal Designer, Textile design (member)

Saumyajit Ghoshal, Chairman, Outreach, Bangalore centre (member)

The team was assisted by two Student teams which visited Kashmir and conducted field research and documentation of major handicrafts of Kashmir covering:

-         Walnut wood carving

-         Embroidery

-         Papier- mache and

-         Copperware

The project team made several visits to Srinagar, held talks with Zahid Hussain, Deputy General Manager, J&K handicrafts corporation, important craftsmen and examined market outlets and existing infrastructure. During one of our visits, very close to a craft shop where we were researching, there were two bomb blasts.


In 2003 a feasibility report was written by myself and was discussed with various officials concerned in Kashmir. It was then submitted to the DC (Handicrafts) which was accepted after due consideration.  The report recommended establishing a ‘Craft Development Institute (CDI)’ in Srinagar with a focus on marketing and modernising of Kashmiri crafts through design inputs to improve the incomes of the people. It was ‘design for economic development’. NID was asked by DCH to implement it.

In 2004 I formed an expert team to help CDI in the initial years. After interviewing several candidates, Shaariq Farooqui was appointed as the first Executive Director of CDI.



4) How D.J. Academy of Design, Coimbatore started:

In 2003.NID- Bangalore undertook a professional job of 'Design of Comber Machine' for LMW, Coimbatore. A team led by Dr.Saumyajit Ghoshal, Head of NID-Bangalore centre visited LMW in Coimbatore and made a presentation. Dr. Jayavrthanavelu, being a wildlife Photographer, appreciated the importance of aesthetics in Machines and wanted to take the idea further.

So in 2004.Captain P.A.R Kumar, pilot and CEO of DJAME informed DJ about NID Ahmedabad and a visit by LMW team was arranged. The team included DJ, Sanjay, and Captain Kumar. An MOU with NID (Dr.Darlie Koshy was the Director) was signed.


Based on the MOU, on 5th July 2004, a one year (3 trimesters) certificate program called DFPD (Design Fundamentals in Product Design) for graduates of engineering and for working engineers was launched by GKD charitable Trust.

 It was named D.J.Academy of Design. The idea was to create some aesthetically sensitive engineers which LMW and other industries can employ in the R&D. It was located in the Othakkal Mandapam campus, next to Premier Mills in a building designed by renowned Architect Rahul Mehrotra.  DJAME was already functioning there offering MBA program.


 I was deputed by NID to conduct the inaugural, 'Design Overview' course for the first batch of 12 engineering graduates. Thus I was the first design faculty (visiting) of DJAD.

Simultaneously, two young graduate engineer interns from LMW, Gautham and Ashwinth had been sent to NID for a special 2 semester Design program offered by NID as part of its FDP (faculty development program). Ms.Seema also had undergone the same program..


In 2005 I took charge as the first Dean of DJAD. It was my brain-child to turn the program into undergraduate level and post graduate level education programme.

I persuaded NID and D.Jayavarthanavelu about the need for such fully fledged Design program in the south.

In 2006 I scrapped the certificate programme and launched the full fledged 4 year UG level program and 3 year PG level program in design.


I worked out the whole syllabus for UG and PG programmes in Industrial Design and Communication Design based on my NID experience where I led the curriculum review and New curriculum development group in 1997- 99.


I also charted out  a 10 year Vision road map (2006 - 2016)  for DJAD which included  Membership of W.D.O (world design organisation),  networking with great educational institutes around the world , Organising International conference, Strong Alumni Association, a unique Convocation Programme, Industry linkages etc and got it approved by the Governing council.

The Chairman Jayavarthanavelu had also approved restricting entry seats to 30 approx. in order to maintain the faculty - student ratio very high, individual attention and excellent academic standards.


I established the Design Centre at DJAD for professional practice by faculty to keep their design skills continuously sharpened. Through the Design Centre, we served many Indian and overseas industries. Many design institutions do not have this practice.

 Kanaka Anant was my first recruit to join DJAD as design faculty just after her PG at NID.

First time in India, a mandatory 'Universal Design' course was introduced as part of the curriculum.


2008...... SRISHTI, Bangalore, on its own accord came to collaborate with us.

2010.......Northumbria University, UK, on its own accord, came forward to sign an MOU with DJAD. NU letter of recognition is attached.

2010.......IIT, (Industrial Design Centre) Bombay had been invited to campus to assess our design program standard. The IIT senate later on gave recognition to DJAD program. Dr.G.G.Ray was in charge of IDC then.

Capitalising on my decades of association with NID, I initiated the forming of a consortium called IDEA (Indian design education alliance) with all the reputed design institutions of the country as its members.

Getting admission for higher studies without a university degree was extremely tough, especially for a non-government institution, but we took the trouble to help every graduate and it worked even with the best design institutions in the world such as RCA, Domus Academy and MICA.


5) How ACADES (Aram Centre for Art, Design and Environmental Studies), Coimbatore started:

I was relieved from DJAD on 3rd October 1918.

When I was Dean, DJAD was run like close knit family than a cold institution and thus all my colleagues and students felt a sense of loss. They kept asking me to start an institution of my own so that they could join me. But I had no financial resources.

Mohan Chinnasamy, Arulappa Charles and Kanaka Anant put huge effort and found a financier Navaneetha Sivan. A trust had been formed and I was assured that he was reliable person and Mohan, Charles and Kanaka were part of the trustee group.

I had agreed to take care of the education, working 3days a week and left the administration and finance in their hands as trustees. The new school was named by Mohan as “Aram Centre for Art, Design and Environmental Studies (ACADES)”.


Promotion for new school was done projecting me as the brand.

Initially Park Institution was considered as hired campus but ultimately settled on Hindusthan Colleges campus. The program commenced in July 2019.

12 fresh students and 24 DJAD senior students voluntarily joined as lateral entry.


It was an experiment in holistic design education, based on the principle of ‘a sound mind in a sound body’. The school attempted to offer a great design education to a limited number of students, integrated with a rigorous, exceptional life style. A regimen of diet based on strict naturopathy principles, pre-dawn waking up, group walks, meditation and daily discourses was part of the curriculum. Faculty and students together sat on floor to eat.

Parents were brought to campus frequently for regular feedback.  It was wonderful idea.


But within two months, it was revealed to my shock that Mohan, Charles, Kanaka were not trustees and huge administrative differences between trustee Navaneet Sivan and Mohan arose. I was horribly stuck in between. I could not leave due to my commitment to students.

I tried my best to resolve the crisis through my trusted NID colleagues MGD Nair and Professor AG Rao in vain. The breakup happened. Even the name ACADES could not be retained since it was registered with the Navaneet’s trust.

Though the salaries were not paid, I tried to at least conclude the semester properly so that the students can join another school. With back-breaking effort I managed to do it with juries.  Parents decided to quit ACADES forcing its closure in January 2020. I offered help to students with my personal contacts for lateral entry admissions in other design schools.